Tolkien, J. R. R.

About the Author:

 

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien CBE was born in 1892, served in the First World War and became a Professor at Oxford University.  He was a member of the Inklings, a group of writers who included C. S. Lewis.  Tolkien died in 1973.

 

AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:

4.1 out of 5

(11 books)

Beren And Luthien

Perhaps the Middle-Earth story which meant the most to Tolkien, this book shows his development of the story of the heroic Man and beautiful Elf maid who, in the name of love, undertook a quest to steal a Silmaril gem from the crown of the Dark Lord Morgoth.

It's important to know straight away that this is not an editing-together of Tolkien's prose by his son, Christopher, into a novel-length retelling.  Many readers, myself among them, will be somewhat disappointed to find that this is actually a collection of previously-published rewrites and revisions to the tale that Tolkien made over the course of many years.  It's similarly worth pointing out that large portions of this book are written in verse.

The core story of Beren and Luthien is a compelling one.  Their undying love for one another and their willingness to brave countless perils together has a very deep resonance.  When you add in scenes such as Luthien's defeat of Thu (the werewolf sorcerer who later became Sauron), the confrontation with Morgoth himself and the cursed fate of the Silmaril thereafter, it gets even better.

However, this book was nonetheless a disappointment for me.  I'm not a fan of Tolkien's verse and whilst the history of how he developed his 'Lost Tales' is interesting, I'm not enough of a Tolkien scholar to want an entire book of that.  Also, Tolkien's love of archaic word meanings get a little unwieldy when he keeps refering to one race of the Elves as 'Gnomes', robbing me of the ability to picture them mentally as anything but the garden variety (little fishing rods and all).

If, like me, you're only really a fan of the author's prose storytelling, then this isn't what you'll be looking for.  If you're the kind of person who's applied to do a degree in Elvish or who has written several blogs about how Tom Bombadil should've been in Peter Jackson's movies, then this is definitely your sort of book.

Incidentally, my copy is inscribed by the Oscar-winning illustrator Alan Lee.  So there.

2 out of 5

 

Narn I Chin Hurin: The Tale Of The Children Of Hurin

An epic tragedy set amid the turmoil of the First Age of Middle-Earth.  This story has previously been told in both 'The Silmarillion' and in 'Unfinished Tales...', but now Christopher Tolkien has edited together his father's various incarnations of the tale, including previously unpublished elements, in order to present us with a complete, novel-length version. 

So, still no idea what the book's about?  It's set in Beleriand, a part of Middle-Earth sunken beneath the sea in the time of 'LotR' and here the Dark Lord is actually Morgoth, Sauron's boss.  It tells the story of Turin, whose life is beset by a curse laid upon his family due to his father's defiance of Morgoth.  Turin is a brilliant tragic character, having his heart in the right place, but constantly allowing his passions to rule him.  He's also self-destructively stubborn, which is a character trait I can really relate to. 

I very much enjoyed reading about Turin's travels as he tries to find a place where he fits in, be it among the Elves or with outlaws in the wild.  Until I read this book, I had completely forgotten how well Tolkien's archaic prose fits the fantasy genre, but the flip side of that is that we are exposed to quite alot of Bob son of Rob son of Dob etc.  Also, Tolkien's habit of giving everthing multiple names gets a bit out of control with Turin, who has a new name in every chapter.

4 out of 5

 

Roverandom

When he ill-advisedly takes a bite out of the trousers of a grumpy wizard, Rover is suddenly turned into a toy.  His subsequent adventures take him to meet the Man in the Moon and to the kingdom of the Mer-people beneath the sea before he finally returns home.

This book's biggest charm is in the story of its origins.  When Tolkien's son Michael lost his beloved toy dog on a beach, the author created the story of 'Roverandom' to console his bereft son.  With that in mind, this book takes on a warmth and love that elevates it above the sum of its parts.

Whilst there are elements, such as Roverandom catching a glimpse of the Elven lands in the far West, here which foreshadow Tolkien's later, more famous, works it has to be said that this book lacks the complexity of plotting and prose which the author is perhaps best known for.

This then is simply a children's story which may lack attraction for adult readers but which shows the beginngs of the talent which would later produce 'The Hobbit'.

3 out of 5

 

Tales From The Perilous Realm

This book contains three unique Tolkien stories, as well as a collection of poems and songs from Middle-Earth which includes 'The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil'.  Bombadil is not a great character in my opinion, but his poetic adventures here are lighthearted and give you a little more insight into one of the stranger and more enigmatic characters from LOTR. 

The other tales here are of high quality, 'Smith of Wooton Major' being a pleasant fairytale and 'Farmer Giles of Ham' which is a jaunty story very much in the style of 'The Hobbit'.  But the true gem of this little collection is 'Leaf By Niggle'.  As well as being perfect for Tolkien fans, 'Leaf By Niggle' is a brilliant and deep piece of English Literature that I think should be much better known that it is. 

In general, this collection tends to be a bit expensive for its size, but it's nevertheless worth reading.

4 out of 5

 

The Fall Of Gondolin

The evolution of Tolkien's tale of how the Man Tuor finds his way to the hidden Elven city of Gondolin, which thereafter is destroyed by the armies of the Dark Lord Morgoth.

The third of the so-called 'Great Tales' of the First Age, this book follows the pattern of 'Beren and Luthien' rather than 'The Children of Hurin'.  By that I mean that rather than the author's son, Christopher, re-editing various writings into a single comprehensive narrative, here we have the various versions of that narrative told one after the other, with editorial notes by Christopher Tolkien.  For me, this was once again disappointing. 

I loved 'The Children of Hurin' and I certainly felt that there was enough of J. R. R. Tolkien's text revealed here that it could have been cut together into a proper novel.  Instead we get another book which is of more value to Tolkien scholars than to Tolkien readers.  This is more about the development of the author's ideas than it is about revealing the definitive narrative of the First Age.

Thankfully the story fragments we get here are much longer and more complete than those in 'Beren and Luthien' and I was particularly pleased that none of them are in verse.  Some may like Tolkien's epic poems, but I can't claim to be one of them.

Because it's told at length and in prose, what we get to read here is certainly more involving and compelling than the shorter fragments in 'Beren and Luthien', but it has to be said that after the initial telling in the 80-odd pages of 'The Tale of the Fall of Gondolin', what we get thereafter are mostly just rehashes of the same story but with a few names and plot points revised.  This meant that, for me, the latter half of the book was much less enjoyable a read.  However, those 80-odd pages are great and the description of the 'Fall...' itself is wonderfully vivid, with the hoardes of Orcs, legions of Balrogs and numerous Dragons.

If nothing else, this book is worthwhile for getting to see more of Alan Lee's brilliant paintings and illustrations.  (My copy of this, like 'Beren and Luthien', is signed by Lee too!).

3 out of 5

 

 

The Fellowship Of The Ring

The first book of the greatest fantasy trilogy ever written.  The real genius of this particular chapter in the War of the Ring is it's deliberately slow start.  The simple lives of the Hobbits lull you into their world of ignorant peace and then suddenly that world is shattered.  You feel the growing darkness of 'the Enemy' as you read, and Tolkien's creation of tension is brilliantly subtle. 

Again, it is the depth of Middle-Earth's realisation that really makes the book shine.  I would say to the poor of wallet, that there's no point in reading this book without the other two, so you'll have to get either the three separately or buy the single-volume edition.

Followed by 'The Two Towers'.

5 out of 5

 

The Hobbit

To my mind, the best book ever written.  'The Hobbit' was the first book I ever read (not including such classics as 'Spot and the Red Ball') and it inspired in me a life-long love of literature in general and fantasy in particular. 

I re-read the book after ten years and found myself completely captivated by it once more.  This book has everything a fantasy story should have; reluctant heroes, hideous monsters, peripheral depth and a huge battle.  Smaug is the sort of villain you'll love to hate and Bilbo is the sort of simple oaf that you just love.  Gandalf is perhaps one of the best and most loved characters in literature, both for his own heroism and for his biting wit. 

