How Reading The Lord of the Rings Changed My Life (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS A CLASSIC THAT HAS CHANGED YOUR LIFE?

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How Reading The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien Changed My Life

I’m sure I’ve talked about this on the blog before, so this story may be familiar to some readers, but when I think about a classic, or simply any book, that changed my life there is only one that immediately comes to mind: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. There are other books I’ve liked and have read over and over, ones that have made me think about myself and the world in new ways, but in terms of actual, concrete changes to my life, The Lord the Rings is the only book that makes the cut.

I first read The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade, devouring the entire story in four days. From there, I dove into Tolkien scholarship (I was a weird kid, ok?) and started learning more about Tolkien’s academic background and his literary influences. Soon I was reading medieval literature like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and I loved that, too.

When I went to college, I took far more pre-1800 literature classes than the department intended (but it was allowed by the rules), and afterwards I entered an English literature PhD program, intending to specialize in medieval literature and become a professor (like Tolkien!). I eventually decided to leave the PhD program with my master’s degree, due to reasons largely related to academia as an institution and not due to any lack of love of the subject, so unfortunately I’m not going to live the dream of teaching the next generation of college students to think medieval romances are cool and Chaucer is actually readable if you try. However, my point is that my entire academic career (and other facets of my life that spun off from that, like whom I have been able to network with and what non-academic jobs I’ve gotten because of those networks) was influenced by the fact that I read The Lord of the Rings in sixth grade.

Briana

My Favorite Character in The Lord of the Rings (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS?

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I want to preface this by saying I’m not certain I have a favorite character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are a number of characters I like, including Eowyn, Faramir, and Legolas, and a number of characters I think are fascinating even if they might not be “my favorite.” (For example, see Krysta’s post on reconsidering Boromir.) However, for the sake of this post, I want to talk about why Aragorn has always been one of my favorite characters.

A lot of Tolkien scholarship extols the presence of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, comparing them to the Everyman and suggesting that Frodo and company are what make the story really “relatable.” Hobbits are the small people with no particular power or previous role in great world events, yet their decisions, their perseverance, and their commitment to doing what is right are what drive the novel and help free all of Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron and the Ring. As Elrond states:

“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”

All this love for the importance of ordinary people means, however, that Aragorn often gets tossed to the side. Scholars–and general readers–sometimes think that Aragorn simply is not interesting: he’s a king, a skilled warrior, a leader, etc. Liking the “traditional hero” is just too obvious for them.

Well, I like traditional heroes.

I enjoy a good epic adventure, whether it’s an old story like Beowulf or a new fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and I love that Aragorn is a strong, admirable character who brings a sense of gravity to the novel. Sure, he’s not “relatable” because I will never be a monarch or a leader of an elite group of fighters or even a mysterious and forbidding character in a tavern, but the feeling that he’s a bit larger than life is what’s beautiful about him–and the book as a whole. He’s also something I think most of us would aspire to be: brave, confident, and wise. He’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep others safe, going so far as to lead what most think is a suicide mission to distract Sauron at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam have a final chance to destroy the One Ring.

Dismissing Aragorn as some sort of run-of-the-mill hero type also does a disservice to the sadness that surrounds him. First, he has some personal sorrows. He is in exile from his own kingdom; though he does serve Gondor under a pseudonym, he spends years in the wild with the Rangers, protecting Middle Earth for little thanks. He’s also separated from the woman he loves, as Elrond will not give his blessing for Arwen and Aragorn to marry until Aragorn is king and “worthy.”

Second, he brings a sense of sorrow and things passing to the story as a whole. After Aragorn is crowned king (only after he is assured the people of Gondor desire his coronation), readers know he is essentially the last of his kind–the last truly great king of royal Númenórean descent. Although he has children, one gets the sense that Middle Earth has lost something awe-inspiring and beautiful when Aragorn dies. In another parallel with Beowulf, one can feel the passing of an age with the passing of a final great king.

Aragorn is a hero, yes, but labeling him one as if that explains everything about him and he is uninteresting as an individual character overlooks the complexity Tolkien weaves around him. Also, basically everyone in The Lord of the Rings ends up being a hero, and isn’t the exploration of heroism in many forms one of the things fans like about it?

