Sunday, August 22, 2021

Review - The Fellowship of the Ring

Original Title: The Fellowship of the Ring
Series: Lord of the Rings, #1
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Published: July 29th, 1954

Publisher: Mariner Books (cover from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Ok, here we are. And I wonder, what can I say about Lord of the Rings that hasn’t been said already? Not much, I guess. Nonetheless, I will try.

A few clarifications before we start: I will be talking both about the books and the movies (Extended Edition, of course). If you only know one of these things, some of the points I’ll discuss here won’t make sense to you. Also, this review won’t be a compendium of the differences between the book and the movie. I’ll go over them, but with my own interpretation over many aspects, in both of them. And since for the movies, certain scenes were moved and perhaps do not match the book they are in (e. g., Shelob’s Lair, that happens in Two Towers, but was included in Return of the King), I will simply say “in the movie”, and if you have seen them, you will know which one I’m talking about.

Oh, and get some coffee and a comfy sit, because this will be very long. Watch out for spoilers, and don’t blame me. I warned you. With that said, let’s dive in.

First of all, I should probably tell you that I’m not new to this world. I have read the books several times in the past, although in Spanish, my first language. But Middle Earth called me home once more, and if I attempt to describe here how much this world means to me, well… as Gandalf says, “[…] we should still be sitting here when Spring had passed into Winter”. As always, I’ll do my best, but everything about Lord of the Rings is so vast, and the story so complex and layered, that I’m afraid I will leave things unsaid.

I was just a child when I first heard of Lord of the Rings. It was that trailer that played in the cinemas right before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone started, and by then I couldn’t even imagine how it would take over my heart. Before the movies, I had never heard of the books, so for me, they were the introduction to this world. A world that was unlike anything I had ever known, that obsessed me, made me fall in love with epic fantasy, and started to keep me up at night, wishing to be taking a stroll in Rivendell, having second breakfast in the Shire, riding with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli over the plains of Rohan, fighting in Helm’s Deep, or even running through Moria, with these people that had suddenly become my best friends, in a way I never saw coming.

Isn’t it wonderful, when you simply forget that you are reading, or watching? When the world is left outside, and you are so into the story, that you don’t care about anything else? Because that’s how I feel with Lord of the Rings. I know it is fantasy, but the way it is written makes it feel like actual history, with detailed facts about the past and the origin of those who inhabit Middle Earth, and the languages that, even though they are totally made-up, make perfect sense, grammar-wise. It’s easy to believe that what you are reading actually happened, that this world exists out there, somewhere. And every time I finish the books or the movies, I have these weird feeling inside, like an emptiness, of thinking “that’s it, this is the best. I’ve seen the best”, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing was ever like it, and nothing will be. I never want to leave this world, because there’s nowhere else to go after it.

Everything about these three movies is so overwhelmingly perfect, I mean… The music, the costumes, the settings, the acting… it all blends perfectly to take us in this unforgettable journey, so full of details, that it’s impossible to do justice to all of them in one single review. You would need one for the music, one for the costume design, another one for the writing, and so on. They are all little worlds themselves, that make one, wonderful whole.

Since I didn’t know the books back then, I can only imagine (and envy) the fans’ excitement over the first trailers and pictures of the movie, with all these beloved characters coming to life, in ways that seem that, either they jumped right out of the books, or you’ve been pulled in with them. And I think we can all agree that not many movies accomplish that (in terms of adaptation, that is). Everything is so well done, with such a perfect balance between the emotional and rational sides, that these characters become fully alive and relatable, essentially human (even when, technically, not all of them are human), with feelings, strengths and weaknesses in equal measure. Not a single one is perfect, and they all make mistakes.

So, let’s stop first in our so beloved Shire, where four of our dear heroes were born and raised.

It’s beyond amazing how JRR Tolkien was able to create races that are so different from each other, and yet, make them fully alive. The same man who created the hobbits, these endearing creatures with hairy feet and curly hair, who love food, pipes, family trees, long celebrations, and most of all, peace (after all, “It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life”), also created the majestic Elves, the intriguing Wizards, the powerful Men, the hardworking Dwarves, and the bloodthirsty Orcs, each of them in unique settings, to the point that only one word is enough for us to know where we are (and, yes, I know many of these creatures come from Norse mythology, but Tolkien gave them their own personality, and complex backgrounds in ways only he could). Yet, I think we all can agree that, in Middle Earth, not even the race of Men is as close to us as hobbits are.

