Until earlier this month, I never read The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings series. Additionally, I have not seen all of the movies.
There is a lot to love in Fellowship. Readers of The Hobbit will appreciate visiting Bilbo, Gandalf, Elrond, and the Shire again. (If you are like me, you will also continue to hate those meddlesome Sackville-Bagginses. What a greedy, hot mess they are!) The world that Tolkien created is so real and fun that spending time there feels like a vacation to me. The Shire is a vacation destination! It’s good to spend time in this magical world.
However, as the quote from this review’s title indicates, not even the hobbits’ Shire stays perfect forever. The road darkens, and everyone must choose a side. Evil is gathering, and the hobbits, elfs, dwarfs, and men all feel it. Whether or how they choose to fight it is the thrust of Fellowship.
It wouldn’t be much of a series if there weren’t some good guys to fight the bad guys, and The Lord of the Rings series follows a U.N. of races willing to stand up to evil. Frodo the hobbit is an unexpected leader of hobbits, men, dwarfs, elfs, and some cool animals in the war against Sauron, the big bad guy. The book details their adventures through all kinds of caves, forests, rivers, etc. You have probably absorbed the plot and main beats by cultural osmosis so I won’t spend much time reviewing those.
I love Tolkien’s landscapes and people. For a story set in a fantastical place called “Middle-Earth”, it feels very real. The setting is probably my favorite part of the book, aside from Tolkien’s ability to help the reader feel the danger and the gravity of the characters’ choices. This series and the Harry Potter series both acknowledge that there are actors for good and bad in the world, and that what you do has real consequences. I appreciate that and wish we had more of it in our pop culture.
However, while I love so much, I can’t give the book five stars. There were three major problems for me that sucked me out of the story. The first was the constant singing and chanting. Even the most hardcore characters in the book break into (very long) songs all the time. While I would love to make a folk and/or punk album using Tolkien’s lyrics, it doesn’t read well for me. Second, there is so much walking. It felt like 30% of the book was something along the lines of “And then they went walking and ate some lembas. And they woke up and they walked some more and the stars came out (or didn’t).” I understand that the journey is supposed to be arduous, but there are probably better ways to get that across. When I read a thriller, for example, I don’t want to hear about the details of Jack Reacher’s chest, shoulder, and triceps days at the gym. I want action! Or quips! The final major problem for me was the giant exposition dump that pretty much every character gives at Elrond’s house. One of the cool things about the lived-in world is that it is lived in; i don’t need or want every detail explained. The expo-dump was difficult to get through. It felt like Galt’s speech at the end of Atlas Shrugged. It felt like Elrond’s plan to defeat Sauron was to talk him to death with backstory.
That being said, the setting and characters are so memorable and enjoyable that I still gave it four stars. I have already started reading The Two Towers, so please don’t take my minor complaints as an indictment of what may be one of your favorite series!