For over ten years, I have been in love with Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary prowess is legendary, and each time I read his brilliant epic, I find myself loving it even more.
That said, the thought of a cover-to-cover review has daunted me. There’s just so much to love about it. With that in mind, I’m going to try something a little different. I’m going to share what I believe are just some of its high points – call it a review in list form. This will by no means be exhaustive, and when I’m finished, I encourage you to contribute to whatever degree you like.
So, without further ado, here is my list of reasons to love Lord of the Rings:
~Reminds us that friendship has more value than pride
From The Fellowship of the Ring:
“Well, here we are at last!” said Gandalf. “Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves.'”
“It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned,” said Gimli.
“I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves,” said Legolas.
“I have heard both,” said Gandalf, “and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!”
The friendship between Elves and Dwarves had likely been deteriorating for quite some time. There’s some speculation regarding this matter. Much of that speculation points to references from the Appendices, The Silmarillion, and The War of the Jewels. It would seem that the imprisonment of Gimli’s father, Gloin, along with Thorin and Company, by Legolas’s father, Thranduil (an event from The Hobbit), would have been too recent for it to be the cause (though it probably didn’t help matters). Whatever the initial reasons for the failing friendship between races, it’s possible that being closely related to those involved in the Mirkwood incident could be why Gimli and Legolas demonstrate a no-flies-on-me attitude towards each other, for which Gandalf rebukes them.
However, if Gandalf plants a seed at Moria, then it’s in Lothlorien that Galadriel causes it to sprout and grow. Being an Elf herself, her heartfelt expression of acceptance and empathy regarding Gimli, a Dwarf, has a deep impact. From this moment, Legolas and Gimli never look back. They go from merely being allies, to friends, to brothers, their shared experiences and exploits facing adversity and danger bringing them closer together day by day. Putting aside whatever differences they may have had better enables them to fight side by side, unhampered, their trusting bond providing a source of encouragement in their efforts to give to a noble cause. Their loyalty to each other even outlasts the duration of the War Of The Ring.
~Teaches humility in the face of failure
Boromir’s final hour is both tragic and beautiful. When we see him at his worst – his darkest moment, in which he gives in to temptation and attempts to wrest the Ring from Frodo – it seems he is standing upon the threshold of villainy. But when Frodo manages to escape his clutches, Boromir is overcome with remorse.
He is initially evasive when Aragorn questions him regarding Frodo’s absence, being caught, perhaps, between feelings of fear and shame. But when ordered to protect Merry and Pippin, Boromir is eager to serve, his only thought now being for the safety of his friends. This leads to a heroic sacrifice, and a reversal of roles. Having threatened the life of one Hobbit, Boromir now lays his life down for two. But in the end, this noble act isn’t quite enough to sate his conscience.
When Aragorn finds him wounded and dying, Boromir sacrifices the last ounces of his pride and confesses his sin against Frodo, and accepts that he is paying the price for his selfishness. He is willing to risk tarnishing his act of valor by choosing honesty over glory, fighting to stay alive a bit longer simply so he may speak the words. In the face of his failure, Boromir chooses to humble himself to the point of death, and for this, Aragorn exalts him.
~Shows us what a Proverbs 18:24 friend looks like
“A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” ~Proverbs 18:24
If the latter half of that verse doesn’t aptly describe Samwise Gamgee, then nothing else can. Everybody needs a friend like Sam. As Christians, one of the things we are called to do is help bear each other’s burdens. You will be hard pressed to find a better example of this in fictional literature than Sam.
Even when the Fellowship is broken up and pulled in different directions, there is never any doubt in Sam’s mind whom he will follow. Despite the fact that Frodo’s mission will basically send him marching into hades, allowing him to carry out this task alone is not considered an option by Sam. He will be there to the bitter end. It is this loyalty that leads him to feats of courage that would make even the most battle hardened warrior regard this Halfling with a healthy measure of awe.
As the Ring Bearer, Frodo is most certainly a hero, but it cannot be denied that Samwise Gamgee is a hero in his own right. He is no sidekick. He’s a lifeline.
~Contains a love story barely acknowledged in film adaptations
In the theatrical cut of Return of the King, at Aragorn’s coronation, we get a brief shot of Eowyn and Faramir smiling at each other. It’s not much of a nod. In the extended edition we get a short scene in which it is merely implied that there might be something more than friendship here. However, in his work, Tolkien makes the direction of this relationship very clear.
