Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to find them.

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

After much internal debate, I’ve chosen to do my next series on The Lord of the Rings, by the man who inspired the name of this site, J.R.R. Tolkien.  I was hesitant partly because it’s such a colossal series (in numerous ways), but mostly because I wasn’t sure if I could really add anything to the Lord of the Rings discourse.  Ultimately, I concluded that there are two underexplored angles which I might be able to help illuminate: The author’s (and the story’s) Christian center, and the brilliant linguistic elements.  Tolkien was actually a notable factor in C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, and the moral center of The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally Christian one.  Tolkien was also a linguist, and his intention in creating Middle-earth was initially to give a home to the languages he had invented.  He knew that language was inextricably linked with culture and history, so when he created a language, he wanted to create a cultural and “historical” context for it.  I think that was Tolkien’s great innovation, one which few of his imitators have fully grasped – he didn’t create a world for a character or to illustrate a concept, he created a world for his languages and cultures to dwell in.  That’s why he always hated people calling it an allegory, because he meant for his made-up world to simply reflect reality in the same way his made-up languages reflected real languages.

I’m only going to be covering the Lord of the Rings trilogy proper, not The Hobbit or The Silmarillion or any other ancillary materials. I’m skipping The Hobbit primarily because it’s just not as good – while it has its share of merit, it’s Tolkien’s first and only attempt at writing a children’s story for a reason. Also, there really isn’t that much material that actually ties into its “sequel”, and that material is recounted pretty naturally within Lord of the Rings, but I will do my best to explain whatever else requires explanation.  That said, I honestly don’t think there’s any “best” or “right” way to read the series – this is just the simplest for me.  I can’t even remember whether or not I read The Hobbit the first time I read the trilogy, or if  I’d actually seen the movies yet! Speaking of which, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films are fantastic adaptations and I will probably bring them up regularly. Just don’t bother with his Hobbit trilogy, you could probably read the book in less time than it takes to watch those movies (and you’ll get a much better story).

If you’ve never read The Lord of the Rings before, here’s a tip: Skip the Prologue. You will get very little out of it until after you’ve already read the series, and I have known more than one person who gave up on the series before they even reached the first chapter.  I promise I’ll bring up anything relevant from it as it becomes relevant.  You don’t have to read the Forward either, although it might be more interesting to a newbie if you want a little historical context.

Since these chapters tend to be longer and denser than other series I’ve done, I intend to return to a once-a-week format, posting on Wednesdays.

The Road goes ever ever on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone

And I must follow, if I can…

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