And along with Tolkien’s magnificent yet adorable writing, came Howard Shore with the music that was the final touch to settle the Shire in our hearts forever. That iconic, heartwarming melody provided by the tin-whistle, always made me think of an instrument any hobbit could handcraft out of wood while sitting by the fire, or in the garden by the round door, all the while enjoying a good Old Toby, while smoke comes out of the chimney, on a lazy summer evening. It’s a simple instrument that, somehow, was able to turn the spirit of being a hobbit into music, and it’s nothing short of brilliant.

It is in this quiet corner of the world, that not many people in Middle Earth paid attention to, where our story begins, with a restless Bilbo Baggins that is about to turn one hundred eleven years old, on the verge of a massive birthday party, but no longer at peace in his home of Bag End. His own adventure, told in The Hobbit, changed him forever. Even as he writes his book about it, titled “There and Back Again”, it’s more and more noticeable that Bilbo never came back from his Journey. After the people he met and the things he lived, the Shire was no longer enough, so he decides to leave, and never return.

I don’t think Bilbo gets enough merit for being the only one that, in the Ring’s entire history, could give it up in his own free will, after having it for so long. It wasn’t easy for him, but the truth is that no one, ever, could do it before him (and later, not even Frodo, in despite of all the pain that brings him). And yes, I know Sam could too, but he only had it for a couple of days, at best. Bilbo had it for little more than half a century, and always carried it with him. Plus, they are different from each other, they want different things. Yet, I will say, even when every hobbit has a distinct personality, and you can tell who is speaking even without the name on the page, that is especially noticeable with Bilbo, and later with Sam. The way they are written, the words they use and the expressions they choose, set them apart from all the other hobbits in the story.

Let’s talk about Frodo Baggins for a minute, this unsuspecting hobbit, comfortable in his home, and yet, destined to carry the heaviest of burdens, and change the world forever.

Just a plain hobbit you look”, said Bilbo. “But there’s more about you now that appears on the surface”.

How true this is. Hobbits are way stronger than they seem. Even though, at first, Frodo succeeds in ignoring the Ring and its beckoning, he soon starts feeling its effects, and finds himself the unlikely protagonist of this huge story that had been going on for far longer than he could even imagine, involving people and realms he didn’t even know existed. As he sets out from the Shire, he’s suddenly facing all these decisions he doesn’t know how to make, taken into a world and a journey that he would have never chosen. Although he’s not alone, and relies on Gandalf and Aragorn, trusting their wisdom and decisions, that couldn’t (and wouldn’t) last forever. Sooner or later, he would have to decide himself, and choose the path to follow, with no one to guide him or tell him whether it is right or wrong, having to discover it as he walks. Nothing prepared him for that, but it comes a point in which there’s nothing to do but to go on, and risk mistakes, dead ends, doubt and loss. Basically, as in real life.

Now, one of the biggest changes in Frodo, from book to movie, is his age. Elijah Wood was around nineteen years old when he played him, when actually Frodo sets on the journey at fifty. Age plays a key role in any character, as it is related to their life experience and attitude. But the acting is so great and the story is so well told, that you can forget about it and still fully enjoy it. Obviously, seeing such a young Frodo is all the more heartbreaking, because you see his life slowly being torn apart by trauma, and the burdens he shouldn’t have taken over. Plus, I have to tell you, Elijah’s performance wouldn’t have been the same without those huge, so expressive blue eyes of his, and his incredible capacity for not blinking for long periods of time. It makes Frodo’s stares all the more piercing and intense.

And as we speak of hobbits, I can’t forget these two:

Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, known as Merry and Pippin, are Frodo’s loyal friends, no matter what. In the movies, they act as the comic relief more than once (at first), but Merry, in the book, is not that clueless. He knows about the Ring’s existence, and when he finds out Frodo wants to leave the Shire, he conspires with Pippin and Sam to go with him.

You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. We are your friends, Frodo […] We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.

Hobbits may not know much about the world outside their borders, but they have loyalty and endurance. They are adorable, but also incredibly strong and brave, capable of deeds equal to any Man’s or Elf’s. When they ask to join the Fellowship, they have no idea what they are doing, but they are willing to go anywhere as long as they can join Frodo. They are naïve, but always trustworthy, willing to fight in despite of not knowing anything about fighting. And that is the very same spirit Éowyn later defends on Merry, his courage and his willingness to do whatever it takes for those he loves. They make stupid mistakes, of course, especially that fool of a Took that revealed their presence in the depths of Moria, but they are to be expected from such naïve hobbits who never left the Shire before. The important thing is that they learn from them, and as the story goes on, they also grow in unexpected ways, finding their courage, and their reasons to fight.

