New Trailer: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The_Hobbit_-_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_Teaser_PosterWhile I have yet to see the first installment, and generally disapproved of Peter Jackson’s decision to release this comparatively short story as a trilogy, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the new trailer. And as you can from see from this 2 minute spot, the next installment promises plenty of action, adventure, and some serious divergences from the source material.

In the last movie, the characters had just survived their encounter with the cave Orcs, Bilbo found the One Ring and “won” it from Gollum, and the company was on its way to Mirkwood. In this installment, things appear to climax when the band of merry dwarves, a hobbit and a wizard reach Smaug’s lair. Some serious changes are showcased with the addition of Legolas (who wasn’t even in the first book), mini battles that didn’t happen, and lots more portentous talk that connects it all to the original trilogy.

And word around the campfire is this is what Jackson really has planned for the rest of the series – Game of Thrones-like diversions from Tolkien’s text that are clearly designed to sex the material up, hint at what was to come with the War of One Ring, and make the whole thing feel like a fantasy miniseries instead of a single story. While I’m sure I’m going to catch the entire trilogy at some point, I might sit the theatrical version out again…

But that’s just me! Enjoy the trailer and, if you’re so inclined, the movie on the silver screen!

New Hobbit Trailer!

The latest full-length trailer for the upcoming Hobbit movie has just been released. And I think you’ll agree, it’s way more lavish and teaser-oriented than the last. Damn studios, always gotta dangle the carrot in front of our noses! This time around, they focus more on the action and sense of crisis, especially where Ogres are concerned. And from what I can tell, this first installment will climax during the battle in the Misty Mountains, where the company came upon a cave filled with Orcs.

This is also the first time since LOTR that Gollum is being shown, and the little game he and Bilbo played – which resulted in him taking the One Ring – is revealed. Also, be sure to let me know what you think about the apparent changes Jackson is making by including Galadriel and providing hints of what was to come in LOTR. These, for the most part and to the best of my knowledge, weren’t part of the original story. Is he just thickening the plot a little, or taking liberties he shouldn’t?

LOTR: The Two Towers

Welcome back! Last time, I took a much overdue trip down memory lane with the Fellowship of the Ring. Hope you liked the trip too! And now, we come to the second volume in the tale of Lord of the Rings, which just happens to be my favorite installment in the series.

In addition to being my first exposure to Tolkien’s work, it was also action-packed and brought the plot to a fuller fruition, leaving the reader at a crucial point where things are both poised on a razor’s edge, yet with the knowledge that the greatest actions are still yet to come.

Oh, and I trust people noticed the artwork last time, which is the famed work of renowned Rings artist Alan Lee. In the full-length compendium of LOTR, where all six books appeared in a single volume, Lee was the man who provided the illustrations that brought Tolkien’s literary vision to life. I hope you all liked it last time, because there’s plenty more in this installment! I guess Lee felt particularly inspired by this volume…

Plot Summary:
Aptly named The Two Towers, the title of this volume refers to the that events contained within revolved around the towers of Isengard and Barad-dûr. This included the deployment of Saruman’s Orc armies against neighboring Rohan, and Sauron’s first movements towards Minas Tirith and the Kingdom of Gondor.

Book III: The Treason of Isengard
This book story picks up with the aftermath of the Fellowship’s dissolution. Upon returning to their camp, Aragorn learns that Frodo and Sam have set out alone, that Boromir has been killed in battle, and that Merry and Pippin have both been taken prisoner. He is joined by Gimli and Legolas, who both lament the breakup of their union, but are given heart when Aragorn declares that they yet have a purpose: to save Merry and Pippin from capture.

After committing Boromir’s body to a boat and setting it down the river Anduin, they set out in pursuit of the Uruk-hai. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin begin to contemplate their escape. They notice that two camps exist amongst the Orc – the Uruk-hai of Isengard and the Uruks of Mordor. They take their time and exploit the differences between them, but are ultimately set free when the Riders of Rohan attack and eliminate the Orcs. They flee into Fangorn forest shortly before Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas meet Eomer and the Riders and learn of how they killed the company of Uruk-hai .

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin are taken in by an Ent named Treebeard. After learning about the Ents, an ancient race of tree-creatures, they tell Treebeard of what’s happening outside his door and ask for his help. He agrees to hold a council with the most ancient of the Ents and discuss what their involvement, if any, will be. After lengthy discussions, Treebeard manages to convince the others that they must go to war since Saruman is cutting down their forest to fuel his engines of war.

