|Lord of the Rings|
A few years ago, BBC2 ran a survey called The Big Read, where viewers were asked, first of all, to nominate their favourite books. Out of this, 100 top favourites were chosen. The next stage was a vote to select a top ten, and after that, with various celebrities speaking week by week in favour of one of these ten books, a final vote for the winner. I was torn in two, because several of my favourite books were in there with a chance.
At the end, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were level pegging, and I found it very hard to make my mind up which to vote for. In the end, I went for The Lord of the Rings, and as it turned out so did a substantial majority of other people, making it the nation’s favourite book at that time. No doubt the release of the first of Peter Jackson’s films, with the relevant publicity, helped, but it’s surprised me for years how many people, some of them very unlikely ones, love Tolkien’s masterpiece.
|JRR Tolkien in 1916|
Don’t misunderstand me. One of the most attractive things about The Lord of the Rings is its atmosphere of poetry and magic, and the sense that we are living in a world of long ago. But the down-to-earth hobbits (representatives of ourselves, whom we can relate to) are essential, to allow us to enjoy the rest of the environment.
It’s highly appropriate that the trilogy ends back in the Shire; and although Frodo can no longer live there, Sam can and does.
How many people, I wonder, avid fans of The Lord of the Rings, read it purely as an exciting adventure, and miss the inner meaning? The struggle of good against evil, the fact that even the good, like Boromir, may fall – this is probably clear enough to most. As John Bunyon said in The Pilgrim’s Progress, ‘Then saw I that there is a way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven.’ Probably most readers pick this up without difficulty.
But the death and resurrection of Gandalf, who thereby is able to defeat the power of evil as portrayed in Sauron – do most readers understand the allegory set out in this event? I wonder.
I can’t finish writing about this marvellous book without quoting some of the poetry which adds so much to the magical ambience of the whole. Right at the beginning is one of the best examples:-
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Morder where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Like all good poetry, this says more than the simple words convey – it plunges us immediately into the atmosphere Tolkien wants us to feel.
Then there is Sam’s song in Book Three, another simple and beautiful poem, but this time conveying an atmosphere of hope and peace, ‘In Western lands beneath the Sun…’ and Frodo’s farewell to the Shire early in Book One, ‘The Road goes ever on and on…’ Everyone will have their own favourites, and I must stop quoting mine or, like the road, I might go on for ever.
I said last week that I hoped to have another post up before Christmas, and to my surprise, and probably to yours, I’ve succeeded in doing it.
Have a lovely time over the next week or so; and as Tiny Tim said, giving the toast at the Cratchett family’s Christmas dinner in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, ‘God bless us everyone!’
(And if you are one of the millions who buy or are given a Kindle this Christmas, don’t forget to buy Belfast Girls,
my two Irish romantic thrillers, to help you have a really great time – says she modestly.)
See you in the New Year.