Around this time, I discovered markreads.net, in which Mark Oshiro reads and reviews popular novels and series, one chapter at a time, completely unspoiled - and Lord of the Rings was one of these. His catchphrase is You are not prepared, and it's a joyful experience to read his thoughts on each chapter, predictions for the future, reactions to plot twists and character developments - reading along with him is like discovering the story for the first time, all over again.
Perhaps it was because I was reading Mark's LotR reviews after each chapter, but on this reading I really felt as though I were in the story with the hobbits. I'd feel Frodo's fear and heartbreak about leaving the Shire to go on this deadly mission. As the hobbits climbed up the stairs of Cirith Ungol, I kid you not, I felt horrible vertigo. It surprised me, again, just how much this book got under my skin. I'd read this book many times in the past eleven years, and yet, I thought, I'd never read it properly till now. (I'm sure I think that every time.) I spent my days wishing for the evening, so I could read the next chapter - though there was nothing stopping me reading on but myself. And when at last I reached the end, there was a terrible sad emptiness. I didn't want to leave Middle-Earth.
I am always surprised by how much this story drags me in. I think to myself, I love this story, but I've grown out of obsessing over it like I did when I was 17. No. No I haven't. Lord of the Rings consumes me like no other book I've ever read, or am ever likely to again. Because it's not just a fantasy about wizards and orcs and magical jewelery and quests. It's a story about ordinary people who become extraordinary, not due to wizardly powers or magic trinkets, but through their inner qualities: courage, friendship, love, and the determination to keep going when everything seems hopeless.
So I must say farewell to Middle-Earth, for a little while, but I shall return before the year is out, to read The Hobbit before the film adaptation hits cinemas, nine years (!) after Return of the King. I can hardly wait.