The Lord of the Rings (trilogy), JRR Tolkien
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I first read this trilogy when I was a teenager and have revisited a couple of times. Whether you love it or loath it, want to argue whether it was written for children or adults, there is no denying that this book is the benchmark against which almost every fantasy book since has been judged. It’s spawned films, games, a huge amount of fan art and who knows what else around the internet. Tolkien spins a magical world with humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, the undead and wizards vying in a fight between good and evil.
The story follows an unlikely hero – Frodo Baggins , a hobbit (a very small humanoid) on his journey as he is forced to leave his home and becomes wrapped up in a great war. He takes a few hobbit friends with him and joins a group of people who agree to attempt to destroy a magic ring that was given to him by his uncle Bilbo. The magic ring in Frodo’s possession is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, an evil ring capable of pretty much controlling all life in the world if it falls into the hands of the bag guy (Sauron) or destroying Sauron if the ring itself is destroyed.
The reason it holds it’s seat as the bench mark book is because Tolkien does an excellent job of creating characters and a remarkable world for the stories to take place in, the global war that happens is worthy of the title epic. So why do some say this a children’s book? There are areas of character development that are simplistic, many arguing the point will say that this is the main reason it’s a children’s book – the world spun is very simple good versus evil, whereas real life (and therefore adult literature) has complexity, behaviours born from circumstance, pressures, and other influences on the characters. Personally I like the simplicity or as I would be more likely to call it the purity of the characters. I don’t have a problem with a book being a bit of escapism and removed from reality a little – escapism is surely part of the reason why we read.
The proof though is probably this, an exert from letter 234, about “The Lord of the Rings” (one of many in which Tolkien confirms it wasn’t written as a children’s book):
“It was not written ‘for children’, or for any kind of person in particular, but for itself. (If any parts or elements in it appear ‘childish’, it is because I am childish, and like that kind of thing myself now.) I believe children do read it or listen to it eagerly, even quite young ones, and I am very pleased to hear it, though they must fail to understand most of it, and it is in any case stuffed with words that they are unlikely to understand – if by that one means ‘recognize as something already known’.
In my opinion the first book of the trilogy is a little slow – it takes some time to set scenes and introduce the characters, but it is worth persevering this book really is a must read for anyone interested in fantasy books, and quite probably for people interested in fantasy art or films too.
I would rate it as a 9/10 – an essential read, but not quite the best that I have read.