Aragorn has Arwen. Sam has Rosie Cotton. So apart from the Appendices (in which Aragorn’s and Arwen’s story is chronicled), why is it that Tolkien seems to dedicate more ink to this love story than the others? What makes the joining of these two people significant?
When Faramir and Eowyn cross paths, it is the moment that their hard lives begin to turn a corner. To me, what makes the development of this relationship special is the separate journeys that lead these individuals to each other. Both have fought vigorously for their people. Both have known grief and loss from an early age. Years after his mother died when he was a young child, Faramir lost a brother and a father as well. After suffering bereavement from the loss of both mother and father for many years, Eowyn lost her cousin and her uncle. Both have had very close brushes with death. They have each been dealt terrible injuries, physically and spiritually, at the hands of a mutual foe.
And now they meet, and in a place of healing, no less. You can’t beat that.
What a blessing, what a joy it is to come to the end of such a long, difficult road and realize that you still have something left to give.
~The Scouring of the Shire
Few things are more fantastic than a band of bullies getting their butts kicked by a village-full of half-pints. However, this portion of Tolkien’s story also shows us that great leaders are often forged in adversity.
When Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to the Shire, they find that all is not well. The war has not quite ended for them – Saruman is wreaking his revenge, oppressing this peace-loving people and ruining their home. Whether he anticipates that he and his cronies will meet much resistance is hard to say, but if not, then it’s a grave miscalculation.
These four Hobbits could not have survived the perils of their journey by being cowards. They have faced countless dangers and been in the company of great leaders who can inspire the many. Their experience makes them formidable. They know how to win hearts and minds. They know how to fight back. And that’s exactly what they do. They manage to rally their people around them, and Saruman’s evil is ended.
~Powerfully illustrates how evil sometimes destroys itself
The Ring has a will of its own. It manipulates those too weak to resist it. It works to preserve itself in this manner so that it might return to its master, or perhaps give rise to some other great evil. But in the end, this power of manipulation backfires spectacularly.
Frodo has reached the end of his quest and is preparing to cast the dark talisman into the fire of Mount Doom, but it seems the Ring may have finally broken his will and is poised to escape yet again. However, Gollum, who has long been in the Ring’s thrall, wrestles it from his possession (biting his finger off in the effort). Perhaps now Gollum will flee the Hobbits and stumble right into the arms of the enemy.
So consumed is Gollum by his own elation that in the midst of his celebration he missteps and sends himself and his Precious to their fiery destruction. Thus, Sauron, maker of this treacherous Ring, is vanquished.
In Gollum’s case, we are also reminded that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
In addition, we see Saruman’s evil visited upon him as well. The wicked sorcerer meets his end when his contempt and vile treatment of his wretched servant, Wormtongue, provokes the latter to slit the former’s throat. There is no honor among the wicked.
~Shows how compassion can have long term effects
Bilbo could have killed Gollum in The Hobbit, but chose to have pity on him instead. Likewise, Frodo has an opportunity to dispose of the creature as well. Wretched though he may be, he is still dangerous, and leaving him alive is a risk, but one that Frodo will take.
Some might say compassion is a weakness, but it is really a saving grace. If not for compassion, Gollum would not have been there to take the Ring from Frodo at the Cracks of Doom and take it to its demise. Compassion did not give evil a foothold. It just gave it enough rope to hang itself.
I could go on like this forever. Tom Bombadil is strange and wonderful. Aragorn is an excellent example of why you don’t judge a book by its cover. Eowyn might be the Princess Leia of literature. For my thoughts on Faramir, see my previous post here. And so on and so forth, until the cows come home and I fall asleep with my head on the keyboard of my laptop.
Lord of the Rings isn’t always what I, personally, would call an easy read. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but now and then I find myself getting a bit overwhelmed by Tolkien’s elaborate description of his vast sceneries. While I think the depth of his detail is the mark of an artist, if I am even the slightest bit drowsy, it’ll put me to sleep. I maintain it is well worth the struggle, though.
One thing I know we can all say we love most about this story is that it reminds us that no matter who we are, no matter what our size, no matter where we’re from, no matter how long the road, no matter how terrible the odds or how dark the times, good is always worth fighting for.