Aragorn, Gimil and Legolas track Merry and Pippins into the forest, where they spot a white wizard whom they assume is Saruman. When they reach him, however, they realize it is Gandalf, that he returned to Middle Earth after his ordeal with the Balrog and is now far more powerful. They then ride together to Edoras and the Golden Hall to meet with Theoden, King of Rohan, to ask for his help.

Once there, he finds that Theoden is a shell of his former self, and that his adviser, Grima Wormtongue, appears to be in control of the Kingdom. Gandalf reveals him of being Saruman’s spy, and unable to deny it, he spits on the floor and runs away. Theoden now realizes that the spell Saruman has been holding over him has now passed and he is once again strong and in control of his faculties. He agrees to help them and orders the Rohirrim (Riders of the Mark) to mobilize.

After rallying all available forces from Edoras, Theoden orders his army to march to the fortress of Hornburg in Helm’s Deep. Gandalf meanwhile rides out to find Erkenbrand and the rest of his riders, whom Saruman’s forces had previously routed. They ride to Helm’s Deep where they find the local garrison undermanned, but ready and willing to fight. After preparing the defenses, the entire host of Saruman’s Uruk-hai take the field and begin laying siege.

Initially, things go well for the defenders who are able to thwart attacks along the wall and against the Keep itself. However, things soon turn when Saruman’s forces deploy “devilry” to explode a hole in the wall. With the wall breached, the Uruk-hai surround and lay siege to the Keep, and all seems to have been lost. However, Aragorn addresses the Uruk-hai and warns them to withdraw before the sun rises; an offer they reject.

When the sun does rise in the east, Aragorn and the defenders of the Hornburg mount one last assault. The horn of Helm Hammerhand is blown, defeaning the Orcs, and the riders charge out to meet them. Just then, they see Gandalf emerge on the hills overlooking Helm’s Deep with Erkenbrand and the rest of the Rohirrim. They charge upon the Orcs faltering lines and break them, routing those that survive into the forest of Huorns, where they are slaughtered by vengeful Ents.

Together, Theoden, Gandalf, Aragorn and the rest ride to Isengard to confront Saruman. When they arrive, they find that an army of Ents have overrun Saruman’s defenses and have him cornerned in the tower of Orthanc. They are reunited with Merry and Pippin and all seems well. However, he warns them that Saruman still has much power and will try to use his “voice” to command them.

Despite Saruman’s arrogance and power, he is unable to sway Theoden into a peace settlement. Instead, Theoden demands Saruman’s surrender, and Gandalf urges him to renounce the power of the Ring and return to the light. When Saruman tries to walk away, Gandalf becomes angry and orders him back. In a display of his newfound power, he cast Saruman out of the Order of Wizards and the White Council and breaks his staff, thus destroying his power.

Grima, who is trapped inside with Saruman, throws something at Gandalf but misses. Pippin picks it up and is told to hand it over to Gandalf, as he knows that this object is one of the palantíri (seeing-stones). Pippin, unable to resist, looks into it the stone that night and encounters the Eye of Sauron. Luckily, he emerges unharmed and Gandalf realizes this might work to their advantage. Gandalf leaves with Pippin for Minas Tirith to oversee their preparations for the coming war while Théoden, Merry and Aragorn remain behind to muster Rohan’s forces to ride to Gondor’s aid.

Book IV: The Ring Goes East
After making their way across the Anduin River, Frodo and Sam begin walking through Emyn Muil, the impassable rocky mountains that seem to go on forever. They realize that Gollum is still following them, and lay in wait for him. Frodo manages to subdue Gollum with Sting, and they tie him up with elvish rope and take him prisoner. However, Frodo is pursuaded to let him go when Gollum agrees to help them find a way into Mordor.

Though Sam distrusts Gollum with a passion, Frodo feels sympathetic to him because his experience with the Ring mirrors Frodo’s. In time, Gollum also begins to trust in Frodo and remembers his old self and even his old name, Smèagol. Ultimately, Frodo hopes he can save him from the Ring’s influence.

After leading them out of Emyn Muil, he shows them the path through the Dead Marshes to avoid orc patrols. They learn that these Marshes are so named because they were the field of battle during the War of The Last Alliance. It was here that they defeated the forces of Sauron before moving on to lay seige to Barad-dur.

