I finished the first part of my Lord of the Rings reread the other day, having completed Part 1 of the book: “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Since it’s been about 30 years since I last read these books, much of what I know of the story comes from the movies and not my original reading of the books, which I didn’t remember well. Indeed, while rereading, so much of the book seemed new that I would almost believe I never read them the first time–except I know that I did. What follows are some thoughts I had while reading “The Fellowship of the Ring” based on notes I jotted down during my reading.
I can imagine, as a ten year-old, that the Prologue of the book might have bored me to death. No so this time around. Perhaps because the movies painted such a vivid picture of Middle-Earth in my mind, I was fascinated by the history of the hobbits. One thing I noticed, in fact, was how meta that prologue was, as if we, the readers, were characters ourselves, living some time in the Fourth Age, learning about our own history. This technique isn’t unique. Isaac Asimov used it, for instance, in his own sprawling Foundation series. But while I noticed it in Asimov’s work, I’d never noticed it in Tolkien’s until this time around.
The first movie in the trilogy gives the impression that Gandalf’s leaving and returning to the Shire is not very long in duration. But, as I learned in “The Shadow of the Past” some 17 years pass between his leaving and returning. Frodo is 33 when Gandalf (and Bilbo) leave the Shire and he is 50 when he returns:
It was just at this time that Gandalf reappeared after his long absence. For three years after the Party he had been away. Then he paid Frodo a brief visit, and after taking a good look at him, went off again. During the next year or two he turned up fairly often, coming unexpectedly after dusk, and going off without warning before sunrise. He would not discuss his own business and journeys, and seemed chiefly interested in small news about Frodo’s health and doings.
Then suddenly his visits had ceased. It was over nine years since Frodo had seen or heard of him, and he began to think the wizard would never return and had given up all interest in hobbits. But that evening, as Sam was walking home and twilight was fading, there came the once-familiar tap on the study window.
There are other things I like about those early parts in the Shire. I like how the rumors spread in the Green Dragon–it’s something that happens today and is thus ageless and true. Also, the history of the Ring itself, as presented early on is fascinating and has much richer detail than what even the extended editions of the movies present. I was amazed, for instance, to learn that Aragorn helped Gandalf seek out Gollum well before Gollum enters the picture in this story.
There is one odd moment in the chapter “Three Is Company” when the point of view of the novel shifts suddenly and inexplicably to that of a fox:
“Hobbits!” he thought. “Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.” He was quite right but he never found out any more about it.
In the book, the hobbits have an early and extended encounter with the elves, which in the extended edition of the movie is about 10 seconds where they watch the elves from afar leaving for the shores. Sam remarks how it is sad, somehow. I was also surprised to learn that Farmer Maggot, who is made out to be a grump in the movie, is a stand-up fellow in the book, looking after the hobbits and guarding the Shire from evil in what ways he can.
In the movie, Sam is caught eavesdropping (“I ain’t been dropping no eaves!”) by Gandalf, when Gandalf and Frodo discuss the Ring. In the book, it turns out, he’s been eavesdropping on purpose and there has been a conspiracy to help protect Frodo. All of his friends know about the Ring, which makes Frodo seem either too consumed by the stress to notice this, or rather naive, I’m not sure which.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the first book is the character of Tom Bombadil. Tom doesn’t show up in the movies, nor is he even mentioned. He is a strange fellow that seems to live, somehow, outside the reality of everyone else. For instance, at one point, he puts on the one Ring, but does not go invisible. Nor does the Ring seem to affect him in any way. He describes himself as follows: