Revisiting the Lord of the Rings Books: Fellowship of the Ring

After the Lord of the Rings movie marathon this break, I realized it’s been a long (long) time since I last read the books. I’ve read the Hobbit not too long ago, but back in the day I used to read LOTR every year or so. I don’t think I’ve done that in at least 20 years. I’ve started reading the books aloud with Daniela, but that fizzled around the time Frodo got to the Barrow Downs. (So . . . pretty soon.)

No time like the present to fix that oversight, however. I launched back into the books, not really sure what it would be like. I’ve seen the movies so many times in the last two decades that I didn’t know if they’d drown out the novels at this point. Honestly, I couldn’t even remember 100% of what exactly was from the books and what had been changed from the adaptation.

I’ve finished Fellowship now, and I still really enjoyed it. It’s a much more sprawling book than the movie, and slower paced. Actually, the thing that impressed me most is how good an example it is of adapting needing changes in order to be successful. In the book, there are years that go by at times with not a whole lot happening. Frodo takes his sweet time getting on the road. They laze around Rivendell for a while. Even in Lothlorien, they spend an extra month or so, just resting up.

If Jackson had kept true to that to the movies, I think it would have killed the tension. Actually, there’s not much in the way of immediate tension and danger for whole swathes of pages. Jackson inserted Saruman creating the Uruk Hai. He moved the climactic battle with the Fellowship and those Uruk Hai from Two Towers up to Fellowship, allowing there to be something like a climax to the movie. In the film, the Fellowship constantly feels in danger. Even if they’re not being chased at the moment, there’s this ticking time bomb of them needing to get Frodo to Mt. Doom. That drives the whole plot forward.

In the book? We’ve got time to sing about different things, and to think about different things, and to debate to our heart’s content. That’s not necessarily better or worse, it’s just different, but it’s something that works for a novel and wouldn’t work at all for a 2.5 hour movie. (Or at least, definitely not for the movie Jackson wanted to make.)

I hadn’t realized Boromir’s death was in the Two Towers, instead. It was also fun to see the efforts Jackson and Co. went to weave bits and pieces of the book into surprising places, having some characters speak lines that were delivered at different times, or by different people. How they managed to get more direct humor and action out of the text, simply by portraying what was actually there.

Was it a fast read? Not particularly. In fact, I’ve got to read something short now to make up for lost time so that I can keep on my goal of a book a week. But I’ll definitely be reading the final two books, and I look forward to the opportunity. Fantasy’s come a long way since Tolkien, and his style is much slower paced that most of what I read in the genre these days. World building, on the other hand . . . I have yet to see anyone beat him at that, and I doubt I ever will.

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