Customer Review

58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gift for the Ages, May 8, 2006
This review is from: The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, Part 3) (Paperback)
"The Lord of the Rings" is so secure at the pinnacle of all fantasy that any review of it risks presumption. The measure of this work's greatness can be found in the thousands of lesser works it has inspired, some in imitation, most in homage--all pale reflections of the world, the wisdom, the wonder of Middle Earth.

Over the years, I have re-read this masterwork at least two dozen times. Yet it never ceases to delight me with new revelations. Over time, these revelations have evolved from discoveries about the book to reflections about myself. This is art in its highest form: it inspires, indeed, demands self-understanding.

In my younger days, I was drawn to the clash of armies, the glory of battle, the valour of Aragorn and Eowyn, the sacrifice of Theoden and Faramir. But as I have aged, it is the suffering of Frodo and Sam that most moves me. The deepest courage is not found in battle, but in the act of bearing the heaviest burdens alone, beyond help, beyond hope, beyond endurance, beyond even despair--"that which we are, we are; /One equal-temper of heroic hearts, /Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will /To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

This work is perfect in its completeness. It lacks nothing and is endowed with themes both timeless and universal.

Consider the role of pity. We contemplate this theme for the first time when Gandalf reflects that Bilbo spared Gollum's life for pity. Then consider Frodo's first meeting with Gollum: "now that I see him, I do pity him." Or Gandalf's rebuke of Denethor, "...for me, I pity even [Sauron's] slaves." Faramir's pity for Eowyn--"do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart"--lifts despair from her soul and permits her to live and to love again. And the pity between Frodo and Sam is the bond that endures at the last when even flesh and spirit crumble. Not least, Tolkien commands our pity: and we, in the act of offering it--to Frodo, to Sam, most especially to Smeagol--take the world of Middle Earth as our own.

Consider also that the little people do the bravest deeds and tread where the great dare not: the quest of the ring is undertaken not by Aragorn, nor even by Boromir, but by a timid hobbit from the Shire, whose quality is not in his pedigree or his strength of arms, but in his will and his strength of character. "If you do not find the way, no one will", Elrond tells Frodo, and, "This is the hour of the Shire-folk". Sad that since Tolkien wrote his majestic work, his erstwhile followers and imitators have fallen back on such tired cliches as swashbuckling heroes and impossibly clever heroines. The magnificence in Tolkien's creation is not to be found in the strong, but in the humble. It is about a gentle hobbit like Sam, who likes his beer and tends his garden and thinks simple thoughts, but who would stare down death while fighting orcs and trolls and giant spiders, not because he thinks himself noble or brave, but because he is far beyond the noble or the brave. Frodo and Sam are names for you and I.

Consider finally, the sacrifice: Gandalf's sacrifice in Moria, Boromir's sacrifice at Amon Hen, Theoden's sacrifice on the Pelennor fields, Aragorn's readiness to sacrifice himself times beyond count. But the theme of sacrifice is most profoundly embodied in Frodo. He willingly assumes a burden that endangers not only his life, but his soul. His ordeal through Mordor and his piteous struggle up the slopes of Orodruin successively leave him with no possibility of relief, of return or, towards the end, even of release. He has long left behind any hope for himself. He goes on because he alone is charged with undoing a great evil and must destroy it or die in the trying. Beyond the terrible burden of the ring, he bears the more terrible burden of his duty to all the peoples of Middle Earth. And at the last, when he saves Middle Earth, he does so for others, but not for himself.

In the end, "The Lord of the Rings" is not about highbrow thematic concepts, mythic saga or epic heroism. While it is all of these things, it is also something better and simpler: a story for you and for me, centred not on impossible superheroes, but on little people--"The Odyssey" reshaped for the common folk. The enduring power of this work is ultimately founded in its simplicity. In "The Lord of the Rings", Tolkien successfully reaches the heights that all great art attains: he captures the essence and purity of transcendent truths; yet brings them home to the simplest and most innocent of sensibilities--a timeless creation not just for us but ultimately of us.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 5, 2006 9:18:40 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 1, 2007 9:10:08 AM PDT
Excellent review - I was looking at your reviews because we are both ranked the same and I was struck at how wonderful this review was - and how similar my own experiences with the same book (and movie) have been.

You captured my thoughts completely and with some parts I said, "Yes! Yes!" and grew jealous that I hadn't expressed those thoughts so eloquently as well.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 11, 2013 6:34:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 11, 2013 6:38:21 AM PDT
Rush1982 says:
This is a very well written review- I wish there were more reviews like it on Amazon. Thanks for the analysis; it made me understand the novel even a bit more after having re-read the trilogy just recently.

I wish more reviewers and critics would see this great work of literature as a great work of literature and not only as a fantasy masterpiece. It is much more than this. Tolkien should be mentioned in the same breath as Joyce and Tolstoy and not just as a forerunner for the fantasy genre. It is amazing that he created the Middle Earth cosmology, the characters, the myths, language and all of it history is further proof of his shear brilliance.

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 8:57:38 AM PDT
AEU says:
Nice review of the books. However, it has nothing to do with this BBC dramatization of the works.
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