Briana

10 Things I Wish the LotR Movies Had Not Changed (Extended Editions)

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts.


Over the years, I have enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films many times. There is much to admire to them! However, there are a few changes the films made with which I do not agree. Here are a few.

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Faramir’s Characterization

Of all the changes Peter Jackson’s films make, Faramir’s characterization is my least favorite. In Tolkien’s story, Faramir serves as an image of what Bormomir might have been: a man who loves wisdom and goodness more than personal glory. Jackson, however, apparently to amp up the drama, makes Faramir into another Boromir, or perhaps something less. Because Faramir has daddy issues, he initially tries to send the Ring to Gondor to prove himself to his father, instead of doing what he knows in his heart is right–saving Gondor from itself by sending the Ring to its destruction. Faramir comes off as far more dishonorable and far less admirable in the films. But people need characters they can look up to, not only characters who show them their own weaknesses. And Boromir already did that, anyway.

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Treebeard’s Characterization

Like Faramir, Treebeard is portrayed as less admirable in the films. In the book, Treebeard knows Saruman is trouble and that he must be dealt with. In the films, Treebear initially decides the Ents must leave Middle-earth to its fate, until he is tricked by Merry and Pippin into discovering that Saruman has been chopping down his forest. The film makes Treebeard look both foolish (he does not know what is happening in his own forest) and selfish.

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Aragorn’s Characterization

Once again, Peter Jackson takes a character Tolkien portrays as noble and makes him conflicted in order to add more drama to the film. In Tolkien’s story, Aragorn knows he is a king and accepts his birthright. In the films, Aragorn is hesitant to take up his role and rejects the Sword That Was Broken. I do not see that this conflict adds much to the story since Aragorn accepts his kingship without much fuss in the end.

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Arwen and Aragorn’s Romance

I understand Jackson probably wanted to add some romance to his story since most of this occurs in the Appendices in Tolkien’s book. But, again, he adds superfluous drama in having Aragorn break up with Arwen. She keeps appearing to him in weird dream sequences, though, which is confusing–are they still a couple or not? Then Arwen just decides to up and leave Aragorn forever by going to the Grey Havens until she has a vision, which really just makes me thing less of her.

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Glorfindel’s Removal

I know many people wish Tolkien had written in more women, but Glorfindel is one of my favorite characters, so I am sad he was replaced by Arwen. Besides, the Arwen switch makes little sense when you consider how over-protective movie Elrond is. I seriously doubt he would let her leave Rivendell with Black Riders about.

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Theoden Looks Incompetent

In Tolkien’s story, Theoden is a respected king who leads his people well in the end. However, in the movie, he is portrayed as incompetent and foolish. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli apparently know better than he does how to rule his people and organize his military resistance, and they are not shy about telling him to his face that going to Helm’s Deep is a stupid idea. Why they think Edoras is more defensible, however, I do not know. It certainly does not look to me like Edoras could withstand an attack by 10,000 orcs. The movie does not address this contradiction, however. It really just wants to play up the drama by having people repeatedly stress that Theoden is leading his people to doom.

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The Rohirrim Can’t Tame Their Own Horses

In one random scene, the Rohirrim are shown unable to tame one of their own horses, even though they are known as Horse-masters. Aragorn, however, is perfect and therefore able to calm the horse for the Rohirrim. This makes no sense. It just feels like the film is invested by this point in making the Rohirrim look stupid so Aragorn can look awesome in contrast.

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The Gondorians (and Faramir) Beat Smeagol

I find it difficult to believe that Faramir would beat up Smeagol to get information from him, or that he would allow his men to do so. They are supposed to be wise, descended from the Numenoreans. Yet, in the movie, they are shown to be comfortable with beating up defenseless, starved prisoners. It really seems like Jackson does not want audiences to like Faramir.

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Sam Leaves Frodo

Sam would never leave Frodo, even if Frodo commanded it. This is just a fact.

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No Scouring of the Shire

I know the movies were already pretty long and putting an ending on the ending, as it were, might have confused movie goers. But the Scouring of the Shire just feels thematically important. You can’t go home and find it all unchanged.