As such, the Marshes are littered with the bodies of dead men, elves and orcs, and haunted by their spirits. Gollum warns them not to state into the green lights, which are apparently the emanations of the dead themselves. Unfortunately, Frodo does just that and becomes drawn in, and is nearly lost in the process. Luckily, Gollum manages to save him, surprising both Sam and himself.

When they reach the Black Gate, they witness forces loyal to Sauron entering from the South. These men are called Southrons and are arriving by the thousands. Gollum warns them not to enter there and tells them of a secret entrance that lies the south through the province of Ithilien, which is still in the hands of Gondor.

When they arrive, the see another company of Southron men accompanied by the massive war Oliphants. The company is attacked by a group of unseen Rangers and Gollum flees just before Frodo and Sam are captured. The Rangers are led by a Faramir, Boromir’s brother, who informs them of Boromir’s death.

Faramir and the Rangers lead Sam and Frodo into a secret hideout and begins questioning them. In the course of things, Sam accidentally reveals to Faramir that Frodo carries the One Ring. Much to their surprise though, Faramir doesn’t want to take it from them. Unlike Boromir, he understands the dangers of the Ring and approves of their plan to take it to Mount Doom where it will be destroyed.

Later that night, Gollum is found diving for fish into the sacred pool, the penalty for which is death. Faramir’s archers are about to kill him, but Frodo admits that he is there companion and he need him to to get into Mordor. Though Frodo has saved his life, Gollum appears to feel distraught and betrayed by the incident. The following morning Faramir gives them some provisions and sends them on their way, but warns them that Gollum may know more about the secret entrance (Cirith Ungol) than he has been telling them.

Gollum leads them past the city of Minas Morgul and up a long, steep staircase of the Tower of Cirith Ungol. At the base of it lies a long tunnel which he claims leads into Mordor, one which the orcs don’t know about. His betrayal is soon revealed when an enormous spider named Shelob sneaks up on them. Gollum attacks Sam and prevents him from warning him before he’s stung. Sam manages to fend off Gollum and back into the spider’s cave where he manages to scare off Shelob with the light of Erendil.

After seeing Frodo lifeless and pale, Sam assumes that Frodo is dead and becomes despondent. He debates abandoning the Quest in favor of chasing after Gollum and killing him. However, he resolves to finish the Quest himself and takes the Ring from Frodo’s body. Unfortunately, a group of Orcs show up and take Frodo’s body away, and reveal in the process that Frodo is not in fact dead, but only unconscious. This is Shelob’s way, he learns, which is to paralyze her victims with poison before draining their blood. The story ends with Sam resolving to travel to Minas Morgul and save Frodo!

Summary:
As I might have said already, this book was my favorite of the three. The action starts immediately with the introduction of the Rohirrim and the march to war. And of course, things didn’t let up with the seige at Helm’s Deep, the decision of the Ents to get involved, and the reigning in of Saruman. But at all times, the action is made all the more poignant by the fact that everything is steeped in ancient lore and genuine cultural influences. I for one couldn’t get enough of Rohan’s culture and its Anglo-Saxon nature, nor the constant intrigue Tolkien sowed into the plot with all the spying, lying, influence and plotting.

And then things calm down just a bit for Frodo and Sam’s journey, which is characterized by fear, suspicion, and an in-depth analysis of Gollum’s split personality. Here is perhaps one of the best elements of the series, where we find a creature so perverted by evil and twisted by centuries of isolation that he seems barely human. But at the same time, there is still a spark of humanity that burns within him, one which Frodo feels he must harness and breathe new life into.

And of course, there’s Frodo’s own transformation as he becomes more and more consumed by the Ring’s power. Though they are already bound by mutual necessity, it is clear that Frodo and Gollum are bound by shared experience a swell. This gives another one of the story’s arguably best elements, which is the way the reader is left hoping that Frodo can endure, and torn between hoping for Gollum and suspecting him of treachery. This is a perfect device, in that it mirrors the dichotomy between Sam and Frodo perfectly.

On top of all that, there was more development in terms of the stories deep background and geography of Middle Earth. Seeing the Southrons for the first time was very intriguing, and reminded me just how inspired Tolkien’s literary creations are. Whereas the people of Rohan were clearly inspired by the Anglo-Saxon example, the Southrons clearly represented the armies born of West Asia that threatened the real-life “Men of the West – the Persians, the Carthaginians, and the Saracen Turks.

