Monday, July 05, 2004


I've tried to read Lord of the Rings three times now. First as a teenager, when I got through it but it seemed to make no impression on me; then about 15 years ago, when a copy liberated from my former employer found its way on to my bookshelf. On that occasion, I read most of it, and the broad outlines of the story stayed with me, along with all those evocative names, some only half remembered.

Then I watched the first two films, and I know people who were much exercised by some of the liberties taken with the text. Fair enough, I thought, it's a film - you can't just put every word on the page into a film, no one would watch it. But I was intrigued. There were things I didn't remember, and I wondered how the dialogue of the books squared with the language of the films. So I rooted around in the roof, and I found my extraordinarily large copy, and I set out to read it properly this time.

There's no point in reviewing it, really, but here are a few passing thoughts:

  • There is far too much poetry. Yes, I know most of them are songs, but we can't hear the music, so it's poetry. I'm not saying it's bad poetry, but there's too much of it.

  • There's a difference between letting the reader flesh out the characters and not telling us anything about their physical appearance at all.

  • Everyone has at least two names; some of them four or five. This is confusing when you are tired.

  • I think I gave up before because the structure of the thing required me to keep too much information in my head at one time. Concurrent action really shouldn't be happening several hundred pages apart.

  • I found the bookmark from the last time just past page 1000 - there was hardly any of it left, but I still gave up.

  • The language is - well, interesting. I could survive a long time without reading about anything else which is carven, for instance.

  • The maps are way, way too small. Headache-inducingly small. for the first time in my life, I seriously considered getting a magnifying glass to help me with my reading.

  • But.

  • But it's still an amazing experience.

  • Having seen the films helped fix certain things in my mind, but Frodo doesn't look like that (although I think Bilbo does).

  • Do I recommend it? Unhesitatingly. Is it the greatest book in the English language, or whatever? Nope. But I think it ought to be read nevertheless. It might help to take notes, though.

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