And Sam! My beloved, always adorable and loyal Samwise Gamgee!

“‘Don’t you leave him!’ they said to me. ‘Leave him!’ I said. ‘I never meant to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon; and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with’, I said.

Sam is everything that is right in the world. He’s simple and naïve, but that is what, in the end, proves to be his salvation. He doesn’t seek power nor wants to wield it. He made a promise and sticks to it, and for that his courage can be matched with that of Aragorn or Boromir. He certainly has no idea what he faces when joins Frodo in this journey that is the farthest thing from anything any hobbit would attempt to, but he’s ready to face whatever comes in order to save those he loves, and fulfill his promise. This is very noticeable in the movies, with Sean Astin’s flawless acting, in the Weathertop scene.

As the Ringwraiths close in on them, Sam shouts “Back you devils!”, and attacks, even when he’s not even remotely a match for them. He’s the first and only one who does, and even though it doesn’t happen in the books, it’s definitely something Sam would do. There’s a reason why Tolkien considered him to be the real hero of the story, after all.

Now, as our hobbits leave the Shire behind, and face the unknown, we go with them, and start getting to know Middle Earth, with all their inhabitants and fascinating places. Everything is alive in this world. Like the Old Forest, right outside the Shire’s gates, home of the terrifying Man Willow, in which the trees talk to each other, and if they don’t want you to get to the other side, you just won’t. And there, in that place of mystery and danger, is where the hobbits meet someone that, as Tolkien himself said, is a mystery: the jolly, cartoonish Tom Bombadil, whose powerful songs get our heroes out of trouble more than once.

I know lots of people really wanted to see him in the movie, but to be honest, his intervention doesn’t do much for the main plot, and the story is already too long as it is. However, they did include at least one of his lines in Two Towers (extended edition, of course), spoken by Treebeard as he saves Merry and Pippin from a tree that traps them; it’s basically the scene in the Old Forest with the Man Willow, right before meeting Tom, like a friendly nod to his character, in despite that he was cut out. If you have read the books, you will definitely notice it. But the thing is, it’s not clear what Tom is; Tolkien himself said he is a mystery. His wife, Goldberry (whom I always imagined to be some sort of nymph), says that he is the Master of wood, water and hill, but his true nature remains a riddle. The Ring has no power over him, he can slip it in his finger without disappearing, and he can see those who have it on. Although, of course, the magic lies in not knowing everything. We only know he’s old, very old, older than Sauron even. And my question is, older than Treebeard himself? After all, it’s said that he’s the oldest creature on Middle Earth. But my point –and this always makes me laugh– is that, if you didn’t read the book, you won’t know who Tom is, and yet, those of us who did read it, don’t know either! It’s brilliant.

Now, speaking of the things that were cut out of the movies, I think the selection was well done. After a couple of days in Tom’s house, the hobbits continue their journey, and go through an adventure that didn’t make it to the screen either, through the eerie Barrow-downs, where Merry, Pippin and Sam get the swords they will carry for the rest of the trilogy, blades of Westernesse especially forged to fight the Dark Lord. Places like this one are the ones that expand the world, but not the plot. Yet, I can only admire Tolkien for his wide imagination, and the truly chilling descriptions of these place, shrouded in fog and touched by death, ready to entrap whoever dares to cross.

And so, we make it to Bree, where a mysterious friend of Gandalf is waiting. His take in the movie, upon his first appearance, follows the book word by word, in every little detail: costume, setting, lighting… everything.
He had a tall tankard in front of him, and was smoking a long-stemmed pipe curiously carved. His legs were stretched out in front of him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked in mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloak was drawn close about him, and in spite of heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits.”

It's fair to say that every single actor gave their everything in the making of these movies, virtually becoming their characters, but when I see this man, all I can think is “he jumped right out of the book. This is not an actor. This is Aragorn himself.

Known as Strider, he passes as a lonely Ranger who never stays too long anywhere, but as everyone in this story, there’s more to him than meets the eye. No one can deny there’s majesty on him, even though most of the time he is dressed in dirty clothes, and no one can tell how old he is. And then, he speaks to these four unknown hobbits, saying:

I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will.