Film Adaptation:
It is perhaps for this reason, or the fact that I read the book first this time, that I found the movie quite inferior. All throughout, they made extensive changes which I felt were obvious, transparent, and just plain unnecessar. For example, several scenes were added that never took place in the book for the simple reason that Peter Jackson and the script writer’s felt it needed more drama. Aragorn never fell on the way to Helm’s Deep, there was no pitch battle between Saruman’s riders and the Rohirrim, and the battle at Hornburg was hardly as hopeless as they made it out to be.

And let’s not forget the cheese element that was pervasive in the film. In this installment, Arwen and Elrond had no page time, and yet they forced them both in with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Really, what was the point of those long, drawn out scenes where she and her father are discussing the consequences of her life choices, aside from ensuring they still had screen time? Perhaps it’s just the fact that I know they weren’t in the book, but it just seemed annoying and forced. The first film seemed to excel for me by leaving stuff out, not adding stuff in.

And that scene at Helm’s Deep where Legolas rides a shield like it’s a skate board down the steps? I know they felt the need to throw the kids the bone, but that was just plain cheese! Much of the action was pervaded by that in fact, like when Gimli told Aragorn to “toss him”, an obvious reference to the terrible sport. Whereas in the first movie Gimli was a brusque and tough soul, by this movie his antics have degenerated into cheap comic relief, and Legolas’ stunts begin to border on the completely unrealistic.

But I aint done yet! There were also the million and one changes that they made to the script which I couldn’t help but notice, being a newly graduated Rings geek. For one, the confrontation at the Golden Hall was all wrong! Saruman was not exercising direct control over Theoden, Grima was the one whispering poison in his ear to keep him weak and complaint. That was far more realistic than the scene were Gandalf “shoves” Saruman out of him. And what’s more, the scene totally did away with the way Gandalf gets mad in the book, summons lightening, and scares the shit out of Grima. That was literary gold!

In fact, the best parts in the series are where Gandalf get’s mad and the whole world begins to shake. And they left that part out too, where Gandalf grows tired of Saruman’s bullshit and breaks his staff. Not only did they not even show it in this movie, they made the scene where it happens totally calm and boring. But that’s something for next review…

The next big change I saw was in how Theoden marched to war. In the book, he agrees and mobilizes his forces to go to Helm’s Deep because its a natural fortification that stands in the way of Saruman’s advance. But in the movie, he is hesitant and rides to Helm’s Deep because Edoras is “vulernable”. That made no sense because anyone who has access to a map of Middle Earth will see that Edoras is much farther away from Isengard than Helm’s Deep, and its a freaking walled city. How is it vulnerable? If anything, marching his people through the wilderness to an old fort that’s located practically on Isengard’s doorstep was stupid strategy. But that’s such a Rings geek point to make!

Oh, and the way the Elves marched to their rescue? Heartfelt, but never happened. Theoden had a garrison at Helm’s Deep, and though it was understaffed and made up of too many old men and youths – recall the line “too many winters or too few” – they stood against the Uruk-hai on their own. They were rescued in the end, but by Erkenbrand and the Rohirrim, who had not riden away out of anger at Theoden, but because they had been routed by the Uruks while fighting in the Westfold.

Still not done! There was also the extended part where Faramir decides to take the Ring and makes Frodo and Sam ride with them to Osgiliath. This never happened, and it totally pitched Faramir as some unappreciated child who was eager to earn his father’s respect. True, his father didn’t appreciate him, but his whole character was built on the fact that he was the wiser of the two brothers and knew how to resist the Rings allure. And that scene where he and his Lieutenant roll out the map to discuss strategy? So obvious! It was nothing more than an excuse to give the audience a gander at what Middle Earth looks like and illustrate their strategy. Obvious, but I guess it was necessary seeing as how many viewers hadn’t read the book.

And unlike the first movie, in this case, they cut out the ending instead of dipping into the next book to strengthen it up. This includes the portion where Gandalf, Aragorn and Theoden ride to Isengard and where Frodo is attacked by Shelob. Some would say they needed to make cuts for the sake of time, but that doesn’t hold seeing as how they added in scenes which never took place in the book. Cutting real material that was well worth watching just to make room for obligatory scenes of Arwen crying and the forced drama of Aragorn nearly dying just seems silly.

Okay, all done! Next up is the final installment, where things come together with climactic war scenes and the last, desperate attempt to destroy the Ring. Stay tuned for The Return of the King!

