by J.R.R. Tolkien
Conditional Recommendation: Four hobbits, a dwarf, two men, an elf, and a wizard embark on a quest across Middle-earth with a group of friends to keep the ring of power out of evil hands and reach Mount Doom to destroy it.
This is one of those stories that I grew up watching the movies and am only now, as an adult, reading the books. What is it about this book that has enchanted so many readers? It could be the setting—the world-building Tolkien has done of Middle-earth is incredible! With the languages, histories, lore, cultures, poems, and music, it’s as if Middle-earth is a real place. More likely, I think readers have fallen in love with hobbits, a race of underdogs in the big world and yet it is of them that a great task has fallen. A story of an epic heroic quest with honorable hobbits—this is not a story to miss!
The dark, fearsome Ringwraiths were searching for a hobbit. Frodo Baggins knew they were seeking him and the Ring he bore—the Ring of Power that would enable evil Sauron to destroy all that was good in Middle-earth. Now it is up to Frodo and his faithful servant, Sam, with a small band of companions, to carry the Ring to the one place it could be destroyed—Mount Doom, in the very center of Sauron’s dark kingdom.
Though Tolkien did not write this book as an allegory—and in his writings, he claims a disdain for allegories—and there’s, therefore, no hidden meaning behind the characters and plot, there is a lot we can take away and relate to in a good story such as this: the self-sacrifice of a few for the good of many, experiencing fear but stepping forward anyway, loyalty in friendships, and being true to your word.
The more I think about Frodo and his self-sacrifice for the good of his home in the Shire and for all the good in Middle-earth, the more Jesus Christ comes to mind. Bear with me for I do not mean that Frodo is a Christ figure, on the contrary, he is very human in nature as much as a hobbit can be. What I mean is, Frodo’s experience bears some similarities to Christ’s experience on earth. Frodo is alone in his quest to fulfill his imperative mission in the war against evil. Other characters walk with him, but no one else carries the burden of the ring and no one else can—it is for him alone to suffer and endure. In like manner, Christ, God in human flesh, came to earth with an imperative mission in the spiritual conflict between good and evil. Though people like His disciples walked with Him, no one truly understood His mission or the burden that He alone carried—dying on the cross for the sins of all people was Christ’s alone to suffer and endure. I’m sure you could find more spiritual parallels, but that’s the one that stands out to me as I consider the characters and the story.
Tolkien is not about economy of words. He will literally wax poetic about places and people, histories and lore throughout the book. I am amazed at the amount of poem and songwriting he spent his time crafting. Not to mention, he created his own language! I particularly enjoyed how he describes the characters and their experience of the world around them.
“This book is largely concerned with Hobbits….” So begins the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring and rightly so. A race of small people who enjoy simple pleasures, are homebodies, family-oriented, and community-based. And yet, it is one of them that takes on the most difficult endeavor to save Middle-earth from destruction. It’s an epic underdog story. I’d say read this book for the characters if nothing else. They—hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and men—are all fascinating, humorous, serious, and intricately crafted with each having their own deep roots in history. They feel real and are the most enchanting part of the book.
It’s masterful and well-developed. Do I have proof? Not without doing an in-depth study of the book! My initial impression is that nothing—no plot point—is there accidentally. When you read about Tolkien talking about his writing process, you come away with the idea that everything he does in a story he does for a thought-out reason.
This is not a thriller. This is a journey with slow parts and action-packed parts. There is rest and there is running. There is laughter and grief. It’s paced in a real life way—so that the reader feels and though they’re on the journey with the company.
One reason books become classics is because their story and the characters linger in the mind of the reader. In some stories you meet forgettable characters but not here. I can’t explain how, but once you meet these characters and join them on their quest, it’s very likely you’ll never forget about them!
The Fellowship of the Ring is labeled “Part One” of the Lord of the Rings. It’s a trilogy, yes, but the following books are sequels that stand alone. These books are three but one and this book ends as if the next chapter is a page away instead of the next book.