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Quick note - it has been pointed out to me (see comment below) that this opinion is off topic. The full opinion has now been moved to the right section under Books.
Sorry for any misunderstanding and I will edit this opinion to make it more relevant shortly - Thankyou
This is a magnificent opinion Dave but.... It's in the section for audio books and as such is meant to be about the BBC dramatisation. The BBC dramatisation is a fantastic piece of work in it's own right and can be purchased on cd or cassette from the BBC online store. The audio adaptation is more than worthy of a section on it's own and you haven't even mentioned it! Sorry Dave, if it's moved to the right section then it is more than worthy of a VH, I feel bad rating low, but this is my reason!
The whole Harry Potter phenomenon, the worldwide thirst for stories, heroes and the merchandising that goes with it, is firmly rooted in a deep seated need that lives in all of us, eating away at our entire being. In the boring, humdrum mundanity of our normal existence there is little mystery, exciting or experience of the unknown. What J K Rowling has managed to tap into so cleverly and profitably is the thirst for the strange and inexplicable. Just as Hammer Movies made an entire industry out of horrific and far fetched tales of the unexpected, the stories of a teenage boy who discovers he is really a powerful wizard who has withstood a brush with death and lived to tell the tale appeal to the child in all of us, eager to hear of an other world, one where the normal laws and rules simply do not apply.
The writings of Pratchett and Moorcock tapped this vein equally skilfully in the past, but there was, is and always will be just one master of the genre, the start, middle and end of the biggest game in town, the master of his art, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, a humble Oxford Don who singlehandedly fathered an entire phenomenon.
It began in 1937,when the children's fairy story he penned, The Hobbit, became a best seller, and it is still going today, and about to become bigger than ever with the release of the first in a planned three part epic film version of (whisper it with reverence) THE LORD OF THE RINGS...
The Sunday Times recently devoted an entire edition of its glossy magazine to the LOTR phenomenon, celebrating the glory of the man, the myth and the epic tomes, and among other things it listed just a few of the resources dedicated to this very obsessive hobby. Among other things, the magazine included the following piece:
“There's no need to go to the ends of the earth to learn about Tolkien One would never imagine that a tale of Hobbits could cause so much interest, but the information available about these creatures is immeasurable. Even before the film trilogy, websites and books about Middle-earth were flourishing, and some of the best are listed below.
“More than 100m copies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (just ahead of Harry Potter) have sold to 30 countries, and from the 1960s the latter was the bestselling paperback in the US for 15 years; and in 1999, The Lord of the Rings was voted 'book of the century'. The Tolkien estate has made a fortune, as has HarperCollins, which has all Tolkien's book-publishing rights for full-time copyright, after buying the author's original publishers, Allen & Unwin. The film rights were sold by Tolkien's publishers in the mid-1960s to United Artists and bought in the 1970s by the Saul Zaentz company, from whom New Line got the rights to make the movie trilogy.
“www.tolkiensociety.org <http://www.tolkiensociety.org> Definitive website promoting Tolkien's life and work, with links to his family and publishers. With free membership, you get newsletters and information on UK gatherings. For details, write to Trevor Reynolds, 65 Wentworth Crescent, Ash Vale, Surrey GU12 5LF, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>. - Best for: students, literary enthusiasts, language buffs.
“www.lordoftherings.net <http://www.lordoftherings.net> The official movie site, though slick, is hard to read at times, but gives exclusive access to trailers, interviews with the stars and the making of the films. There are also exclusive downloads and the chance to join the Fellowship to get e-mail updates. Best for: those wanting sneak previews or to find out about the next instalments.
“www.tolkien.co.uk <http://www.tolkien.co.uk> HarperCollins, the publisher, was so swamped by Tolkien-related queries that it launched this site dedicated to the author. - Best for: current book editions, box sets, limited-edition print runs and audio versions. The website includes a biography of Tolkien, Q&A chat forums with his biographers, competitions and downloadable first chapters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Fans can also access Tolkien's maps and illustrations of Middle-earth. Contact: Editor for J R R Tolkien, HarperCollins Publishers, 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8JB.
“www.tolkiencollector.com <http://www.tolkiencollector.com> A site dedicated to collectibles, such as books, games, figurines and music. It acts as a swap shop and central resource, with detailed pictures and information. Best for: collectors and fans with a sense of humour.
“The Complete History of Middle-earth (Volumes 1, 2 and 3) (HarperCollins; £99.99 per volume) Using his father's notes and books as reference, Tolkien's son Christopher devised a 12-book history of Middle-earth.
“The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster (HarperCollins, £8.99) A definitive, if sober, guide to names, places and events in Middle-earth.
“J R R Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (HarperCollins, £6.99) An acclaimed account of Tolkien's life and work, benefiting from the author's having unrestricted access to Tolkien's papers”
Clearly, there is a lot of it about, this Hobbit Fever, and it was rife throughout the globe long before the plans to bring the first part of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, to the big screen. Tolkien himself is long gone, but this enormous, complicated, mythological world which he has left behind him lives on and is set to become yet more popular as time goes on.
What exactly is SO good about this book?
Well, I'll give you some clues...
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 Mordor 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.
The words positively sag and spit with deep, dark, ominous foreboding, conveying simply and artfully the entire tale of mystery and doom in an easy, effortless way - rarely have eight lines captured an entire history so perfectly...