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello all and happy July 29th! Or, as its known to many fantasy and sci-fi geeks, the day that The Fellowship of the Ring the first volume in the LOTR trilogy was published in 1954. Yes, I learned that just this morning, and thought it was the perfect excuse to finally do the review I’ve been putting off until now. I can only apologize for my negligence in this regard, but let’s face it, this book is kind of a big deal. With this trilogy, Tolkien effectively did for fantasy what Herbert would later do for sci-fi with Dune; that is to say, make people take it seriously.

And even if you’re not a fan of fantasy, you have to acknowledge the incredible debt owed to Tolkien. Not only did he provide a legitimate injection of mythos to the fantasy genre, establish a very real connection between ancient and modern, and provide archetypes which are still used to this very day. On top of all that, Tolkien gave the British people a sense of cultural lore that was all their own, which was precisely what he wanted.

In fact, Tolkien went so far as to say that his motivation in writing “faerie story” was to create a narrative which he felt had been previously missing in British culture. When one looks at ancient mythology, be it Norse, Greek, Roman, Native American or Indo-Aryan, one sees stories and legends that are tied to a culture and contain incredible power for its people. And while the British have their share, Arthurian myth for example, Tolkien felt that this smacked of a Judea-Christian prejudice and did not genuinely reflect the British temperament.

But of course, many literary critics went a step further and claimed that his books contained allegorical similarities to the conflict which had just passed in Europe. Though he began work on his voluminous masterpiece before the war began, much of it was completed during the war years and seemed to possess veiled references to the conflict. Think about it, the nations of Middle Earth (which included the “Men of the West”) were faced with a resurgent evil that came from the East.

The last time they faced it they had been successful, but the unsatisfactory conclusion of that conflict paved the way for a future war. Now, with the evil returning, the nations of Middle Earth found themselves in a weakened posture, but managed to succeed by comign together once more to thwart the evil, this time destroying it permanently. Hell, even the races of Middle Earth themselves could be said to be allegories for real nations – the Elves, Dwarfs and Men constituting the British, French and Americans respectively, while Hobbits were unmistakable representations of the British folk, the hardy little people who made all the difference.

But that is mostly speculation. In the end, Lord of the Rings is so richly detailed and deep that people have been able to discern countless metaphors, allegories and significant passages. In the end, it’s genius lies in the fact that it was both hugely inspired yet immensely original. So without further ado, let’s get down to dissecting the bad boy that started this whole phenomena!

Sidenote: the focus of this review will be the novel itself. Any notes on the movie adaptation come at the end, so don’t expect a running commentary on how the book differed from the movie. All artwork provided is that of Alan Lee, the illustrious illustrator of Tolkien’s work.

The Fellowship of the Ring:
The book opens with a note on Hobbits and a preamble indicating what took place in the previous book, The Hobbit. It also provides some deep background which includes notes on the people of the Shire, their customs, and how Bilbo Baggins came into possession of the One Ring. The story then opens with book I, the first in the six book volume that makes up the single tale of The Lord of the Rings.

Book I: The Ring Sets Out:
In the first chapter, the story returns us to the Shire where Bilbo is waiting up his 111th (or eleventy-first) birthday, while his adopted heir Frodo is coming of age at 33. Bilbo is sparing no expense for the occasion and has even invited Gandalf to attend, as he has some rather important news for him.

This, Gandalf soon learns, is that he intends to take a permanent holiday. He plans to leave everything to Frodo, but doesn’t seem to want to surrender his one prized possession: The One Ring. After a tense confrontation with Gandalf, who convinces to leave the Ring behind, Bilbo departs on his journey and the two promise to meet up again. When Frodo arrives at Bilbo’s house, he is ransacked by relatives who are looking for their share of Bilbo’s wealth.

After they all depart, Frodo is spoken to by Gandalf, during which time he tells him he plans to depart on his own business. He warns Frodo to keep a close watch on the Ring, as he fears the worst of it. Over the course of the next 17 years, he pops in to visit Frodo, and eventually comes to tell him the truth. The Ring, he claims, the One Ring forged by the Dark Lord Sauron to help him conquer Middle Earth.

This provides some additional background on the story, where Gandalf explains to Frodo all about the “War of the Last Alliance”, how Isildur took the Ring for himself, and how it fell from his posession to be lost for ages. He also explains how, in time, Bilbo found the Ring in a cave where a forlorn creature named Gollum had been living with it for centuries. It was this Ring that bestowed Bilbo’s legendary longevity, as it did Gollum while simultaneously poisoning his mind.