History Repeats Itself: Tolkien’s Primary Villains (Guest Post by Mary Drover)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


We all know and fear the story of Sauron, master of the One Ring.  He’s often depicted as a physically massive, all-powerful being that takes many forms, as well as shrouded in shadow and made to look like the monster under our beds.  He is a terrifyingly well-done villain because of that—we fear him because he represents all of our darkest nightmares.  And while Tolkien does an excellent job of assuaging those fears by giving the ability to defeat this horror to the smallest of his characters, he’s also already told this story before we ever meet Sauron.  For Sauron was not just born evil—he was carefully curated.

Taking it back all the way to the First Age, before Frodo and the Ring, before Elves and Men hated each other, before war was even a thought, there was Melkor.  Perhaps Tolkien’s most powerful villain, Melkor was also not born evil, though everything that followed—including Sauron’s ascent to power—could have been avoided if he’d maybe talked to someone about the issues he was facing instead of declaring war against all of Arda.

For a time, Melkor was nothing more than one of many.  He toiled away at his work like his brethren, enjoyed being among his family, and generally led a quiet life.  However, in a very Biblical way, Melkor had questions.  Thoughts of his own.  Desires and dreams that he wished to fulfill.  And when he began seeking answers, those he had considered friends and family began to turn against him.  Melkor, enraged at the impossibility of individuality, lashed out.  He decided that he would strike out on his own and seek revenge against those who had tried to silence him.

From there, his story is that of most villain origin stories.  After he took the land that would become Angband, his terrible and evil dominion, Melkor sought his revenge.  After destroying all light in the world, stealing the most precious jewels ever made, and killing the high king of elves, Tolkien gifts Melkor with a name change:

“Then Fëanor rose, and lifting up his hand before Manwë he cursed Melkor, named him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World; and by that name only was he known to the Eldar ever after.”

–       The Silmarillion, QS Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

Morgoth then goes on to seek his revenge via war, and the whole world is in turmoil.  Morgoth is, arguably, Tolkien’s most powerful villain.  Even when he is eventually defeated, the most they can do to him is banish him from the world.  He is so powerful that killing him is impossible; so powerful, even, that his legend continues to live on.

However, in this villain origin story, Melkor’s name can easily be replaced with Mairon’s, the man Sauron was before.  Mairon, though considerably less powerful than Morgoth, was still respected for his prowess as a smith, and he drew attention to himself via that skill.  Attention that even Morgoth could not ignore, for he started to slip back into his old home to see what all the fuss was about.

Melkor made decisions that directed him straight on his path toward becoming Morgoth.  Mairon, arguably, did the same thing on his path toward becoming Sauron.  Mairon led a life very similar to Melkor’s—it was quiet, surrounded by friends and family, and centered on his work as a smith.  He had questions and doubts, but he kept them mostly to himself until Morgoth stepped into his life.  Morgoth had come to his answers on his own, and he readily shared them with Mairon, who was still malleable.  Mairon saw not the Black Foe of the World, but someone he had grown up revering.  This was Melkor, someone so powerful that all of Arda feared him, and Mairon willingly gave his service to him:

“Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel.”

–       The SilmarillionValaquenta

From the beginning, Mairon and Melkor’s stories are very similar, and as they progress, so do the similarities.  As they become, respectively, Sauron and Morgoth, their paths continually intertwine and echo one another.  They are two individual characters, yes, but they represent much of the same.

Though Sauron became Morgoth’s commander in his war against all of Arda, the arc of their characters continued to reflect one another.  Morgoth stole the Silmarils, the most exquisite jewels ever created, and fastened them to his crown so that he might always be with them.  Sauron, hungry for power, created the Nine Rings, but secretly created one for himself, as well, that he might wear on his finger and keep with him always.  Morgoth stole into Mairon’s heart using the breadth of his power and legend, and Sauron deceived the elves with his beauty and wonder to help him forge the rings.

Even their physical places of power are similar to one another.  Angband, Morgoth’s central base, is deeply entrenched in mountains and difficult to enter.  Mordor, Sauron’s eventual lair, is pitted inside a crater of mountains and massive stone walls.  They each hide themselves behind formidable soldiers like balrogs and orcs, dragons and Ringwraiths.  They seek out servants in the hearts of men, humans they know are susceptible to their wicked ways, and slowly eke out their power throughout the world.

