Before I go any further, I have a confession to make: I adore Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I saw each film more than once (*cough* three times) at the cinema and own, loathe as I am to admit it, the extended version DVDs. To complete the self-humiliation, I even own up to spending much of the time during which I should have been revising for my GCSEs gorging myself on hour after hour of behind-the-scenes special features.
So it’s rather shameful that until now I had not experienced the literary source. I read The Hobbit as a child, although admittedly I remember little more than the description of Bag End – which for some reason made quite an impression – and slowly trudged my way through The Fellowship of the Ring at around the time the film came out. But clearly at thirteen I could not appreciate the genius of Tolkien’s creation, because having returned to it and read the whole trilogy at the ripe old age of twenty one, I do think it might just deserve that prestigious label.
It is not so much the writing itself that bears the marks of brilliance, though Tolkien is also none too shabby a wordsmith, but rather the imaginative range and depth of the world he created that begs for applause and open-mouthed awe. The man dreamed up not just a whole fantasy realm but also a collection of different languages for the various creatures inhabiting it. The more cynical among us may be tempted to say that he had a little too much time on his hands, but what he achieved in this trilogy of books (not to mention all his other works of fiction set in this universe) can only be admired.
To summarise the plot would be a pointless and quite frankly near-impossible exercise; suffice to say that there’s a ring, and not the lovely, happy, wedding kind. It’s your classic battle of good versus evil, although Tolkien does mix in a few shades of grey with his stark black and white. But what is perhaps even more appealing about these novels than the good old-fashioned clash of goodies and baddies is their moving portrayal of the bonds of friendship. Or, to put it less elegantly and risk comparing it to the likes of I Love You Man (hilarious if quite silly film, in case you haven’t seen it), it’s basically one long bromance.
To really analyse these novels would require a mile-long essay that I am sure readers of this blog would not particularly appreciate, so I will give up here and not attempt to give any great insight. It is enough to say that they are a triumphant feat of imagination that set the bar for fantasy and remain a masterpiece. Now go and have a read for yourself.