Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings
By J.R.R. Tolkien
We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dûr be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless – as we surely shall, if we sit here – and know as we die that no new age shall be.
-Gandalf the White
And then with masterful skill and beauty, Tolkien finishes with a bang and a sigh. He doesn’t choose to finish with the victory and celebration, but rather with the aftermath of war and battle. The Return of the King is a happy ending, but they don’t all live happily ever after. Many are left with scars of battle, and the Fellowship you have grown to love must part as each member returns to his family and people. And even then you feel as if the story could go on forever.
Because Tolkien didn’t write just a story; he created a world with languages, histories, secrets, and stories. He spent 12 years writing The Lord of the Rings, and many more creating Middle-Earth which is also the setting for both The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. This creativity is evidenced by the depth to which his novel delves into the history and genealogies of Middle-Earth. So when you sit down to read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, it feels kind of like running into a co-worker and meeting his wife of 12 years. You can tell that she might be charming and witty, and you might even really enjoy meeting her, but you can’t possibly expect to understand her like her husband does.
Tolkien’s writing is thick with meaning and detail. And while wading through this story on the first try may be difficult, it’s a journey worth taking and one that you will understand and appreciate more each time you travel its road. Although lengthy and poetic, his writing is strangely riveting. I would occasionally find myself sighing at a paragraph on a dwarf’s genealogy or rolling my eyes at the incredibly detailed description of the weather, but then I’d look at the clock at the end of each chapter and think, “I have time for one more.”