So apologies up front since I am going to have to break this review up in order to talk about all three books. I am glad that I managed to finish it this weekend. I just put my head down and got through it the past couple of days. Once I stopped comparing these books to the Peter Jackson films I was able to just get through the book much more quickly. It also helped that I stopped calling one of my best friends to shriek about a change that Jackson had made from the original stories too.The Fellowship of the Ring (3.5 stars)
This was definitely the hardest of the three books to get through. I think it was because this book had to refresh readers minds about Bilbo Baggins and then introduce us to characters that we have not met before all living in the Shire. We find out that Bilbo is about to celebrate his 111th birthday along with his cousin and his adopted heir Frodo Baggins. Though Frodo knows what Bilbo has planned, the other hobbits do not and are surprised to see Bilbo disappear during his great birthday feast. We have the reappearance of Gandalf the Grey who forces Bilbo to keep his promise to leave his ring (see The Hobbit) behind for Frodo. This ring ends up being the catalyst for what eventually causes Frodo to leave the Shire (17 years after Bilbo's 110th birthday) when Gandalf reveals that the ring Frodo has is the one ring that the dark lord Sauron needs to rule over Middle-Earth forever.
The book introduces us to other characters that I quickly came to love like Samwise Gamgee (Frodo's gardener) and his two friends, Peregrin Took (Pippin), Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry). These three hobbits stick with Frodo through thick and thin and agree to leave with him when he departs the Shire for Rivendell. Along the way the hobbits meet characters that will end up aiding them on their quest (5 other characters that agree to accompany Frodo on his quest, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, and Boromir).
I thought the character of Frodo was quite complex in the book. We have him initially happy to leave the Shire to go on an adventure. Apparently he has a lot of Baggins in him and looks forward to seeing the world just like Bilbo. When it becomes certain that Frodo is in danger, and could possibly die, I thought the book showcased how even though Frodo was being brave and refusing to back down, he was still very much scared.
Most of book one was really about the development of Frodo's character. Everyone else we meet in this book was a bit thin (the other reason why I just gave it 3.5 stars). A friend once told me that if you could get past The Fellowship of the Ring, you could finish the other two books, and I definitely think she was right.
I definitely thought the writing was top notch, though after about the 10th song/poem I started to skim them if they looked overly long. However the other reason why I could only give this book 3.5 stars was that the writing and narrative flow of the book really don't work together until almost the very end. I get that Tolkien wanted to put everything in this first book in order to set things up. However, it really was hard to get through. There were so many tiny details about everyone and everything that I found myself getting sleepy from time to time.
The first book has to set up a lot though so it makes sense that this one was going to be overly complex and long. The book really doesn't get going (with writing and flowing) until we get to the hobbits finally making their way to Rivendell. Even then there was a problem with the book flowing smoothly until the fellowship was formed and started moving.
There are so many places in this first book that I don't know how to describe them all. The shire felt like a real live place that Tolkien had visited in the past. His description of the Shire, how the homes were set up, and even about how the hobbits celebrated was a fun little beginning to the book.
I really loved the description of Rivendell and the forest of Lorien felt real. I got to give it to Tolkien, though I thought parts of the book were excessively wordy, he did a good job of describing places, people, things, smells, and food.
The ending definitely leaves you wanting more and then I found myself quite eager to start The Two Towers. Please note that if you have not read The Fellowship of the Ring, there are spoliers from that book for The Two Towers below.
The Two Towers (4 stars)
So the Fellowship is torn asunder and we have Frodo and Sam marching off to Mount Doom in order to destroy the one ring. And Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are off to find Merry and Pippin who have been captured by the Orcs. Boromir is dead from trying to save Merry and Pippin from the Orcs and confesses to Aragorn that he is the reason that Frodo left the fellowship after Boromir tried to take the ring from him.
We get additional characters in this book, such as Éomer and Eowyn, nephew and niece of King Théoden of Rohan. There are other characters such as Faramir (from Gondor and brother of Boromir) and we get to see Gollum again as well.
