The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume in the trilogy, tells of the fateful power of the One Ring. It begins a magnificent tale of adventure that will plunge the members of the Fellowship of the Ring into a perilous quest and set the stage for the ultimate clash between powers of good and evil.
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
This is book 1 of the source material for my favorite movies of all time. One of the only movie series that has ever reduced me to tears. Unfortunately, and maybe in part because of the movies, I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I wanted to. There were parts that were absolutely amazing, but there were other parts that I just skimmed and was not invested in at all.
Before I get into it I wanted to give a shoutout to the great narration by Rob Inglis. I actually really enjoyed his narration and felt that he brought Middle Earth to life and was a big part of my enjoyment and immersion.
Some of the highlights for me were the Hobbits’ friendships, the elves, Moria, and Tolkien’s inspiring and quotable prose. They were all excellent and when these things were present or happening I felt fully engaged and invested in the story. Moria especially was a highlight for me as I felt that the plot was finally moving forward and there was some excitement and action to be had.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
Tolkien has a way of writing about friendship, beauty, and grief that I really appreciate. It was amazing what he could make me feel with just a few words and I think for me personally this was Tolkien’s strongest trait. The above quote in just two sentences describes the world of Middle-earth as it is in this book. Tolkien uses these few words to show the hardness and evil of the world, while still managing to leave the reader with a deep sense of hope that all will be made well. This quote in particular really appealed to me as I can relate greatly to it with all of the trouble and craziness that is happening in the real world.
I want to put a caveat here and say that for me, part of the negatives are personal preference. Tolkien’s worldbuilding is immense and the very definition of epic, but for me personally I was often bored with the info dumps that were pretty common. I have never been one for worlds that are explained down to the last detail in general. For me, that actually takes away from my interest as there is hardly any mystery and wonder to be had anymore. It probably didn’t help that I have seen the movies many times as well. I suppose if I compared my book taste to art I would prefer somewhere between impressionism and realism. I only want enough worldbuilding to understand the story and setting and let my imagination shape the rest from there. I cannot deny Tolkien’s influence on fantasy and it would be foolish to try to do so. Elves are my favorite race of all time and although I don’t believe they were created by Tolkien, they were certainly popularized by this series. There are so many tropes and similar settings that I can see in many modern fantasy series that were clearly inspired by Tolkien, and for good reason. He was truly ahead of his time.
Another thing that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the pacing. I felt that the plot didn’t really get moving until right around the 70% mark of the book. That’s not to say that nothing at all happened up until that point, but I felt like the main story didn’t really gain momentum until we got there.
That being said, the one other con I have for this book is lack of character development. There were so many characters in this first book and we only got to learn a snippet about each one. I expect there will be more character development from the next two books, but to be honest if I didn’t already love the characters from watching the movies I would have found it hard to feel invested in everyone save the Hobbits by the end of this book.
Overall, this was still an enjoyable experience. It almost felt like a reread for me as I kept picturing the scenes in the book as they were depicted in the movie. It was really cool to see how they adapted the movies, what specifcally they cut out, what they kept, how they put certain quotes in different parts of the story, and especially how many direct, verbatim quotes were used in the movies. I will always appreciate and respect what Tolkien did for fantasy and I do plan on finishing the rest of the trilogy this year.