He comes at last to the point of the tale: Sauron has risen once again and is gathering his strength at Mordor. But before he can complete his conquest of Middle Earth, he needs the One Ring to which he is bound. Already, his forces found Gollum and learned from him that the Ring was in the Shire, in the possession of one named Baggins. Because of this, Frodo must leave and go to Rivendell, where he will be safe and the fate of the Ring can be determined.

Gandalf must set out on his own too, to consult with the head of his order Saruman at Isengard. He promises to meet up with Frodo again before the summer when Frodo will depart. Frodo’s friend and gardner, Samwise Gamgee, is found overhearing their conversation, and out of loyalty to Frodo, agrees to go with him. When the summer arrives, Gandalf does not show, but Frodo must leave and does so under the pretense that he is moving, and with the help of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took, they set out for the edge of the Shire.

Along the way, they hear of Black Riders that have come to the Shire and are asking after a Baggins. These are revealed to be the Nazgul (or Ringwraiths), “the most terrible servants of the Dark Lord”. With the help of a party of Elves and the Farmer Maggot, Frodo and his company reach the edge of the Shire and pass into the wilderness. Along the way, they meet more curious folk, such as Tom Bombadil, a strange Hobbit-like creature who seems to be immune to the Ring’s effects.

At last, they come to the town of Bree, where they take a temporary respite at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. After downing a few pints with the locals, Frodo accidentally reveals the Ring when he slips it on and disappears from sight. He is then pulled into a room by Aragorn, who reveals himself to be a friend of Gandalf’s and a friend in their quest. He shows them the sword of Elendil, the shattered remains of the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, and agrees to take them the rest of the way to Rivendell.

After several days of traveling through the wilderness, they come to the ruins on the hill of Weathertop. During the night, they are set upon by the Nazgul, and after cornering Frodo, the chief stabs him with a cursed blade. Aragorn manages to chase them off, but warns that Frodo must get to Rivendell with all haste, or he will become a Nazgul himself.

As they hurry along, they meet Glorfindel, an Elf warrior from Rivendell who agrees to takeFrodo there with all haste. The Nazgul, all nine of them joined together now, pursue them and attempt to follow them across the Ford of Brunien, the last remaining obstacle between Rivendell and the outside world. However, Elrond sends a wave down the river which smashes the Nazgul into the rocks and ensures Glorfindel’s and Frodo’s escape. However, Frodo collapses and appears to be near death.

Book II: The Ring Goes South
When Frodo awakens, he learns that he is in the House of Elrond in Rivendell, where he has been healed by Elvish magic. Elrond summons the Council which consists of Aragorn and representative of every race on Middle Earth. Frodo is invited to attend, where he presents the One Ring. Gandalf is there too, and explains that he was held up because of a betrayal. Saruman, head of his order, has apparently betrayed them because he desires the Ring for himself. He is not yet in the service of Sauron, and is amassing his own army of Orcs.

Together, they hatch the plan that the only way to defeat Sauron is to destroy the One Ring, which must be cast back into the fires of Mount Doom from which it was forged. Frodo volunteers to take the ring and thus becomes the Ring-Bearer, and Samwise once again vows to stay by his side. Completing the Fellowship are Aragorn and Boromir, son of the Steward of Gondor; Legolas, Prince of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood; Gandalf; Gimli the Dwarf; and Merry and Pippin.

Together, they set out south along the Misty Mountain route. However, there attempts to cross are foiled due to snow and avalanches. They debate over what to do next, but it is agreed that they will pass through the mines of Moria instead. Aragorn seems to think this is a risky idea, but Gimli insists that his cousin Balin who rules there will give them safe passage and hospitality.

Once inside, they find the place littered with corpses and overrun by Orcs. Their company finds their way into a side room where Balin’s tomb is located, and where the Dwarves apparently made their last stand. Shortly therafter, the Orcs fall upon them and the company manages to make its way out. However, when they reach deeper into the mines and come upon a bridge leading to the surface, an even greater threat emerges: A Balrog of Morgoth, a creation of darkness and flame from the ancient world.

Gandalf stands against it, but soon finds himself pulled down into an abyss with it. Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship look on in horror, but are forced to flee as more Orcs swarm in to attack them. They make their way out of the mines and Aragorn laments that Gandalf didn’t heed his warnings about passing into the mines. For a long time now, it was feared that the Dwarves lust for Mithril (which was mined in Moria) caused them to dig too deep and disturb what lay down below.