They say history repeats itself, and in Tolkien’s legendarium, there is nothing truer.  The world of Arda might have learned from its mistakes in the great war against Morgoth, but instead, it allowed Sauron to seek power, to gain a throne, to prove himself worthy of his mentor.  Perhaps the only difference between Morgoth and Sauron, then, is that Sauron is defeated.  Eventually, he is killed, and peace comes to Arda.  And while Sauron’s legend lies in ruin, Morgoth is still waiting on the fringes of existence, banished, but not gone.

The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings have widely different fan bases and received vastly different responses when they were published.  For decades, it seemed The Silmarillion might never see the light of day, and even when it did, it was still The Lord of the Rings that struck people to the core.  The defeat of Sauron from a small, unlikely hero is something that will always stand out in Tolkien’s legendarium.  It is, perhaps, because Morgoth was never defeated by a single small, unlikely hero, but many, that he is forgotten and ignored.  But the defeat of Sauron might never have been possible without the rise of Morgoth, and the two are inextricably linked.

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About the Author

Mary Drover finds adventure along the New England coastline, deep in the White Mountains, and always on a yoga mat. She spends her days in an office, her nights drinking tea, and all the in-between moments snuggling her sister cats or writing about magic, pirates, witches, faeries, planets, and romance. She has a BFA in Creative Writing & a BA in English from the University of Maine at Farmington, practices Tibetan Buddhism, has too many candles, and cannot stop buying crystals or plants. She is a registered yoga teacher, a sorted Gryffindor, and a part-time witch. Visit her at marydrover.com.

Why The Fellowship of the Ring is Worth Reading (Guest Post by Elli @ NeedtoRead)

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Why The Fellowship of the Ring Is Worth Reading

A beautifully-written book about wizards, elves, hobbits, and a treacherous journey to save the world.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure, Fiction

Summary

The One Ring holds a power that could destroy their entire civilization, if it gets back to its master. The only way to stop it is to destroy it. But doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds. The adventure starts with two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, who set off on an journey to bring the One Ring to Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place where it can be destroyed.


When I first decided to read The Fellowship of the Ring, I was intimidated.

I’d tried reading the book before, but it always took so long to get through the beginning. I also had other books that I wanted/needed to read, and I thought that The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t worth my time.

But a few weeks ago I decided that I was going to commit to reading it. I wasn’t going to read anything else until I finished it, and I was going to push through the boredom no matter how much I wanted to stop.

Now I realize that I was wrong: reading The Fellowship of the Ring was definitely worth it.

From the beginning of the book, the reader’s attention is grabbed. You right away become interested in Bilbo and Frodo, the most mysterious hobbits in the Shire. Frodo was an orphan when he was taken in by Bilbo, and they both share a love for adventure that most hobbits don’t have.

But something fishy is going on; it seems that Bilbo’s Eleventy-First (One Hundred and Eleventh) birthday party is going to be different from the usual. At the end, Bilbo disappears into thin air while giving a speech.

Frodo is left with Bilbo’s Ring,and doesn’t know how much power it holds until years later, when the wizard Gandalf tells him of its magic and what danger Frodo is in while he has it.

You are introduced to many different characters, many of whom have a bigger part in the story within the next two books, in addition to their roles in the first one. The Fellowship is comprised of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry the hobbits, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, Boromir and Aragorn the men, and Gandalf the wizard.

Sam Gamgee is the most lovable character, in my opinion. He vows to follow Frodo wherever he may go and is always by Frodo’s side as a loyal friend and companion.

The hobbits are underestimated because of their size, but they show true signs of bravery when the Fellowship is in peril. All four of them, especially Frodo, grow and mature as time goes on.

I know that I said this book is overly-descriptive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You are able to imagine settings in immense detail, as if you were there yourself. You can almost feel the grass under your feet and hear the trees swaying in the wind.

There’s something beautiful about the way it’s written, a sense of adventure that keeps readers turning the pages. After reading it, I decided to watch the movie again, as well, which is also definitely worth watching (if you haven’t already).

