The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings By Tolkien, J. R. R. Book - 2005 | 50th anniversary ed.

Well, this doesn’t really need an introduction, does it? THE classic of the fantasy genre (some would say, erroneously, its founder), mother of countless similar books and whole worlds, video games, album covers, Led Zep songs, symphonies, parodies, stage plays, conlangs, and two movie versions. It’s nice to re-read it again, and to experience where all of this comes from. And yes – it IS quite an experience. (...And no, it's not really a trilogy.) Obviously there’s the contrast of the human (or hobbit) drama versus the mythic sweep of the narrative – partly supported by some of the characters’ homespun speech on one hand and the grand archaic language on the other (though the latter, not based on any actual historical form of English, gets a little overwrought in the Gondor section). Almost as obvious, there’s the allegory: Christian (there are three archetypal Christ-figures, if you think about it, as well as discussions on the nature of good and evil); WWII (obvious references to Nazism); environmentalist; possible others – part of the novel’s strength is its refusal to be shoved into a single interpretation. (In a development that would have left Tolkien aghast, some have claimed it to be satanic and/or a manifesto for white supremacy – both claims are as absurd as the philosophies that spawned them.) BUT – all of these interpretations (including the bad ones, I suppose) can be assigned to most fantasy novels, or novels of any genre. LOTR still stands apart. I think part of what’s compelling about it (even decades after its publication) is the comprehensiveness of the world that it creates and the fact that the characters are an intrinsic part of that world. Often a character (or the narrator!) refers to the mythology or long history of Middle Earth (which, obviously, a reader would not know) and makes no further comment – and the other characters immediately know the reference. We readers know the reference too, somewhere in our hearts and not our conscious minds. Middle Earth is completely self-referential in that way, but, in Tolkien’s own words, still refers to “things higher and deeper and darker” than mundane reality. These multiple layers indicate many ways to enjoy the tale, and therein lies its secret. Read and enjoy.

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