While this isn't the first time I've read Tolkien's magnum opus, it is the first time I've read them completely in order as an adult. I grew up on 80's fantasy, like Willow, Legend and The Neverending Story, thanks to my older brothers. I gravitated to fantasy but Jackson's movies sparked a different kind of love for the genre. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is what led me deeper into the rabbit hole and prepared me to devour other epics like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series & George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice & Fire. I know I'm not the first to say modern fantasy owes a great debt to Tolkien's boundless imagination and genius. It's no surprise I write fantasy epic today. I'm currently working on the final book of my first complete epic fantasy trilogy, Wylder Tales, and I wanted to re-read Tolkien's works this year with hopes of re-igniting that spark again. Now that I've officially nerded out on you, here are my reviews :)
This isn't the first time I've been lost with Bilbo in the fantastical wilds of Middle Earth and I'm pleased to say every re-read brings fresh appreciation for this master-work. A true delight from start to finish with allusions to the broader darkness of The Lord of the Rings. This children's classic, while dated in some aspects, stands the test of time. Above all The Hobbit accomplishes what Tolkien set out to do, entertain us and move us in small, sometimes large ways.
I wanted to disclose this isn't the first time I have read through the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I first discovered them through the movies, while having been vaguely aware thanks to The Hobbit cartoon. Still, Peter Jackson's movie impacted me and left me thirsty for more Tolkien and more of that world. I was a very young teen at the time of the Fellowship's release and immediately after watching it in theaters, I begged my mom to buy me a paperback copy. She bought me the trilogy and I soaked it up like a sponge. Ten years later, I decided to pick up my worn paperback copies again. I discovered an even richer detailed world than I remembered. I loved ever second of the Fellowship's journey, even the Hobbit's silly antics at the beginning. I tend to think of Tolkien as a scholar and a genius that I forget the beauty hidden in his epic, the prose between the languages. I highly expect to re-read this trilogy in another ten years and await all the nuances I missed the first two times.
The Two Towers builds from the world and failed quest of the Fellowship and leads the surviving companions down dark paths. I loved Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli's mission to rescue Merry and Pippin and the war between Orcs and Men of Rohan. I found Treebeard and the Ents delightful as Tom Bombadil and much more terrifying in wrath. Though there were times I wished Tom had come along with the Company to sing them out of their troubles, Sam and Frodo in particular. My first read through of Two Towers, over ten years ago now, I struggled through the Mordor chapters. However Gollum held my attention this time around with his inner struggle, Sam kept entertaining me and Faramir pleasantly surprised me. I forgot a lot in ten years I was happy to reacquaint myself with Tolkien's world. Also, since reading The Silmarillion, many nods to the past have been much more relevant and obvious. I dove into Return of the King as soon as I shelved Two Towers.
While I breezed through the first two Lord of the Rings installments, I struggled to finish the third. In part because I was determined to read the whole thing, including the appendices. As before, I enjoyed Merry and Pippins stories more than Frodo and Sam, in part because we get to see the War through their eyes. Though there was a lot I didn't recall from the last time I read the trilogy ten years ago. I loved every moment of it, yes, even the painstaking ones that made me focus. Because Tolkien turned the fantasy genre on its head while delivering a true opus for generations past and to come. By the time I finished reading his "notes" on translating the original languages, I half-believed he was transposing a piece of forgotten history. In this lies his genius and the magic.
Myths and legends of epic proportions, The Silmarillion is indeed the must-have companion to Lord of the Rings. While I've been working through The Hobbit & Rings trilogy, I wanted to go back and finally read the sagas that started it all. My head was swimming by the end with the names of people and places and endless battles. My favorite parts were the tales of Beren and Luthien, because yes, I'm a romantic at heart, and the origin creation tales. Read if you love epic mythology!
Using language akin to The Silmarillion yet with the strong storytelling of The Hobbit, The Children of Hurin is a must-read for any fan of Tolkien and mythical prose. Rife with tragedy and heroics, Hurin and his children give voice to men in a time when Elves ruled & Morgoth wrought terror, long before Sauron took up his master's mantle. The stakes here are just as high as in Lord of the Rings, only more personal. Though the style is written with a higher prose to reflect a more distant time, something about these flawed characters brings you close to their woes and triumphs.