There is a lot of plain walking around and background information given in this book, since the journey to Mount Doom is just beginning. But you have to get through it to be able to experience more action in the next two books.

Though it is slow-moving, The Fellowship of the Ring is a great start to The Lord of the Rings. If you are a Tolkien fan and haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend starting it today.

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About the Author

Elli is a Canadian blogger who wants to share her love of writing and literature by posting about books on her blog, NeedtoRead. She enjoys reading through Pages Unbound reviews, and wants to contribute to their Tolkien event by writing one herself.

Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Information

Goodreads: Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1997

Official Summary

What are millions of readers all over the world getting out of reading The Lord of the Rings? Newly reissued with a new afterword, Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth argues, in part, that Tolkien has found a way to provide something close to spirit in a secular age. His focus is on three main aspects of Tolkien’s fiction: the social and political structure of Middle-earth and how the varying cultures within it find common cause in the face of a shared threat; the nature and ecology of Middle-earth and how what we think of as the natural world joins the battle against mindless, mechanized destruction; and the spirituality and ethics of Middle-earth, for which Curry provides a particularly insightful and resonant examination that will deepen the understanding of the millions of fans who have taken The Lord of the Rings to heart. 

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Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry is a classic in the world of Tolkien scholarship, so I find it somewhat surprising I haven’t read it before now.  Perhaps on some level I don’t feel that Middle-earth needs defending; I love The Lord of the Rings and have ideas about why I do and why other people do.  However, finally reading Defending Middle-Earth has sparked some more reflection in me about why other people love Tolkien’s work and why it continues to resonate with readers year after year.

To be fair, the book was published in 1997 and revised in 2004, so it can feel a bit dated at times (I think some of the disgruntled Goodreads reviews are a reaction to this).  This is both in regards to the real-world examples Curry gives about how Tolkien’s work can be applicable to our own lives and to the positioning of the scholarship.  For instance, although there certainly are still academics today who disdain genre fiction, fantasy, and Tolkien’s work in particular, I think the tide has generally changed and the idea that “scholars don’t take fantasy seriously” is today a bit overblown.  University students can take classes on everything from zombie books to children’s literature.  PhD students can specialize in science fiction.  An incredible amount of serious work has been published on Tolkien alone.  So while Middle-earth might need defending to certain people, I think some of the contempt that Curry was responding to at the time of original publication is much less of an issue today.

Nonetheless, the general scope of Curry’s analysis of what makes Tolkien’s work popular and beloved feels timeless.  He focuses on three main categories: the social, the natural, and the spiritual.  One might reductively say this is about the sense of community in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s obvious love of nature, and the clear sense that there is some spiritual meaning in the world of Middle-earth, even as Tolkien’s books rarely overtly mention anything resembling religion.  Curry, of course, goes much more in-depth on these topics, drawing on scholarship and literary theory and even touching on broad topics like why fantasy or myth might resonate with readers in general.  The result is thought-provoking, even if a reader does not agree with all of Curry’s points.

If you’re a Tolkien fan who wants to think more about The Lord of the Rings and the general question of “why people like this stuff,” Defending Middle-Earth is worth a read.

Briana

“It Was Pity That Stayed His Hand” (Guest Post by Anne Marie Gazzolo)

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts and interviews!


As Bilbo Baggins crawls along the goblin tunnels in total darkness, he happens upon a small ring. He puts it in his pocket without much thought and continues on until he hits water. With no way to tell how deep or far across it is, he stops. He does not know he is under surveillance by an unsavory creature. That is, not until he hears it speak of how delicious he would be to eat. So meet two small beings who play such crucial roles in the fate of the Ring. Bonniejean Christensen observes:

J. R. R. Tolkien’s fallen hobbit, Gollum, is an interesting character in his own right, but the changes in his character that Tolkien made between the first edition of The Hobbit in the 1930s and second edition in the 1950s make him one of his most fascinating creations.

. . .

