Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. ”

Perhaps more popular than even Tolkien’s first classic The Hobbit, his magnus opus The Lord of the Rings, has been read by countless millions for several generations and is enjoyed by child and adult alike.

For those who have read The Hobbit, the opening lines above, will no doubt contains some familiar memories.

The Lord of the Rings picks up the story of Bilbo, sixty years after his adventures with Thorin and the quest to regain the Dwarfs’ treasure from the dragon Smaug at Erebor.

On that adventure, Bilbo the unlikely gentlehobbit burglar, happens upon a golden ring whilst crossing the Misty Mountains. Unknown to Bilbo, this ring was the One Ring of evil, lost by Sauron the malevolent spirit.

The Lord of the Rings tells the adventures of Frodo, heir of Bilbo, and his companions as they seek to destroy the ring, which holds terrible evil and threatens to yield it’s malice and enslave Middle Earth.

Like all of Tolkien’s work, The Lord of the Rings is crafted by the author to carry essential Catholic truth within it. Tolkien was after all a devout Roman Catholic as well as being an expert in ancient languages.

He despised change for change’s sake and lamented not only the scars of industrialisation on his beloved English Midlands, but likewise abhorred the revolutionary liberalism that resulted in the liturgical catastrophe promulgated by the Church’s second Vatican Council.

As later his grandson Simon Tolkien would recall…

“I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My Grandfather obviously didn’t agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but My Grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”

Strong Points

Like The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings is fertiliser for the imagination. Not uncontrolled imagination, but directed imagination towards the things that matter: sacrifice, salvation, simplicity.

It is likewise a story which continues the narrative of good and evil in the world, but being of a much greater size than The Hobbit, it explores in detail God’s creation and the dangers to it.

Readers are carried on this adventure with themes of companionship, the natural world, friendship, tradition, culture, bravery and wisdom, to name but a few.

Cautions

As previously explained in the Hobbit review, some Catholic readers have worried unnecessarily around the ‘magic’ element found within the book. However Tolkien always wrote always from a Catholic perspective and any ‘magic’ is more ‘miraculous’ in nature.

Thus, Gandalf with his staff is more like an Old Testament Moses figure with his staff, rather than viewed as some Harry Potter type magician.

Tolkien should be seen always as a narrator not of ‘fantasy’ but of myth: a vehicle suitably robust to carry essential Truths in narrative form, like the parables of the New Testament which are stories of Truth, not of strict fact.

Conclusion

Throughout The Lord of the Rings the persistent thread is one of Sacrifice. Nothing worthwhile can come unless we sacrifice for Good and Truth.

Frodo carries the weight of sin with him in the Ring and unlike many stories, this quest is one in which the protagonist must journey towards doom and sacrifice that which becomes more precious to him as he nears his goal.

This story is one of the best ever written in recent times and carries within it great Catholic timeless themes, that will be loved by students and teachers in the classroom.

This story is recommended for high school students.

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