Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lord of the Rings after forty-three years

I first read Lord of the Rings about forty-three years ago. This book has been called one of the most popular and influential books of the 20th-century. Some time later, while I was in Panama, I found a copy of The Hobbit and read that also. I wish I could say that reading the books was a watershed time in my life, but at that time I found the books interesting and fairly long. Some of the parts were less than exciting. By 1966, I had a poster of Middle Earth and had re-read the books at least once.

After reading the books a couple of times, I began to appreciate the character of the narrative. The books are written in a flowing style that sounds musical when read aloud. The entire book is definitely not written for children or anyone not willing to put forth the effort to absorb the world of Middle Earth. In a sense, by writing almost the ultimate fantasy novel, Tolkien ruined the genre for most of what follows. It is ironic that the creation of the genre and its destruction take place at the same time.

Although often included with such works as those by George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis, those authors' books are not really in the same category. Lewis' Narnia books can hardly be compared, either in scope or structure, to the Lord of the Rings. I would certainly recommend both MacDonald and Lewis to younger readers, but I would hesitate to discuss the Lord of the Rings with anyone who had not tackled longer novels like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or Les Miserables.
Like many other long time readers of the Lord of the Rings, I was skeptical of any efforts to cinematize the story with any success. Having seen most of the classic books I have read butchered by Hollywood renderings, I could not imagine anyone doing the story straight. I could see Bilbo dancing like a woodland elf or Frodo bursting into a song. I was pleasantly surprised when Peter Jackson was able to pull off a very good movie, not much like the book in some ways, but faithful to the ideas and concepts. Fortunately, they watered down the character of Gollum or the movie would have been a tiresome as the book.

After the release of the film, it is doubtful if anyone will be able to read the book again without visualizing the characters in the movie version. In that sense, the movie has ruined the book, which usually does not happen. Right now, I do not plan on reading the book again, unless I get an audio version and listen to it while I am driving across country or something like that. I may watch the movies again, for the entertainment value.

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