If you've never read Tolkien, then I suggest you start with 'The Hobbit', which will ease you playfully into grimness of 'The Lord of the Rings'.  To my dying days I shall never forget the phrase ' "What has it got in it's pocketses?" '.

Followed by 'The Fellowship of the Ring'.

5 out of 5

 

The Return Of The King

The final part of the most epic fantasy ever (I know I'm repeating myself, but I don't think I can stress the series' brilliance enough!).  Here the separate stories of 'The Two Towers' come together once more as Sauron's armies march forth. 

The heroes of the Fellowship use their new experience in the ensuing battle; Merry fights among the Rohirrim and helps Eowyn to face the Witch King, Gandalf and Pippin try to urge the men of Gondor into battle, whilst Gimli and Legolas follow Aragorn's mission to take on the mantle of king that he was born to assume.  Meanwhile, in the cruel land of Mordor, Frodo is succumbing to the power of the ring, kept sane only by his friend Sam.  But Gollum continues his pursuit of 'the precious'. 

Dynamic, action-packed but with a strong emotional and spiritual core, 'The Return of the King' is the perfect climax to the saga of Middle-Earth.  If you finish the story and find yourself wanting more, then delve into Tolkien's appendices and explore the intricate details he created as background for his saga.

5 out of 5

 

The Silmarillion

The epic history of Middle-Earth, this book can only be described as biblical in scale.  Consisting of a mixture of sweeping general histories and more intricate stories, The Silmarillion is such a mixture that you can't help but enjoy it. 

Its finest moments include the creation of the universe in the great song of the gods, the tragic tale of Turin Turambar and the chapter 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age' which recounts, in brief, the story of 'The Lord of the Rings', but with subtle details not mentioned there, such as the fact that Gandalf bears one of the said Rings of Power. 

In general, this book can be hard at times and isn't a particularly cheerful read, but it's well worth the struggle just to sink into Middle-Earth and leave the real world behind.  Be warned, however; this is not something I'd recommend for those who couldn't even finish LotR.

4 out of 5

 

The Two Towers

In this, the second book of 'The Lord of the Rings', the Fellowship is scattered along different paths and the war against Sauron begins.  The various storylines can leave your mind scattered, but in general they are each strong stories and very appropriate for the characters involved. 

Merry and Pippin escape captivity and must rouse the powerful but reluctant Ents to march against the corrupt wizard Saruman.  Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas accompany Gandalf to see the king of Rohan, Theoden, in order to recruit the Rohirrim into the War of the Ring.  Finally, Frodo and Sam must trust the treacherous Gollum to lead them into Mordor.  In 'The Two Towers', the relationships between these last characters truly blossoms and the triangle between the Ringbearer, his gardener and Smeagol is particularly well written. 

This book's finest moment is the Battle of Helm's Deep, which is to my mind the greatest fantasy siege ever conceived.

Followed by 'The Return of the King'.

5 out of 5

 

Unfinished Tales Of Numenor And Middle-Earth

Lacking the narrative and completeness of 'The Silmarillion', I nevertheless think that 'Unfinished Tales...' is the better book.  Here we get another wide range of stories from Tolkien's wonderfully structured fantasy world, ranging from tales that are interwoven with the ancient stories of 'The Silmarillion' to the account of Rohan's defeat at the Fords of Isen when Saruman's army attacks. 

We also get to read essays about some of the peoples of Middle-Earth, my favourite being the one regarding the Istari; the five wizards.  In that particular story we learn that Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White and Radagast the Brown are, in fact, Maia; a caste of demi-gods that includes such others as Tom Bombadil, the Balrog and even Sauron himself. 

There is here one story that distressed me a little; it's Gandalf's account of the events leading up to those portrayed in 'The Hobbit'.  It distressed me because Gandalf, in his own uniquely cynical style, manages to take all the mystery and heroism out of the events of my favourite book!

I think that this book is an excellent read for fans of LotR, but essential for those who wish to see 'The Silmarillion' from a different angle.

5 out of 5

Read more...

Fantasy (here)