I can pinpoint almost to the day when my obsession with the Great War of the Ring began ... I was twelve and going into the library at school for a period of reading and my hand happened to fall on a sleek hardback volume, titled simply, The Two Towers. Hello, I thought, this looks interesting...
That was the understatement of the century, for I simply could not put this wonderful book down and had to read it cover to cover without pause (almost) - a tremendous bit of storytelling which was so absorbing ...
This was the second part of the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, and so rapt was I at the work that I nagged my parents non stop to let me have the entire magical tale, and so it was that in 1972 I bought a thick paper back book, with nearly 1100 pages, for £2.10(!) I got the 1972 eleventh impression one paperback version of the most amazing book of the Twentieth Century, J R R Tolkien's meisterwork, The Lord of the Rings.
It was a defining moment in my life, sad chap that I am, but I had never known anything like this, a fairy tale full of heroic and foul deeds, populated by a weird little race called Hobbits, by fearsome Orcs, flawed Men, wonderful Wizards, the evil Nazgul, the loathsome Smeagol and a history so awesome it could not be dismissed as mere frippery - I clearly remember being struck dumb at the sheer majesty and wonderment of it all, like nothing before or since ... THIS BOOK IS LIKE NO OTHER THAT YOU WILL EVER READ.
Many have tried to draw a parallel between Tolkien's tale and the Second World War, which cut right across his composition of it. The Hobbit was out in 1937, and LOTR took until 1954 to realise, so it may have seemed to many that the allegory was valid - however, the author himself disputes the point in the Foreword he penned for the paperback one volume version which was first issued in 1966 -
"As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches; but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.
"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."
Now I may be gullible, but I believe Tolkien is sincere here, even though subconsciously happenings in the real world may have influenced some of his thoughts and formed the bedrock of some of the stark despair and terror that populates the pages of LOTR.
But it is not any parallel drawn with real life which makes this story so wonderful and awesome, more it is the depth and rightness of the world which Tolkien paints so expertly. In the hands of many, the work could have become trite or childish or fanciful, but with this man it remains solid, believable, rooted on a huge history which he has created, even so far as the language, the Runes, the legends which he has fashioned.
This is more than a sword and sorcery pulp fiction novel - this is meaningful and captivating, and real. I defy anyone, anywhere, of any age not to get drawn in by Tolkien's storytelling...
The story is basically the History of the Ring, the one great ring which could control all others and which would allow the owner to wield unbelievable power over everyone. The story is the sequel to The Hobbit, during which Bilbo Baggins, the creature of the title went on an adventure, tricked a foul creature called Gollum and stole the Ring.
As LOTR starts, Bilbo is about to celebrate his Eleventy First birthday, on the same day that his cousin Frodo Baggins is to celebrate his 33rd birthday, "the date of his coming of age'.
Bilbo has been affected badly by the bearing of the Ring and has decided to go off on one last great adventure, passing the Ring to his young cousin, on the guidance of a powerful wizard, Gandalf the Grey. After a struggle against himself, Bilbo finally relinquishes the Ring and passes it to Frodo. Gandalf then tells Frodo of the Ring's background -
"He paused, and then said slowly in a deep voice: 'This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it - but he must not get it.
"'The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring.
"'The Three, fairest of all, the Elf-lords hid from him, and his hand never touched them or sullied them. Seven the Dwarf-kings possessed, but three he has recovered, and the others the dragons have consumed. Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants. Long ago. It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad. Yet who knows? As the Shadow grows once more, they too may walk again.
"'He believed that the One had perished; that the Elves had destroyed it, as should have been done. But he knows now that it has not perished, that it has been found. So he is seeking it, seeking it, and all his thought is bent on it. It is his great hope and our great fear.'"
(Sorry for the liberal quotations, but this gives you an inkling of the book, a feel for the world Tolkien created and contains important glimpses of an ancient history)
It is decided that Frodo should carry the Ring deep into the heart of Mordor, Sauron's realm, and destroy it by throwing it into the Cracks of Doom. A party of eight others are chosen to go with him, so that there are nine in total to match the Ringwraiths, the Nazgul. There is Gandalf himself, three other hobbits, Sam Gamgee, Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck, Peregrin 'Pippin' Took, Strider and Boromir (Men), Legolas an Elf, Gimli a Dwarf, who set off to accompany him on his fateful journey.
Now that's the only hints of the story that I'm prepared to give, cos you really should discover the magic yourself by reading (or re-reading) it, or potentially even better seeing the film version, though that will be burdened with the twin demons of Hype and Expectation, far greater weights than the Ring ever could be - Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version was a flawed attempt at telling the first part of the Trilogy, but was slated by Tolkien lovers. Though the new film is eagerly anticipated with a keen burning desire, it cannot possibly live up to the book's majesty (or can it?)
Safer, I guess, to revel in the excellence of an imaginary world, which Tolkien's exciting prose creates in your mind's eye...
And as far as imaginary worlds go, Middle Earth and Mordor are pretty damn compulsive visions.
IF YOU NEVER, EVER BUY ANY OTHER BOOKS IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE, MAKE SURE YOU BUY THIS ONE - IT IS MANDATORY READING.