While I’m here, just a quick post on this one.
When I first read LOTR, I hated it. It took two attempts to finish the whole trilogy, and by the end I was forcing myself through every sentence. This was some years ago.
I tried again a couple of weeks ago, thinking age may have improved by ability to cope with Tolkien’s writing (age… and four years of reading books and articles from the nineteenth century for my degree) and I was right.
Obviously, I do not need a spoiler warning for LOTR. If you don’t know what happens, it’s your own silly fault, so I am going to be entirely free with plot-occurrences here. So… Frodo annoys me much less than before. I still hate Boromir and am kind of glad he’ll be out of the way soon. And kinda still don’t like Tom Bombadil. I still skip the elf songs. But other than that, it’s pretty much an improvement across the board. Some of that is due to having seen the films. It’s sad, and awful of me, but they help. They make me trust that the book is worth finishing at any point when I maybe get a bit bored. And Ian McKellen’s face makes reading Gandalf so much more entertaining.
I still have issues. Tolkien’s writing style is… not for me. But it’s better than it was. It is a bit dry and scholarly (yes, yes, I know, deliberate, hush) and, well, contrived, to appeal to me as much as a lot of fantasy does. What I’m sure struck him as dramatic and good often strikes me as ridiculous, retarded and pretentious. The elves… god, I want to like elves. I normally like elves. But please, Tolkien elves, just shut up. I don’t care how old you are, no one is allowed that much melodrama. Even if the world is going to be taken over by an evil giant eye. Nor should they be allowed that much smug. Just because they are prettier than everyone else, doesn’t mean they should get away with swanning about the place treating everyone else like dumb children. Even the ones who do sort of behave like dumb children. Ahem… hobbits.
I know, I am getting annoyed by a lot of what he did deliberately and it’s all meant to be like this and I’m just being picky. Yes I am. But while the style he’s using works for Norse eddas and ancient sagas, they are not using it as self-consciously as Tolkien and so they’re allowed. They are not trying to be… ok, no, I’m stopping there. I know enough about Classical Greek literature to know that they are self-consciously being what they are. That’s how ancient literature works. Rephrase. They are not doing it in a way that would strike the contemporary listener as pretentious. Being self-consciously a Celtic poem when people still wrote them… that’s ok. You’re doing something in a normal genre of your time that people enjoy for its own sake. Being kinda like that several centuries later when only scholars really enjoy that sort of thing… not so good.
I’m making my case badly here, I know, but hopefully you can see what I’m trying to get at.
On the whole, regardless of all that whinge, I think I enjoyed Fellowship this time around. I was more patient with it than I was as a kid, and it paid off. Actually sitting still and not skimming through Tom Bombadil saving them, or a lot of the bit in Moria that isn’t cave-troll is worth it, in the end. The beginning, particularly, was worth sitting through, even though the start is pretty slow in the coming. All the bits where people go off and talk about random legends, they really bugged me when I was younger, but I see why they’re there now, and sitting down and reading them properly helped with the world-building and the general feeling of mythology. I get. Me aged ten was not patient enough for forays into fake mythology. Me aged twenty-two is… well, mostly patient enough. Mostly.
There are bits in the later books I’m not looking forward to. I suspect I am going to get really annoyed the further into the Return of the King I get, because I know a lot of it is Frodo and Sam on their own/with Gollum, and I know that that is going to really drag. But it’s ok. I think I’ll come out of the end still having enjoyed it. Sadly, while some of that is just me being more patient now, I think some of that is having seen the films. They make the pretty pictures in my head clearer, and more dramatic and exciting than Tolkien’s writing has the power to make them.
If it weren’t for the fact that the books have such a legacy in the rest of fantasy, I probably would never have got around to reading them again as an adult. I’m not even certain they’d be worth it. Enjoyable, yes, they are mildly. But they are still hard work and there are easier, more enjoyable books out there that I’d rather read.
And now I shall go hide from the lynch-mob of Tolkien fans who no doubt want me dead.