This is a KING. One that comes to serve and not to be served. And that is the same attitude he later has towards Gondor, as he gets closer and closer to reclaiming what is rightfully his. One of the details about him that I like the most in the movie, happens during the Council of Elrond; as things escalate and everyone gets angry and starts arguing with each other, Aragorn is the only one who remains seated, and doesn’t partake on the chaos (even when his word would be most valuable, being who he is), and that tells us about how little he cares about power, in the sense of dominance. If he actually gets to have power one day, it won’t be as the Ring promises it. He’s a different kind of leader. A natural one, because even if he hadn’t taken over the leading of the Fellowship after Gandalf fell into the pit in Moria, you know everyone would have followed him anyway. Yet, he’s not free of mistakes, and lives to regret some of his decisions after they leave Lothlórien. He may be a King, but he remains human, and so, he is one of the greatest fictional characters ever written.

And speaking of Aragorn, I have to mention her. Arwen Undómiel, Elrond’s daughter and the Evenstar of her people, the love of his life.

This is another thing that was essentially changed in the movies. Arwen is way more active there, than in the books, as she’s the one that manages to carry Frodo to the safety of Rivendell, so he could be healed after being stabbed by the Ringwraith. Originally, Frodo rides alone, and it’s not Arwen who the hobbits and Aragorn meet in the forest, but Glorfindel, a truly ancient Elf, among the most powerful of his people, who is his own sort of badass (he killed a Balrog during the First Age, dying in the process, but was allowed to come back). I personally think the switch of characters was a perfect way to introduce her. The essence of the scene remains, it’s the same feeling of hurry in the flight to the Ford of Bruinen as in the book, and although it’s Elrond the one who originally commands the flood, putting it in Arwen’s mouth helps to see the connection between Elven-folk and nature. As I said before, everything is alive, owns itself, doesn’t take orders, and only obeys as a way of “collaboration”, because the Elves don’t own the Loudwater that took the Nazgûl away. So, these changes have a purpose, after all.

As for Arwen, I think telling her story was a wonderful choice, because it shows how everyone gets affected by the war, even in such an isolated corner as Rivendell. The fate of the world is at the brink of the chasm, and everyone has something to lose, even this beautiful she-elf that stood away from all battlefield. I mean, Tolkien’s attention was not on her, but it doesn’t mean that the things we see about her in the movie weren’t happening. True, we don’t know if the fair maiden Tolkien imagined would have faced the Ringwraiths, daring them to come closer, but for the choices she makes, we do know she’s strong, and it is out of love.
Because of it, she is willing to sacrifice anything, because her immortal life, without Aragorn, would have been a regret. She chooses death to get to live, instead of just existing (remember she was over two thousand years old). I’m glad Peter Jackson did not forget about her, and the way her life is tied to the Ring’s fate. In the book, Frodo indeed sees a white figure coming towards him, and by putting Arwen there instead of Glorfindel, her image as the Evenstar grew stronger. So, at least for me, the switch of characters was a sensible choice. Since Glorfindel doesn’t appear again (except for a brief mention in Return of the King), it was fair to introduce a character that we would need to remember. If Arwen only had appeared for Aragorn’s coronation, without any previous story (because there is one, it’s in the appendixes, and it’s beautiful and worth telling), it would have ruined the story. After following and loving Aragorn for so long, and witnessing his evolution, seeing him wedding someone we don’t know wouldn’t have been fair, for anyone. If, in the end, she would get to be no less than the Queen of Gondor, we had to know about her.

Oh, yes, and I have to say this. Arwen’s dresses (and Éowyn’s and Galadriel’s, of course) are the reason why I fell in love with movie costumes. They are nothing short of works of art, they tell her story through the colors and the shapes (especially the red dress she wears in Return of the King), and the fabrics and the making is just exquisite. My applauses and respect to the wonderfully talented Ngila Dickson, who deserved every award she won!

And since we mentioned Aragorn, I can’t but to talk about this man.

Boromir, son of Denethor II, and probably one of the most brilliant, yet difficult to analyze, characters in this book. A very distinctive memory I have of him is seeing him during the Council of Elrond scene, long before reading the books, and thinking that there was such pride in his face! And then, when I read that very same scene, I found out it said: “He ceased, but at once Boromir stood up, tall and proud, before them.” And I can only say, if I could see Boromir’s pride long before knowing the character was written like that, then there’s nothing else I can tell you. Sean Bean’s portrayal of him is simply flawless. Astounding.

