There is no other book quite like The Lord of the Rings.
... or another afternoon...
A year passed and soon it was time to prepare for The Two Towers film. I decided to read the book again, to remind myself of the story, and I took in more detail this time. I was horrified by Denethor's end, thrilled by Eowyn's speech to the head Nazgul, and fell rather in love with Faramir. But still, they came secondary to the hobbits.
Re-reading the books became a tradition until about 2005, when I was in the second year at university. I lived and breathed The Lord of the Rings. It inspired me to write my first novel - a rather juvenile fairy-tale fantasy quest about a fallen star - but mine, the first full-length novel I could claim to complete. I even read the Silmarillion. A shared interest helped me to make new friends (and alas an enemy, a rival.) It became so much more than just a novel, even of the epic variety.
But then, life got in the way, and I almost forgot about LotR until winter came around at the end of last year. I decided it was time to revisit my neglected friend, and to really savour the novel, by reading just one chapter a night before I went to bed. I was older, (theoretically) wiser, and I wondered what I would get out of it on this reading.
Alas, I didn't keep notes, so I'll have to just summarize.
I hadn't been reading fantasy very often lately, except the odd Discworld, which didn't count as it dealt with the mundane, day-to-day existance, which happened to be in a fantasy world. And I was re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia, which were essentially children's books.
I confess, the first chapter or two I felt a bit difficult to draw me back in, thanks to having to get back into the old frame of mind. Just for a chapter or two. But I found it easier to read, the chapters decent lengths when before I had regarded them as long-winded. Also, there were more action and events than I remembered - not too much "getting there." ("The Council of Elrond" is the exception.)
When the Fellowship separated, however, I found my attention and interest following different characters. I had previously regarded the Rohan story, in particular, as just an obstacle along the way to the grand finale. This time I found it fascinating: the history of this nation of courageous men and women. I felt for Eowyn, a beautiful, horribly frustrated young woman, who knows she could be so much more if only she was given the chance.
Faramir, still, is my favourite character, and I wish that we got to see more of him. This is where I am most angry at the film adaptation, (that and Frodo sending Sam away at Cirith Ungol) because though quiet and thoughtful, he is a strong-willed man of integrity. The film turns him into a weaker, doubtful version of his brother, just trying to win approval from his father. I am glad, however, that in the extended DVD of the movie, we get to see a glimpse of his romance with Eowyn. That is a beautiful moment, and so much more romantic, I think, than the fairy-tale romance of Aragorn and Arwen.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are the characters I can care too little about. Aragorn is well-written, but I think, despite his moments of doubt, he is a character too high up to empathise with. Similarly the Elf, Legolas, is too perfect. (In the days of old, I could tell a fellow lover of the story - whether it be book or film - from a casual viewer by asking who their favourite character was. If they said "Legolas," there was one reason, and that was for Orlando Bloom in a blond wig. But poor bloke, he did get some of the corniest lines in the film.)
In the book, of course, there is "The Scouring of the Shire." The hobbits arrive home to find that Saruman has taken over Bag End and is in the process of trashing the Shire and making the hobbits' lives miserable with "a little mischief in a mean way." The battle to overthrow him and restore the Shire to its former beauty, after the War of the Ring, seems a small skirmish, easily won and over pretty quickly. One could argue it is anticlimatic - which is probably why it was omitted from the film, and I bear no grudges against Peter Jackson et al for making that decision. After all, a film is different from a book and requires different narrative techniques. Nonetheless, I think it is an important episode. It is quite distressing to find that, after seemingly ridding the world of a great evil, the Hobbits return home to find it even affecting their homeland, a place that seemed pretty much untouchable. The other crucial point is that it shows just how far the four hobbits have come in the past year - especially when compared with the hobbits who have stayed at home, sat back and watched it all going on around them.
It was a matter of great regret that I came to the end of The Lord of the Rings last night, leaving me feeling quite bereft. The end result of the novel gives the impression of just skimming the surface of a much deeper story, and an entire world that it would be quite easy to get lost in. Knowing just how much thought and editing went into the process of completing the novel, it's not really that surprising.
Now the problem remains: just what can I read to follow on from that?