The Great American Read is an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people. Americans can vote on their favorite book once a day until the winner is revealed on October 23. Here at Pages Unbound, we’re joining the fun by reading, reviewing, and discussing some of the nominees!
Tolkien dreamed of creating a mythology for England and, by working on it for nearly his entire life, he succeeded. Middle-earth is a fully developed world with an extensive detailed history, a world where each race springs from its language, where even the plant life, the distances, and the cycles of the moon are carefully noted. As a result, Middle-earth feels like it really is the precursor of ours. Generations of writers after Tolkien have tried to capture that same magic by populating fantasy realms with Elves, Dwarves, and orcs. But no one else has come close to creating something that feels so real.
2. It deals with complex moral and philosophical themes.
On a surface level, The Lord of the Rings seems like a standard (or the standard) fantasy quest, one where the hero faces off against an evil villain to save the people from world domination. Tolkien’s story, however, goes far beyond that to celebrate the ways in the small moments and small people can create world-shaking effects. At its heart, The Lord of the Rings is about Sauron attempting to play God, but being defeated by the short-sighted nature of evil and the inability to understand the love that motivates others. Frodo triumphs, not because he is strong, but because he says “yes” to a providential moment, because he shows mercy to Gollum, and because he is aided by the self-sacrificial friendship of Sam. Evil is not overcome by violence or trickery or deceit. Evil is defeated by virtue.
3. It draws characters in shades of Grey.
Tolkien’s characters are incredibly complex, despite their reputation for being black-and-white. Frodo, for instance, is hardly an ordinary hero. He does not triumph through strength of arms or quick intellect. Instead, he triumphs because he is an instrument of Eru–and he has to live with the feeling that he himself failed. Meanwhile, Frodo’s stalwart companion Sam is more than a lovably loyal sidekick. He struggles with the mercy Frodo shows to Gollum and his lack of charity influences Gollum just when he is teetering on the brink between choosing to remain himself or become Smeagol once more. And Boromir, the character readers love to hate for failing? He shows how every person is flawed, but still can be redeemed. The richly drawn characters of The Lord of the Rings make it come alive just as much as its detailed worldbuilding.
4. It Is a Book of the People.
At its heart, The Lord of the Rings is a celebration of the common people. The wise and the strong have their plans, but they are ultimately saved by the quiet heroics of Hobbits from the Shire. The story posits that it is the everyday choices that really determine the fate of the world–the decision to be kind, the decision to help a friend, the decision to carry onward even when all hope seems lost. The real battlefield is internal and every person is fighting–not just the people who make the news or who receive the credit.
Previous posts on the Great American Read
- Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
- The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry
- Ghost by Jason Reynolds
- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Take the quiz to see how many of the Great American Read nominees you have already read!