I’ve been talking about my recent reread of The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t read the book since seeing the movies, and I watched the movies about a year ago, so they’re reasonably fresh, and that meant I sometimes had a mental image clash between the movies and what’s actually in the book. One big difference is the pacing. I’d forgotten that there’s a big gap between Bilbo’s birthday, when the story begins, and Frodo actually leaving the Shire. It’s 17 years between the party and Gandalf coming back to warn Frodo about the ring, and then it’s months later before Frodo actually leaves. I can see why they’d want to tighten that up to give it more urgency. Then they spend a couple of months in Rivendell. Even after they get word that stuff is happening and time may be of the essence, they take a week or so to leave. It’s not as though we get details of what’s happening in the meantime. It skips straight to the next time something happens, so it’s generally only a paragraph or so later, but it still feels less urgent, and I can see why that had to change for the movies.
That time jump means that Frodo is older than I remembered. He’s 50, the same age Bilbo was in The Hobbit. Since Hobbits come of age at 33 and live longer than humans, I would guess that makes Frodo the equivalent of 30-something for a human, so an adult in his prime. On the other hand, Pippin is 29, so that makes him a teenager, the equivalent of 16 or 17 for a human.
I think one of the things I like best in the book is all the forests, and I suspect that was part of what made me fall into the story in the first place. The first time I read it, I was living in Germany, on the edge of the Odenwald, a major forest (and literally on the edge, as in on the other side of the fence from our yard) and we’d moved there from southwestern Oklahoma. Before that, we’d lived in West Texas. Neither of these places are known for their trees. Being in a real forest was absolutely magical to me, so all the forests in the book appealed to me. There was the forest in the Shire where Frodo and the gang ran into some elves and had a dinner party in a hall of trees. There was Tom Bombadil’s forest. There was Rivendell. And then Lothlorien. And Fangorn. I’ve decided I might be part Ent, one of the walking trees. I feel most alive in a forest. And yet somehow I ended up living in the plains …
Another interesting pacing thing is the way Tolkien handled multiple viewpoints with parallel storylines. Most books (and this was the way they handled it in the movies) use that to build suspense, ending on a cliffhanger from one storyline and moving to tell part of the story for another viewpoint, ending on a cliffhanger there and moving back, and so forth. But he tends to tell all of one story before going back to tell the other story, with time stamps to give a good idea of how the stories fit together. I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way in a current submission, but I think it works here, even though I entirely forgot where we left Frodo and Sam before we got the entire story of the battle and then returned to their storyline.
Apparently, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis disagreed about putting religion or religious allegory into fantasy fiction — though Lewis didn’t consider the Narnia books to be allegory. He considered Aslan to be the incarnation of Christ as it happened in that world, not a symbolic representation of Christ. But I found myself amused by how much Aragorn comes across as a Christ-type figure — he’s a prophesied king living a humble, nomadic life with his disciples (the Rangers). He has to walk the Path of the Dead where no man but he can go, and he brings out those who’ve already died, forgiving their sins and redeeming them for eternal rest. He won’t enter the city as king unless he’s invited. The people are looking for a great king, though there is a prophecy mentioning that he’ll have the hands of a healer, but he puts aside his kingly trappings after the battle to go about healing everyone and first enters the city as a healer rather than as a king. It may be that this isn’t meant as allegory but is more a case of Tolkien basing a character on someone he admired.
I can see why the movies skipped the Scouring of the Shire because it makes for weird pacing to have this big conflict after the climax. Including it would have made the end of The Return of the King drag on even more than it did. I suspect that bit is some historical allegory, the idea of returning from battle to find the world changed. Industrialization really ramped up during WWI, and Tolkien, who was rather anti-industrialization, must have been horrified to come back to England after the war and find the idyllic scenes of his youth corrupted with the smokestacks of factories. I saw a documentary on Amazon about the places that influenced Tolkien, and they mentioned some of the places he’d loved and the changed that had happened there.
Rereading this book has made me nostalgic for Old School fantasy, so I’ve found myself digging through my shelves and rereading books I read as a teen.