The Sunday Times review of The Lord of the Rings said what has gone on to become one of the most famous quotes about it- “the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them”, and this monumental work of high fantasy deserves every bit of that extravagant-sounding popularity. This is a story about the journey of a hobbit, also known as a ‘halfling’, Frodo Baggins, from his village called the Shire to the deadly bourns of Mount Doom. He undertakes this exacting, nearly-fatal journey across Middle Earth (the parallel world in which the story is set) in order to destroy the One Ring which was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, and which must be flung into the fires of the mountain where it was made in order to destroy it, and with it the power of Sauron who is preparing to reclaim his position of power after his defeat in earlier days. Frodo’s journey is helped (and hindered) by a number of his companions and adversaries, and among them number such memorable, cult characters like Gandalf, Aragorn, Sam, Bilbo, et al.
Given the sprawling nature of the book and Tolkien’s having been a scholar himself, critics have always tried to read a number of themes into it. Published in the years 1954-55, major chunks of it were written during the WW-II period. An allegory of the One Ring symbolizing the atom bomb has often been drawn and as often refuted, but even at its face value, The Lord of the Rings speaks about a number of issues like the horror of war and the threat to nature by industrialization in a powerful way. It has gone on to be regarded as one of the most important works in the fantasy genre, and to spawn a number of adaptations and a devoted following, along with establishing ‘Tolkien-esque’ as an accepted literary epithet.
An imaginative tour de force, The Lord of the Rings brings alive its universe with a remarkable amount of detail. Tolkien has populated his labour of love with characters whose lives are documented in such convincing minutiae complete with their genealogies and languages and maps that it is difficult to not feel involved with this fictional world. The narrative is punctuated by poems and songs of great beauty and finesse, whose worth is considerable even when read independently.
The Lord of the Rings is one of those rare works which engender a lifelong attachment. I have never been able to fall out of love with the characters whose hopes and fears animated my dreams once, whose stand for Good in this mythical battle inspired me. The Lord of the Rings has been, and will always be, much more than a fantastic world peopled with fantastic creatures to me, the emotional core at the heart of the novel has made it, for me, one of the most enduring works of literature.
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