The Lord of the Rings trilogy is something that I’ve been meaning to read for years. I read The Hobbitt as a freshman in high school, but never graduated (if you’ll forgive my sketchy pun) to the “real thing.” Actually, since the trilogy represents merely the final piece of a much larger puzzle fleshed out by books written both by Tolkien and his son, Christopher, which involved the making of an entire world. In fact, the only reason Tolkien ever wrote a book was to show off the new language he had invented.
It is tempting to immediately devolve into a comparison of each book with its corresponding movie. Certainly, more people have seen Peter Jackson’s masterful cinema than have read the books themselves. But I don’t think that doing so is productive beyond a very superficial level. In fact, Jackson did a pretty good job of staying true to the books, though he combined, reordered, or excluded certain parts for the benefit of the movie. None of that is exceptional. The only disparity I will point out, for the sake of elucidating one of my points, is that the sense of immediacy that pervades the movie is entirely gone in the book.
For instance, Bilbo leaves the Shire on his birthday, and Frodo inhereits Bag End, his house. Within, it seems, a day, or several at most, Gandalf returns to the Shire and sends Frodo on his quest. In fact, the span of time between Bilbo’s exodus and the beginning of Frodo’s quest is seventeen years. Everything takes quite a while in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Tolkien never seems to be in any hurry to move the story along. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though he’s entirely unconcerned with the narrative itself. Tolkien likes to do two things: (a) talking at length about the historical background of Middle-earth races or other interesting trivia, like language, and (b) painting beautiful pictures with words. Tolkien is a wordsmith par excellence, and in fact most of the book is spent doing just that—there’s very little in the way of battles, and a lot more poetry about trees and Elves.
Trying to piece together the characters is the most interesting part of Fellowship…, I think. One never quite gets the sense, as Tolkien writes these characters, what they know and don’t know. Naturally, it’s only the first part of a long trilogy, but I think that even by the end of Fellowship…, we start to get a sense of who all of these characters are (and their historical agendas, &tc.)…..which is, ok, somewhat different from the movie.