In The Hobbit he is one of a series of fallen creatures on a rising scale of terror. In The Lord of the Rings he is an example of the damned individual who loses his own soul because of devotion to evil (symbolized by the ring) but who, through grace, saves others. (9, 10)

In an earlier draft of The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo of Gollum’s pitiable state before he met Bilbo:

“Don’t you realize that he had possessed the Ring for ages, and the torment was becoming unendurable? He was so wretched that he knew he was wretched, and had at last understood what caused it. . . . Half his mind wanted above all to be rid of the Ring, even if the loss killed him. But he hated parting with it as much as keeping it. He wanted to hand it on to someone else, and to make him wretched too.” (Treason 24-25)

The wizard goes on to say Gollum would not give the Ring to the goblins. After Bilbo comes, the creature sees his chance. Gandalf hints at the other Power at work in his mention both Bilbo and Frodo were singled out as the Ring’s guardians. Through this, Gollum’s life remains safe. If anyone other than Bilbo found the fell object, it would have likely meant the wretched being’s death (Treason 25).

Gollum challenges Bilbo to a high-stakes riddle-game which reveals their respective worldviews. The hobbit speaks of life, light, and beautiful things. In retaliation, Gollum focuses for the most part on death, darkness, and decay. Bilbo likewise counters the wretched creature’s despair with hope. With the hobbit’s life in immediate peril, he cannot think as clearly as he would otherwise. But he need not, as grace provides some of the answers without his conscious thought.

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My Journey Through Tolkien’s Works (Guest Post by Short Girl)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


My Journey Through Tolkien

My Journey Through Tolkien

I will be honest: I did not read The Lord of the Rings before I watched it.

My family has always been the type that reads.  Even though I’m getting up in years now, my parents still do “family read-aloud.” Each night, my mother will read a chapter or so aloud from whatever novel we’re on to my father and me. It’s a fun time. I’ve had The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, the Inkheart books, and many other classics read aloud to me over the years.

Surprisingly, though, my parents didn’t read LOTR to me before they decided we should watch it one wintry eve when I was ten or eleven. Since I had never read the books, I was supremely annoyed at the cliff-hanger that the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, leaves viewers on. Granted, I had watched LOTR before (the creepy cartoon version, when I was seven, at school; it scared me so I tried not to remember it), but I was still upset. A few weeks later, I goaded my parents into a nearly six-hour long double feature to watch The Two Towers and The Return of the King in order to see what happened next. I remember loving Éowyn, who slays the Witch-King. She was a super cool gal, and my prepubescent self was dazzled.

Then I read The Hobbit.

I know what you’re thinking. Hold the phone, you say, you watched the LOTR trilogy and then read The Hobbit? When are you actually gonna read the LOTR books?!?

The Hobbit was another family read-aloud book, and, as a child, I liked the imagery of the maze of caves that Bilbo finds himself in, where he sees Smeagol. I liked how small the book was but how the characters could still go on such an adventure. The other problem was that my brother owned the copy of LOTR, a thick, dog-eared one with all three books in it, and he was at college.

Eventually, though, he left his book at home, and I stole it and began reading. I was in seventh grade, and I carried the thick book around in my backpack for weeks, reading during lunch, between classes, during breakfast, and before bed. The imagery was just as dazzling, the characters just as gripping. I still loved Legolas and Gimli and Frodo and all of them. Frodo and Sam’s friendship was really important to me, especially in the tumultuous time that was middle school. I claimed my brother’s book as my own and covered it in peanut-butter stains during my excited reading.

When The Hobbit movies came out, I went to see the first one in theaters, and I was a little disappointed. I wanted to see the whole book at once, but I couldn’t! My then-boyfriend was obsessed with Tolkien, and he got me a copy of the movie for Christmas. It was nice of him, but I didn’t end up seeing the other two movies. I decided to keep the magic of The Hobbit to myself.

Even though Harry Potter was my favorite book series growing up (still is), LOTR was an important part of my development. It taught me about friendship, doing the right thing, and going on an adventure. It was part of my family culture–my brother and parents and I bonded over watching/reading it. When I heard recently that there was a movie about Tolkien coming out, I was quite excited.

Of course, I’m older now, so I have to admit the flaws of both Tolkien as a person and also his writing, but his books paved the way for me to love fantasy, try and write some of my own, and to keep on exploring.

Books offer you the opportunity to go into a another world, and The Lord of the Rings series definitely did that for me.