But beyond his acting, I think Boromir is one of the most interesting characters in the entire trilogy, in despite that he’s only there for a short time. He doesn’t speak a lot, and yet, he’s still deep and layered. During the journey, it’s sad how no one listens to him. He’s a natural leader, much like Aragorn, but he’s often dismissed, and his suggestions, unheard. There’s a constant battle inside of him, that in the end is what breaks the Fellowship, but my point is, he’s not the bad guy in this tale. Rather, he shows the effect the Ring has on people, even in those who do not carry nor wear it. Right before going momentarily mad on Frodo, he had proved, over and over again, that he was a brave, trustworthy man. And that is how he really is, because later, in Two Towers, we get to know more about him through his younger brother, Faramir, who knew him better than anyone, and we can confirm that, yes, Boromir was a good-hearted man, with the best intentions, and that what happened wasn’t his fault.

As I read him, I couldn’t help but noticing that Boromir has the attitude Aragorn is supposed to have, willing to do anything for his people and his land. Even though Steward of Gondor was as far as he could have ever gone, it’s undeniable that he could have been a good king. He had the spirit for it; after all, he and his family were the only reason why Gondor survived. You see it in his attitude during the Fellowship’s journey, as it is him, with Aragorn, the one that saves everyone in Caradhras, managing to open a path before they could be buried alive in the snow. But the Ring takes whatever good quality you have, and uses it against you; it makes you rot in your own virtues. And Boromir, a true Son of Gondor, fully devoted to his people and his city, was tempted with the promise of saving both. He was born and bred for war, and he loved his land, having taken over the responsibility to lead in the absence of the King, and the possibility to take this immense power that would allow him to end its suffering, was too much for him. And that doesn’t make him a bad man.

I can perfectly see why they included his death in the first movie, when it actually occurs in the first chapter of Two Towers. It’s all a part of the same sequence. But it also helps us see who he really is, in despite that, not two minutes earlier, he had tried to take the Ring from Frodo. He wasn’t himself. The real Boromir is the one who immediately regretted his actions, and ran to save Merry and Pippin from the Orcs; the brave, unmatched, honorable warrior ruled by duty, with the strength to keep fighting in despite of taking a number of arrows to the chest, and ultimately dying a hero. In Two Towers, the funeral Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli hold for him is truly moving. Heartbreaking, because it’s not a deserved end for such a brave man. It’s not the farewell he would have had in Gondor, with his family and his men, but we see the amount of respect he earned from his true friends, in this journey that was doomed long before it started. I’m sure he would have joined the search of Merry and Pippin, and I like to think that it was his spirit what remained. As he and Aragorn traveled and fought together, respect grew between them, in despite their differences. In the movie, I like both the fact that he calls him “my King” right before passing, and that after he’s gone, Aragorn takes his bracers, with the Tree of Gondor in them, and can be seen wearing them all through the rest of the story. It’s both one step closer to reconnecting with his responsibility towards his people, and honoring the promise he made of not letting the White City fall. So even though Boromir dies, he’s never forgotten.

And it’s because of him that bothers me when Elrond, upon his talk with Gandalf in Rivendell, says that he was there “the day the strength of Men failed”. It was Isildur’s strength the one that failed, and it was his mistake the one that dragged everyone with him; it’s not fair to place the blame in the entire human race, neither saying that Men are scattered and leaderless, because it’s not totally true. If Gondor didn’t fall in the hands of the Enemy, it was because Boromir and Faramir kept fighting, and doing everything they could to prevent it, even when neither of them was the King. And Rohan had a King, the Riddermark fought every single day, too. So, I don’t think Men were as lost as the Elves seemed to think. Weakened, maybe, and in fear, but no less brave, or willing to fight.

I want to talk about the Wizards, for a minute. Also known as Istari, these people aren’t human, but originally spirits known as Maiar, sent to Middle Earth in the appearance of old men who age very slowly, with the main task of guiding the Free Peoples in their fight against Sauron. They are not free of certain human things, like cold and hunger, but they have magic. Yet their power isn’t to wield just like that. In fact, although Gandalf is one of the most powerful Wizards, his magic rarely shows, and there’s a reason for that. But that comes later. So far, we only know two of the Istari: Saruman the White, and Gandalf the Grey.