I have to say that my favorite of the new characters that we get to see is definitely Theoden. He is smart, capable, and I like that he and Aragorn took to each other quickly in this book. The character of Eowyn with her long glances at Aragorn wore on my nerves quite quickly. And I am going to say this up front. There is little to no character development for any of the female characters in the first two books. We have mention of Arwen here and there and we do get to "see her" in the first book, but besides being beautiful there was not much there, there you know.
And I did find the A plot (Aragorn defending against attack at Helm's Deep) was so strange, especially because Gandalf (now Gandalf the White) just rode off with no explanation. I think at that point I would have been cursing the guy out. I think it was just to put that group into peril.
The B plot (Frodo and Sam) definitely dragged here and there, and I think after the action we got in the A plot that was to be expected.
Due to the fellowship being split, the book goes back and forth between Aragorn's party, then to Merry and Pippin when found, and then to Frodo and Sam. The flow was once again not that great. For example, when we have Merry and Pippin found by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, we have Merry and Pippin sitting down (while smoking their pipe weed) telling them how they escaped and came across Treebeard (one of the Ents).
Not a true flashback since we have them explaining themselves with simple dialogue. However, it kept taking me out of the story when we had characters going back and explaining what happened since the last time the other characters had seen that person.
This book pretty much doesn't move to as many settings like it did in the Fellowship. We see Isengard (Saurman's stronghold), and the Forest of Fangorn (which Legolas is enamored with), along with Helm's Deep. However, unlike with the previous book, we don't get as much detail about these settings. Instead we have a lot of dialogue (not a complaint) and explanations going on and on that tend to drag the story a bit.
The ending leaves the B plot characters in danger with no way out to be seen for how the ring will be destroyed. Please note that if you have not read The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers, there are spoilers from these two books below.
The Return of the King (4.5 stars)
We follow Gandalf and Pippin traveling to Gondor in order to alert the Steward of Gondor, Denethor, about the imminent attack by Sauron. We have Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli off to the Paths of the Dead in order to have the now dead men who did not keep their oath to Isildur. We have the King Theoden, Eomer, and Merry traveling behind trying to get to Gondor before they are attacked. And we also have Sam trying to rescue Frodo from the orcs that have captured Frodo once he realizes that Frodo is still alive.
This is the first book that we actually get some development with the character of Eowyn. Can I say this? She was kind of annoying? I felt for her not wanting to be a shield maiden. But Tolkien makes it super obvious she has a death wish and does not want to be in the world because she can't have Aragorn and she wants to ride into battle and get glory like her brother and others. I think I was supposed to go rah rah, women power, instead I wanted to go, girl, get a grip and grow up. Thankfully she does, though I still had some minor quibbles with how her story ended.
I also kind of wanted to kick the character of Merry and Pippin in this one too. Pippin does something stupid and is carried off by Gandalf in order for Gandalf to keep an eye on him. And though Gandalf warns Pippin against telling Denethor about what happened to Boromir, or the ring, he tells enough for the man to guess. With Pippin seriously complaining about the lack of food he receives (they are under seige) and his lamenting to Gandalf about why did he bring him there, I was waiting for Gandalf to smack him with his staff. At least Merry didn't want to be left behind and wanted to do something in order to help his friends.
This book actually moves at a faster pace than the previous two books. We have a ton of action going on and we have little time for people to mourn when someone dies (though Tolkien still threw in some poems/songs about those who died) with everyone involved trying their best in order defeat Sauron and his people.
When we transition back to Sam and Frodo the book moves even faster still, and then we get to the book's initial climax.
In the end our fellowship (minus 1) manages to do the thing that they were charged to do, with Aragorn back on the throne of Gondor.
However, that is not the end of the book, not even a little bit. Our group is reluctant to part from one another and we have them all staying on at Gondor for a special date with hints being made about what it is. We get to see some of the previous characters again with Frodo deciding to stop in Rivendell in order to see Bilbo again.
What I thought was special about the ending of The Return of the King, is that we got to see Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin at home in the Shire again. And they return home to a place they are not prepared for, with a whole set of skills that they have learned while off to destroy the one ring. We get to see how all of the hobbits changed and how Frodo was changed the most.
The book version I had came with appendices that explained further about the characters and ancestors and those that came after the characters in the three books. I was happy to see what became of the fellowship.