Friday, September 2, 2016

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (BBC radio dramatization)

Three strikes in three decades is my score for trying to read, "The Lord of the Rings." The pacing at the start puts me to sleep. I struggled with "Slaughterhouse Five" as a college student, but later listened to the audio book  and was able to finish it. Ditto Shakespeare. This audio book on "The Fellowship of the Ring," was a winner and the dramatization included music and sound effects that slammed the door on my problems with pacing or focusing issues. I listened each night on the elliptical machine and found it hard to turn off. A study in high fantasy with a classic hero in Aragorn and a common hero in Frodo.

Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit, lives a comfortable life in the Shire and has inherited the Ring of Power from Bilbo Baggins, the hero from "The Hobbit." When the wizard, Gandalf, comes to his house and reveals that the evil wizard, Sauron, is after the ring to control all the earth, Frodo sets out to destroy the ring. He is an unlikely and simple hero aided by friends, including the most heroic of the men, Aragorn. The task of the ring falls on the weakest of them, a hobbit who would prefer not to sacrifice himself, but he rises to the occasion and is the only creature able to resist the ring because he is not drawn by desires to seek power and worldliness. His naivety and simpleness make him the best candidate for success at destroying the ring as Gandalf and Aragorn both know when Frodo offers the ring to them and they realize the the power would be too tempting for them. Frodo's lack of desire for power makes him the best candidate for the quest.

I read a terrific book, "A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18" by Joseph Loconte that shows how the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an allegory for World War I with the Hobbits similar to common soldiers and Aragorn and Gandalf similar to military and political leaders making decisions regarding the war. It is a fascinating look at history and analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis's novels. It was one the main reasons I decided to try and read the book again. The hobbits are like the common soldier and don't really know what danger they are approaching, but they have each others backs no matter what and are willing to die for one another. Gandalf and Aragorn are like the world leaders involved in the war.

I still think the start is slow before launching into the quest and picking up in excitement. But this time the audio book helped me be patient. I think Tolkien's in-depth background development of the Shire is to show the domestic contentedness of the hobbits and their lack of desire to be heroes. They are drawn into a battle that they have no desire to be a part of. Because they like simple pleasures and are not tempted by power as most of the other characters in the book, they show the common person as being the hero and this allows the reader to empathize with them.  Aragorn proves his king-like qualities not by physical strength but his handling of the hobbits when he first meets them by playing on their fears and then using wit to ingratiate himself before revealing his letter from Gandalf.

It's the hobbit show, not Aragorn's victories in battle, that save and endear the reader. Frodo incorporates the high qualities of Aragorn's world and the hobbits because he is the wisest and bravest in that he is humble and admits his fears but still strikes forth on the quest to destroy the ring. This is why he is chosen for the task. Only he can resist the corrupting power of the ring to at least get it to the edge of the fire until powers beyond his control destroy it.  Even Frodo cannot resist the temptation of the ring. Tolkien's world building, character development, linguistic genius is astonishing in its brilliance, as most of you know. If you are having problems getting through a book, try an audio book. It felt like a home run this time round. 

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