The Fellowship fo the Ring and the Beginning of an Incredible Adventure
Truly, you step on the Road, and you don’t know where your feet will bring you.
In the summer of 2017, I started buddy reading Tolkien’s main work one chapter a day with a group of other readers. It had been a long time since last I read Tolkien and, in a sense, was like discovering him for the first time.
I republishing here my impressions of that time, which I originally posted on my personal blog.
I sure didn’t know what I was getting into. Today, I’m still buddy reading Tolkien with an awesome little group of fans and still loving every moment.
Mixed with it is my impression of the films, which I also rewatched for the first time in ten years.
Reading The Lord of the Rings
How does one even review one of the most read books in the world?
I don’t know. I’m not going to attempt it. Besides, I’d speak from a life-long fan’s standpoint, and I’d hardly be anywhere close to objectiveness.
This is my third read of The Lord of the Rings. I read it the first time as a teenager. I had newly fallen into fantasy, and I was trying to read all the classics. So, of course, I felt I should read Tolkien’s work (this was long before the film trilogy). That first time was hard going, so I understand readers who say they have a hard time reading this book. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the most complex and complete places ever invented. Just like you can’t expect to learn everything about a nation in a one-week stay, you can’t expect to understand more than the basics of Middle-earth by just reading one book once. I was overwhelmed with the many names (most main characters bear more than one) and by the many allusions to a wider history, but the story was good enough to keep me going, though at a very slow pace.
One year of reading Tolkien (almost) every day
In the summer of 2017 I went on an adventure
That first time I liked the story the way I liked many other fantasy stories, which was enough to turn me into a fan. I started looking for other fans and enrolling in Tolkien clubs. And slowly I sank into Middle-earth.
The second time I read The Lord of the Rings was after The Fellowship of the Ring film came out. There had been quite some speculation about what the films were going to look like, lots of fans predicted terrible outcomes. I didn’t particularly like the film the first time I saw it (in Italian)… maybe because all that argument coloured my opinion. When I saw it the second time (in English — I’ve always wondered whether this made a difference), I loved it.
That prompted me to read the trilogy again, and this time it was easy going. Sure, I had a far better idea not just of Middle-earth, but of its history and of Tolkien’s reasons for many stories. Names were familiar to me by now, and being a long time fan meant I wanted to learn what was hidden in The Lord of the Rings rather than been put off by what I didn’t grasp.
I liked it a lot. A lot more than the first time. That’s when I became a hard-core fan.
I know this may sound like craziness, but I’d suggest to readers who mean to read this book to give it a chance… at least twice.
Then, years passed without me rereading the book. I’ve kept being interested in Tolkien’s work. After the film trilogy ended, I founded a fan club in my city (The Rohirrim, in case you wonder what part of the book I prefer). I’ve read many essays, I’ve been to conferences and festivals, I’ve followed discussions online. I’ve become very very familiar with Middle-earth and its inhabitants. I formed my own ideas on many of the themes.
Were Tolkien’s Children the Inspirers of The Lord of the Rings?
Would Tolkien have written it, had he had no children?
Then last summer, a group of readers in the Litsy community suggested reading Tolkien’s main works one chapter a day. I initially thought I wouldn’t, it sounded like a huge commitment, considering my daily routine. But as someone put it, I knew I wanted to, and at the end, I joined. It had been many years since last I read The Lord of the Rings. And I’m mind-blowingly loving it!
Reading The Fellowship of the Ring
The day we started buddy-reading The Fellowship of the Ring I just couldn’t wait. I was eager to start and breezed through everything at the beginning of the book: Introduction, Introduction to the new edition, Tolkien’s intro to the second edition (which I loved). I breezed through the Prologue: Concerning Hobbits as well, loving it (which may or may not say a thing or two about what kind of fan I am). But I understand why it may be offputting for a first-time reader, and I’d indeed suggest to skip it if you’re not strongly motivated.
By today’s standards, this book does take quite some time to get going. I’m not surprised that a lot of stuff was cut from the movie in this part. But personally, I was delighted to read it. It was a good chance to reconnect with the book with chapters and chapters that were not in the film. Believe me, today it’s very very hard for any fan to read The Lord of the Rings and not see the film’s visuals with our mind-eye. It was also a good chance to reconnect with the book’s themes, which are not necessarily the same themes that were portrayed in the films.
And if I can say, Tolkien’s prose is just beautiful. Meaningful dialogues, vivid descriptions, tight action, but also slow pondering episodes. It’s just a pleasure to read.
As I was expecting, many first readers had a hard time with the Council of Elrond. It’s a very long chapter with lots of hints at Middle-earth’s larger history, lots of foreshadowing on what’s going to happen and the introduction of many characters. It is a difficult chapter — one of those that you hate the first time you read it, and you love when you read it again.
After the Fellowship forms, the story really gets going. Relationships become more prominent. Themes get to the surface. The One Ring and its power over all living creatures becomes a central point in this first part of the story, with all the moral themes that go with it. The action becomes more prominent.
There’s More to This Story Than It Meets the Eye
The Hobbit is a story that grows on you and makes more sense the more you read it.
My favourite part is The Mines of Moria. Fine, I have a soft spot for the Dwarves, I won’t hide it. Tolkien created beautiful stories for all of Middle-earth races, but I find the Dwarves’ stories, few as they are, particularly strong. Roaming the darkened halls of Moria, learning of its past history, of Balin’s attempt to restore its grandeur and his fight with the goblins, visiting Balin’s tomb. All of this always moves me. Not to mention what happens at the bridge of Kahzad-Dum (which I won’t spell. If you are a fan, you know. If you aren’t, you don’t want to know. There are readers out there who would kill for a spoiler, I was just reminded). In this dark, underground place, fundamental things happen. This is really the heart of The Fellowship. and
The Lord of the Rings buddy read
If you are thinking about reading this book, but you feel intimidated, I’d suggest trying the one-chapter-a-day formula. I’m really enjoying it. I feel like I’m absorbing the story more thoroughly, giving it time to set before I go on. Even if sometimes waiting for one entire day is very hard, and I’d feel like just keep going… and yes this is happening to me even if this is the third time I’m reading it, and I’ve seen the films innumerable times.
I’m loving reading all my buddies’ comments, especially the ones from the first time readers.
Maybe because I’ve been a fan for decades, and because the film trilogy was so hugely popular, I still marvel at readers who don’t know what is going to happen next. It’s refreshing. But I also love exchanging comments and impressions with veteran readers.
The Fellowship of the Ring brought me back at the beginning. At why I love Tolkien’s work so much. It was a lovely welcome back.
If you’ve ever read your old reviews of loved books, you’ll know the feeling. I still feel the same, and still, some aspects have taken up a new colour, due to closer frequentations. Comparing your past experience and your new one, you’ll see that your understanding of the book has become more layered and definitely richer.
For example, though my love for the Dwarves and their history hasn’t changed, I now appreciate a lot more The Old Forest and Tom Bombadil. And also, I can see a lot more of Tolkien’s WWI experience where before I only saw a world of fantasy.
Originally published on The Old Shelter Blog on 21st September 2017
Sarah Zama is a Tolkien nerd and proud of it. She read The Hobbit the first time as a teenager and was a Tolkien fan years before Peter Jackson’s trilogy ever hit the theatres. She’s always been involved with Tolkien groups, both online and in person. In 2004, she founded a Tolkien group in her city, Verona (Italy), which is still meeting and divulging the Professor’s work. In 2017, she started reading Tolkien’s work with a group of other nerdy readers, one chapter a day. They are still on the road together.