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About the Author

Short Girl has been blogging at Short Girl Writes (www.shortgirlwrites.wordpress.com) for a little over three years. As the name implies, she’s a short girl who writes. Her blog is focused largely on book reviews, but includes posts on other aspects of the world of reading and writing. In her spare time, she’s usually making music, knitting, or…surprise, reading books.

The Bittersweet Ending of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


ending of the lord of the rings discussion

When I read fantasy, I often find myself half hoping for a happy ending and half hoping that things will fall apart and go terribly wrong because, as much as I love happy endings, I sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that they’re too common, too predictable and that if the protagonist were to fail at least it would be a good plot twist.  The heroes win so much in fantasy (particularly YA fantasy, which I read a lot of) that I often assume the outcome of the book is a given, that I’m not really reading to see how things end but to see how the characters get there.  I want good to win, but I’m sometimes left wishing the villains would triumph, just to mix things up.  It’s a mental struggle I go through nearly every time I pick up a fantasy novel.

The last time I thought about my dilemma in choosing whether to cheer for good or evil (again, just for the sake of variety), it occurred to me that Tolkien’s heroes in The Lord of the Rings win.  They take the Ring to Mount Doom and toss it in, Sauron is destroyed permanently, and his armies mostly fall apart. Yet it never occurred to me to think that this ending was too boring or too predictable and needed to be “spiced up.”  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is because the ending of the book comes with immense joy but also with a sense of loss because, although the future is bright in Middle-earth, things will never be quite the same.

I do want to emphasize that the ending is happy, happier than the characters and even readers might predict.  Boromir, of course, is killed by Saruman’s Uruk-hai early on, but no other members of the Fellowship die.  Frodo and Sam, who were prepared to toss the Ring into Mount Doom at the cost of their own lives, are saved.  Merry and Pippin make it through the war.  Aragorn is crowned king.  Both he and Eowyn find love.  Middle-earth is poised to flourish.  But, still, there is loss.  It just isn’t what the characters were expecting.

Fighting Sauron meant fearing death, fearing the Ringwraiths, fearing a world where all the Free Peoples were enslaved and all green things died.  Little of that came to pass.  Instead, Frodo lost peace and his sense of belonging.  Sam lost his best friend when Frodo left for the Undying Lands.  The Shire lost its innocence and sense of safety.  Middle-earth lost the Elves and ushered in the Age of Man.

The Lord of the Rings shows us that, even when we defeat great evil, one of the costs is that things can never be quite the way they were before.  Change, of course, is not necessarily bad, and maybe some of what is different will be better.  But there will always be loss.  The “good guys” win in The Lord of the Rings, but it is a bittersweet victory tinged with the loss of some beautiful things.  It’s too complex to be a “happy ending.”

Briana

“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer” (Guest Post by Michael J. Miller @ My Comic Relief)

Tolkien Reading Event 2019

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts and interviews!


“The Hands of the King are the Hands of a Healer”-min

This is exciting!  I’ve admired Krysta and Briana’s site for ages and having the chance to write for their Tolkien Reading Event 2019 is an honor.  However, this was also an intimidating post to write.  I am a casual Tolkien reader at best – not reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time until I taught it (and when I say “it” I mean “the films” but I read the books before I taught it so only judge me half as much as you were going to when I said “films”) to my Youth Group about ten years ago.  Reading this site has given me a far deeper appreciation for not only the brilliance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work but also the devoted nature of his fans.  So I know I’m writing for readers who know their Tolkien.  Yikes.  But I’m always up for a challenge and this gives me an avenue to write about something profound I found in the pages of The Return of the King when I first read it all those years ago – the Houses of Healing.

The Houses of Healing comprise a relatively short part of Tolkien’s work.  However, this scene struck me more than anything else in the entire story when I first read it.  It was the part which left the most vivid impression on me, too.  I think of it often.  I am in awe of the brilliant allegorical work Tolkien accomplishes here.  Obviously, as a Catholic and someone who has spent the last seventeen years – his entire adult life – studying and teaching theology, Tolkien has my respect in a special way.  Tolkien’s faith greatly influenced his life and work, producing one of the most thoughtful and expansive examples of Christian allegory in all of literature with The Lord of the Rings.  For me, the most powerful example of this allegory occurs at the House of Healing.