Gandalf is a character that is beyond amazing, even if we do not know much about him in this book, and Sir Ian McKellen brought him to life in an utterly unique way. Gandalf was already a beloved character of the series before the movies, but I think he made it what it is today, and another actor wouldn’t have had the same effect. His acting was the final touch that made it perfect beyond words. A good choice for the movie was showing what happens to him while Frodo travels to meet him in Bree as he wonders where he is, which is a great choice, instead of having him tell all during the Council of Elrond. The fact that Frodo doesn’t know, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t know either, so for me that was great.

I always felt Gandalf was the most human of the Wizards we get to know in Middle Earth. First as Bilbo’s friend, and later as Frodo’s guide and mentor, he’s the embodiment of wisdom. You can tell he knows a lot, yet he doesn’t share more than what’s needed for the tasks ahead, and he’s not free of mistakes. However, his fight with the Balrog gives a hint of what his magic is for. And that also let us know Saruman the White, flawlessly portrayed by the one and only Sir Christopher Lee, which was also one of the biggest Tolkien fans the world has ever known (he actually met Tolkien, and it’s the only cast member who ever did). Saruman, the supposed wisest of the Istari, had his mind and heart corrupted by ambition, and promises of power from the Dark Lord, and so he betrays his order, deciding to serve the Enemy. A great detail in the movies is that Saruman’s robes are never purely white. According to costume designer Ngila Dickson, it is because Saruman is ancient, and probably has been wearing them for a very long time, and it’s true, yet I see it, too, as a reflection of him no longer doing what the White Wizard should be doing, delving into the arts of Sauron, using the Palantír, not caring about living things anymore, breeding the hideous Uruk-hai, and, basically becoming darker with each passing day.

And his betrayal makes me think of this line, spoken by Elrond:

I think that this task is appointed to you, Frodo; and that if you do not find the way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great.

Sauron is cunning. He uses the wisdom of the elders to his advantage, because they are no fools, and he knows it. The likes of Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf and Saruman know what they face, know the reach of the Ring’s power, and what it can be done with it (especially those who are Ring-bearers themselves, with one of the Three). And look what it did to Saruman, taking him from the top of his order, and making him succumb to the perspective of going even higher, captivated by the sweet voice of darkness, and the false idea that nothing could be done against it.

During the Council of Elrond, as those who came in the name of the [still] Free Peoples of Middle Earth argue with each other, Frodo sees the fire consuming everyone, and understands that it is what will happen if they do not unite against their common foe. That’s why destroying the Ring is not the task for the old, wise and strong, because for that they are so easily corrupted. So, it must be simple folk, those who do not know the true meaning of power, and are content with simplicity. Their naivety protects them, and we can say that, yes, the fate of the world can be trusted in their hands, because they can save it by simply being themselves, perhaps somewhat naïve, but incredibly resilient at the same time.

And so, Frodo is appointed as the Ring-bearer. Him and is eight companions set out from Rivendell, and the journey begins.
Everyone in the Fellowship know what they are doing, they know it can cost their lives, and yet, their loyalty never wavers. The only members who are basically background characters in this book, are Legolas the Elf, and Gimli the Dwarf.
However, the journey takes the Fellowship through lands related to their races, and you see how darkness is slowly taking over everything. Although they don’t speak a lot, they are no less necessary for the quest than the others. Legolas is the reason why they are not shot to death by Haldir and the other Elves when they cross Nimrodel into Lothlórien, and is even responsible for killing one of the Ringwraiths’ fell beasts across the Anduin. And Gimli is a strong warrior with the pride and stubbornness of his race, loyal to death, willing to follow Frodo no matter his decision, even when he had the freedom to turn back if he wanted to. Through both of them, we get to know more about the Elves and the Dwarves. And let’s face it, the bow and the axe do not wield themselves, and they save their companion’s lives more than once.

