April 26, 2011

Why you should re-read The Lord of the Rings [review of The Two Towers]

Where now are the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fir glowing?
Where is the spring an the harvest and the tall corn growing?

They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
It's time to read The Lord of the Rings again. I know it, you know it, so get on it. What's it been, five years? Ten? I know why you're avoiding this. You love these books, you watch the movies all the time, but it just seems so daunting, reading all one thousand pages, paying attention to all those characters, places, the history, the scenery. I know it seems like a lot of work, but you've done it once before. And today I'm going to tell you why it only get easier - if you've watched the films 50 times like a good citizen of the 21st century.

It seems that The Lord of the Rings is often bewailed even by its most dedicated fans for its lengthiness, and what a challenge it is every time they try to get through all three books. I'll admit it, I'm only pushing myself to even read one per school term, that is one every four months. But hey, I'm an English major, I have to read dozens of books a term and adding LOTR to that load is pretty intense. So what's your excuse?

But I have good news. Yesterday I finished The Two Towers, and I have to say it was a real pleasure to read - not a daunting, everlasting page turning struggle. The main reason for that, I think, is because I've seen the movies so many times, and the films are very true to the books in terms of dialogue and setting. In fact, they kept many of the lines the same, which made the books a real treat to read, hearing Samwise Gamgee and Gollum and Aragorn all speaking the lines almost exactly as they appeared in the book. Now they don't always appear in the exact same place as in the book - the poem I included with this post attests to that. If you're familiar with the movie, lines 1 and 5-6 appear exactly as they were originally written, but instead of being spoken by Aragorn as he approaches Edoras (as in the book), they are spoken by Theoden King at Helms Deep. And I'm not saying I dislike the changes made in the film. Theoden is one of the most epic speakers as he deserved those well-crafted lines.

I could watch that scene over and over again.

Much of the dialogue in the screenplay is taken directly from the book, such as Sam and Gollum discussing "Taters", Treebeard's longwinded rants, and Gandalf's pearls of wisdom. It's really enjoyable to read it between Tolkien's extraneous prose descriptions.

As for those long pages of setting description, fear not, it's easier to soar through upon re-reading. There are many reasons for that. Once you're familiar with the story, you don't need to be focusing on all of the plot details, trying to remember the backstories of all of the characters, trying to remember the places - where everyone is and where they're going. You already know all that, so now you can sit comfortably and skim through the pages and pages of description, but promise me one thing. Promise that when you come across some of Tolkien's most well-written passages, you'll take the time to really read and appreciate them.

His editor really should have held firm about removing some of the fluff, but between that fluff there are plenty of beautiful descriptions that should not be skimmed over, such as this one: "Beyond there glimmered far away, as if floating on a grey cloud, the white head of tall Methedras, the last peak of the Misty Mountains. Out of the forest the Entwash flowed to meet them, its stream now swift and narrow, and it's banks deep-cloven." Amidst some lengthy description we have these very poetic lines, with a deliberate cadence and rhythm. Take the time to appreciate these lines, since you no longer have to spend effort on keeping track of the plot. You know the story by now.

Also, please pay attention to Tolkien's beautiful poetry.
In Dwimordene, in Lorien,
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever, long and bright.

I often here people say that they skip the songs and poems and get right back to the action. I used to be the same, but if you really want to appreciate Tolkien as more than just a writer of grand adventures, you need to give his poetry the respect it deserves. He has the command over language to write some that are upbeat and simple, and some that are epic and eloquent.

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