In The Return of the King, while the Battle of Pelenor Fields rages, Gandalf arrives at the Houses of Healing.  As he’s there, the healers are struggling to help the people brought to them, “But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl.”[1]  As the people grow sicker and sicker, Gandalf waited and he watched.  “Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house, looking on the fair face of Faramir, wept, for all the people loved him.  And she said: ‘Alas!  if he should die.  Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say!  For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  And so the rightful king could ever be known.’”[2]

BOOM.  But it gets better!

Aragorn arrives and when he comes to the Houses of Healing he instantly begins his work.  He heals Faramir,[3]  Éowyn,[4] and Merry[5] using his hands, herbs, and his voice – calling them back to him.  Then, despite his desire to rest, he hears the calls of the people and continues his work:

“At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow.  And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night.  And word went far through the City:  ‘The king has come again indeed.’”[6]

BOOM.  What makes this – Aragorn being the one able to heal Faramir, Éowyn, Merry, and all the others – so profound isn’t simply the fact that Aragon is the king but rather that he is one of Tolkien’s central Christ figures in the story.  A Christ figure isn’t literally Christ but rather the character(s) who symbolically represents Jesus Christ in some way, shape, or form.  In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gives his readers three central Christ figures in Frodo, Gandalf, and, of course, Aragorn.  But of all the theological allusions in this story, all the Christological moments, it is this one which is the most significant (at least as far as I’m concerned) because it ties so directly into Jesus’ ministry.

I remember a professor of mine once saying, “What we know for certain about the Historical Jesus could fit on the back of a post card.”  It was not an original insight on his part but rather an oft repeated remark meant to underscore while we know a lot about Jesus, there is very little we can say with absolute certainty as being historically factual.  (Granted, the majority of the truth of scripture doesn’t hinge, and was never meant to, on it being historically factual.  Humanity’s greatest and most profound truths often come clearest in metaphors.)  But one of the things we do know with absolute certainty is that Jesus of Nazareth had a reputation as a mystic healer.[7]  We see reference to Jesus’ healings in the Christian scriptures, obviously, but we also see references to them in Jewish and Roman sources.  This is important from a historical standpoint as Jewish and Roman writers had no need to try to prove Jesus the Messiah or God.

As Historical Jesus theologian Marcus Borg puts it, “He was a remarkable healer: more healing stories are told about him than about anybody else in the Jewish tradition.”[8]  Speaking of Jesus’ technique, theological scholar Albert Nolan writes, “There was certainly a spontaneous concern to make some kind of physical contact with the sick person.  He touched them, took them by the hand or laid his hands on them.”[9]  The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  By invoking this connection between healer and king, by having Aragorn enter Minas Tirith and immediately begin healing the sick, Tolkien is directly connecting him to one of the most significant and historically verifiable aspects of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

We even see Aragorn employing some of Jesus’ healing techniques.  He lays his hands on Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry and he also speaks to them, calling them back and telling them it will be alright.  While less anchored in historical certainty, this too is something we see highlighted quite clearly in the Gospels.  In both the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44) and the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:54-56), for example, Jesus calls to the one who has died and they come to him, alive and healthy.  He wakes them with his voice, just as Aragorn does in the Houses of Healing.

To illustrate Aragorn’s kingship in the act of healing is to tie him with knowledge and nuance to the very heart of who Jesus was.  It shows both the depth of Tolkien’s knowledge of his faith and his care in presenting it, placing an appropriately important spotlight on healing in a story of spectacular battles across bloody battlefields.  Obviously, loving this scene the way I do, I was disappointed it didn’t make it into Peter Jackson’s adaptation (there was one extended scene that didn’t even try to present it accurately! (and the movie’s like a zillion hours long! couldn’t they give me fifteen minutes of this??)) but I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, the book is always better and when it comes to expertly weaving deeply theological threads through a narrative, no one can do it quite like J.R.R. Tolkien.


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), 871.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 876.
[4] Ibid., 878.
[5] Ibid., 879.
[6] Ibid., 881.
[7] Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity, (New York: Orbis Books, 1976), 43.
[8] Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 31.
[9] Nolan, 37-8.

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About the Author

Michael Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief.