© 1954 J.R.R Tolkien
Not many birthday gift involves a life-threatening quest to defeat a Dark Lord and prevent the enslavement of all living creatures, but Bilbo Baggins is an exceptional gift-giver. Frodo Baggins had no idea when he accepted his uncle’s gift that it could hold so much trouble in store for him (nor did Bilbo, for that matter), but c’est la vie. The ring belonged to an ancient, malevolent power, and the evil one wants it back. No choice remains but to destroy it, so Frodo must venture from his safe home into the outlands, brimming with dangerous monsters and ancient mysteries.
Such is the beginning of the Lord of the Rings tale, its first two chapters gathered here as The Fellowship of the Ring. Having struggled to get through The Hobbit, I was surprised by how immediately this story drew me in. There’s a basic simplicity to the story, from the overall morality theme – good is good, evil is evil, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except in combat -- and the imagery evoked. There’s nothing mysterious about a reader’s delight in the arcadian comforts of the Shire, or dread at the gloomy forests and hostile, forbidding crags. Far from simple, however, is the delivery; Tolkien is a master world-builder, whose characters move through a landscape full of its own history, and are enmeshed in actual cultures. ‘Developed’ isn’t quite the word. Tolkien delivers an experience more than just a fantasy story; his characters’ heads are full of stories, legends, and songs that they regale one another with, and offer insight into Middle Earth’s history – which is still being written with their own adventure. The experience delivered by Tolkien is more than a fantasy-adventure novel; his characters tell tales and sing songs in invented language that seem at first like garnish, but later prove to have lasting relevance. This is a story rich in imagination from the beginning, the archetypical high-fantasy epic with settings that overwhelm the mind’s eye, complete with villains that resonate on a primeval level.
Although I’m only starting out on my personal quest to read through the adventure, I daresay I’m looking forward to it much more than Frodo and his companions, for whom doom looms large. Onward!