Once free of the mountain, they make for the elf-haven of Lothlórien, where they are sheltered by the rulers Celeborn and Galadriel. As they take their rest, Galadriel speeks to Frodo and provides him with visions of what is to come. He offers her the Ring, which she considers momentarily, but then rejects. The quest falls to Frodo himself, he is told, and he must find a way to destroy it. Before setting out down river, they are given provisions and items for their quest, all of which will prove useful later on.

After setting down at water’s edge, the Fellowship begins to show cracks. After days of becoming edgier and moodier, Boromir finally confronts Frodo and tries to take the Ring from him. Frodo places the Ring on and escapes, and the others scatters to go and hunt for him. Frodo decides that the Fellowship has to be broken, and that he must depart secretly for Mordor. However, Sam finds him before he can leave and insists on coming with him. The two then set off again down river, just as a company of Orcs close in and threaten the camp!

Thus ends the first volume of the Lord of The Rings!

Summary:
Of the three books, I have to declare right off that this was my least favorite. But of course, that isn’t saying much given how impressed I was with book II and III. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel that with this first volume, Tolkien wrote long-winded passages that really weren’t necessary. Of course I could see the point of them. They established background information and detailed the fictitious world in which the events took place.

Nevertheless, so much of Book I felt like interjections and asides that didn’t seem to contribute to the overall storyline. For example, Tom Bombadil’s role in the story has long been a subject of debate. As it was explained to me, he occupies the same category as the Ents and other mythical creatures, in that he is outside the regular events of the story. Whereas the Ents are indifferent to the Ring and the wars for Middle Earth because they are so old, he is also indifferent because the Ring has no power to sway him as it does other creatures.

But in the case of the Ents, they came to be directly involved in the war because they realized that they could not simply sit idly by and let things pass. Tom had no such compulsions or involvement, and aside from being mentioned briefly in Rivendell, has no more role in the story. And unlike certain features which come up during the long journey through the Wilderness, his inclusion also wasn’t a shout out to content from the Hobbit. So really, what purpose did he truly serve?

Second, there was the Fellowship’s journey through the Misty Mountains. It is implied that they are turned back by Saruman’s magic, but it is never established. What’s more, the dangers of going through Moria are hinted at ahead of time, but it appears Gandalf is okay with the idea even though he must have foreseen he would be the one to die. But in the end, it is Aragorn who later laments the decision and questions why Gandalf would be okay with it. It seemed to me that if Moria represented the riskiest choice, Gandalf should have been the one had doubts about it.

Last, there was the point at which the Fellowship breaks. In book I, we see the basic points, Boromir trying to steal the ring, and Frodo leaving with Sam before they Orc party strikes. But it’s not until book II that we realize that such a confrontation took place, that Boromir was killed, or that Merry and Pippin were taken prisoner. In this, and all other cases mentioned, the movie sought to show these things and explain them fully. Quite predictable, but in the case of this first story, I actually felt it worked. But of course that probably has something to do with the fact that this one time I saw the movie first. Were I a Rings geek prior to the first film (as I was for II and III), I might have taken issue with all these changes instead of approving of them.

So far, I feel I’ve been saying only negative things about this book. But let me be clear, it’s only because the story set such a high tone that I was surprised to find that there were any weaknesses at all in this volume. If anything, the flaws are the exception to the rule, which is that Tolkien managed to create a story and and entire world steeped in legend, lore and magic. His main characters are archetypical legends, calling to mind such heroes as Beowulf, Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin, and whose supporting characters call to mind the same kind of comic and tragic figures as Caliban, Launcelot Gobo, and King Lear’s Fool.

And of course, there are the legendary races in the story which continue to dominate the fantasy genre and popular consciousness alike. When it comes to stories, gaming, movies and television, the basic breakdown of Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs, Ogres, Goblins, Wizards and Dark Lords is still in effect. Willow was a movie built entirely on Tolkien’s foundation, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and The Golden Compass owed a huge debt to his work, and Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, and countless other games I can’t even name wouldn’t exist without him.

And the storyline itself is nothing short of genius. Embracing such themes as the “Decline of the West”, the rise of an old evil, the idyllic countryside, the world outside your door, and little people caught in a situation much bigger than themselves, the story was so layered that people could find no shortage of significance and meaning contained within. It’s little wonder then why it has remained so influential and enduringly popular!

Coming up next, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, in that order 😉