J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors, so you’ll have to forgive me if this isn’t so much a review as it is geeking out, followed by more geeking out. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy roughly once a year and I never get tired of it. Tolkien is just a damn good story-teller.
I won’t even bother with summarizing the plot here. Read the books, or watch the movies (which are a passable substitutes, but you’ll miss the detail present in the novels themselves). Tolkien’s style is like poetry turned into prose; the narrative is almost melodic. The author was primarily a linguist, and it shows. Hell, the guy created languages, not to mention histories, cultures, and creatures that fantasy writers still use. It’s almost as if, instead of making the stories up, he watched them unfold and wrote it all down.
Tolkien is subtle. Wherever Michael Bay is, Tolkien is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He doesn’t waste time with explosions and hot chicks (although there are a few of each sprinkled into the trilogy); whatever “less is more” means, Tolkien had it figured out. His writing is absolutely packed with emotion, and yet he expresses it with a restraint that makes it all the more profound. When Aragorn leaves Lothlorien, all he has to say is that Aragorn “came there never again as a living man,” and the reader is so strongly and suddenly reminded of mortality and transience that it’s heartbreaking. Much later, Frodo and Sam are running for their lives from Shelob and think they’ve escaped. “[Shelob] had many exits from her lair,” Tolkien writes, and it sends chills down my spine every time. One of the funniest parts in the trilogy is when Aragon is trying to get a few herbs from a healer to save Eowyn and Merry. The loquacious healer starts rattling off the herb’s many names, its history, and a few old rhymes about it, and Gandalf cuts him off: “In the name of the king, go and find some old man of less lore and more healing who keeps some in his house!”
You’d think, in a thousand-page trilogy, that the author would have to ramble at some point to fill up space, but Tolkien never does. Every line is written purposefully and beautifully. If you haven’t read the books, obviously I highly recommend it. I promise you won’t turn into a super-nerd. But if you do, it’ll be worth it.