For those of you who been following along with the Lord of the Rings readalong, we’re now halfway through the second month, which is focused on The Fellowship of the Ring. Clare has a post up where you can share your progress, so do visit her at The Literary Omnivore to see some discussion starters and to check out the links to others’ progress reports.
Because the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy are nicely divided into two parts each, my plan has been to try to read the first part of each month’s books by mid-month and write a mini-review of the story so far. Last week’s snowstorm would have ruined that plan had I not brought the book home from the office so I could get in some reading time at home, instead of counting on my reading time at lunch. But I did bring the book home and got some reading time in last week, so I’m happy to report that I did in fact make in through all of Part 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring.
The first half of The Fellowship of the Ring focuses on hobbits, particularly Frodo Baggins, nephew and adopted heir of Bilbo. Although Fellowship does not have the same narrative voice as The Hobbit, the opening chapter does have a light-hearted tone, which makes for a nice transition from the gentle tone of The Hobbit.
It doesn’t take long, however, for the story to get serious, as the wizard Gandalf tells Frodo the history of Bilbo’s prized magic ring. The ring, a weapon of great power created by the dark lord Sauron, will bring doom to all of Middle-Earth if Sauron should get it back. So Frodo must take the ring away from his home and seek the advice of the elf Elrond. Frodo is accompanied on his travels by Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The four hobbits are pursued by the black riders, servants of Sauron, and so they must take dangerous paths that have their own dangers. On Bilbo’s own journey to the same location years earlier, the only peril was a group of hungry trolls. Frodo, however, encounters malevolent trees, haunted barrows, and other obstacles. It’s obvious that he’s in for a much more difficult time than Bilbo ever faced.
One of the things I love about Fellowship of the Ring is how Tolkien eases readers into the story. We start with familiar characters in a familiar place and gradually watch the cast of characters grow. Each character is given a distinct personality. My own favorite from these early chapters is Merry, who is a fount of useful information, at least when it comes to the area immediately surrounding the Shire. He’s a planner and an organizer, and it’s clear that he’ll be a big help to Frodo. He does make one unfortunate blunder in Bree, but otherwise he demonstrates solid judgment and maintains a steady head. I like him a lot.
And the perils the hobbits meet on their journey are truly terrifying. The black riders are bad enough, but the other dangers are every bit as scary. The old forest in particular freaks me out and makes the goodness of the absurdly cheerful Tom Bombadil seem all the more powerful. I also love the scenes where we see glimmers of a history that goes deeper than that of Sauron and the rings. This story is tremendous—epic—but it only scratches the surface of the world Tolkien has created.
So far, the story is very much as I remembered it. I did forget some details, and I was really surprised at how long the journey from Bree to Rivendell took. There were days and days of tedious wandering, and that tedious wandering, while not exciting, is a miserable experience for the characters and makes the arrival at Rivendell that much more of a relief. And, of course, it’s in Rivendell where the world of the story begins to really expand, and I’m looking forward to that.