As I’ve already said, this trilogy is so immersive, that in this book, you practically become the 10th member of the Fellowship of the Ring (and if you try a little harder, you can even imagine your own outfit and weapons). Yes, it is that vivid, and for that, timeless. Tolkien is the kind of writer that describes every leaf in every tree, but he does it in a way that you feel you are there, treading difficult paths, climbing mountains, fighting wolves and Orcs, and navigating the river, along with the characters. And when the landscape begins to change, from the peaceful Rivendell forest, to more rugged regions, it’s just incredibly well written. As the travelers attempt to cross Caradhras, you can feel the cold, and how tired everyone is, same as when they go into the tunnels of Moria, to the dark and the dead silence, through the maze-like corridors, in the depths of the mountain that may be quiet, but is not completely empty. Earlier in this review I said that everything in this world is alive, and Moria is no exception. We only know this Dwarven realm in ruins, and plagued by Orcs, goblins and the Balrog, but the description is so intricate, that even though Dwarves are not there, you can get to know a least a little about their mindset, as it clearly is a place only those who made it can navigate. But that is also the essence of the journey, in my opinion, because it takes them through the lands of Elves, Dwarves and Men, and they are all tied to the fate of the Ring. Destroyed or not, they all get affected by it, in a way or another.

In the movie, the Moria scenes are some of the best. As they run through the empty halls, chased by the Balrog, they have to cross a crumbling staircase to get to the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, and there, I think it’s very significant that, as they are separated by a huge gap, Aragorn and Frodo are the last to jump.

That’s when you realize that the journey is nothing without them. One missed step, and the whole quest would be lost, because, literally, the fate of the world rests on both of them. And when Gandalf faces the Balrog and falls into the darkness of the mountain, the sound of the drums that follow them is no other than “doom”. Over and over again. It follows them as they exit Moria. Doom. The beginning of their despair, because without their guide and wisest companion, it’s what awaits them. It marks the looming failure of the quest. Doom. It’s chilling.

Now, this is purely my interpretation, but I can’t help noticing that the journey, as it goes on, also happens inside Frodo. Before leaving the Shire, he only had Bilbo’s adventure as reference of what happened outside its borders. Yet, once he takes up the task as Ring-bearer, and already hurt by the Morgul blade, his hope begins to wane, the same way the landscape around him changes and becomes more difficult to go through. Actually, the greenest parts he visits as the trilogy advances, are the ones where he gets help, and can feel a little hope coming back to him. Like in Lórien, and later, Ithilien.

And so, we enter the beautiful Lothlórien, with its ancient trees, and even ancienter inhabitants.

It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world.

Lothlórien is far, far older than Rivendell. It’s an island in a world that is changing, where the Elves fight against the tide of time, trying to keep their old ways alive. It is like Sam says:

Whether they’ve made the land, or the land’s made them, it’s hard to say, if you take my meaning.

And it is exactly the feeling of being in Lórien, this idea that you don’t know when this world started, like it has always been there.

Frodo felt that he was in a timeless land that did not fade or change or fall into forgetfulness.

Yet nothing is perfect.

For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of time will sweep it away.

In a way or another, the time of the Elves is over, no matter the outcome of the war. Lórien may be a pure and secluded corner of Middle Earth, but it’s not incorruptible. Nothing, and no one, is immune to the Ring, and the Lady Galadriel, a Ring-bearer herself and not at all prone to evil, gets tempted by the One, because such is its power. She’s the one who opens Frodo’s eyes to the reality of his situation.

With the Fellowship already in the process of breaking, sooner or later, the travelers would be corrupted by the Ring, turning friends into unpredictable enemies, no matter how noble their original purpose may have been. Much like Boromir by the end. That’s why Frodo’s decision of carrying on with the journey on his own, although at first may seem rushed and unreasonable, is correct. By abandoning his friends, he’s saving them of the inevitable fate that awaits them if they continue together, under the Ring’s influence. It’s not a selfish decision. And, actually, if you think about it, the only way for the quest to succeed would have been everyone in the Fellowship being like Sam, simple, naïve, without ambition, and pure of heart. True, they did not lacked loyalty, and had promised to protect Frodo, but the nature of the Ring would ultimately kill whatever good intention they could have, turning them against each other until there was no one left to carry on with the task. And Sam’s simplicity is what, in the end, is needed to be Frodo’s companion.

Don’t despair, my friends, we are reaching the end of this seemingly infinite review. Although I consider this book to be perfect in every possible way, and one of the best in terms of storytelling I’ve ever read, I will say, there’s one thing that hinders my reading a little bit, and that is the number of songs and poetry, that kind of slow down the pacing at certain points. Obviously, they are beautiful, they deepen the worldbuilding, and I can only admire and applaud Tolkien for such creativity for this world’s lore. But I won’t deny that I skipped the verses more than once, like Bilbo’s insanely long song about Gil-galad in Rivendell, and an entire song in Elvish that Galadriel sings in Lothlórien. True is that as darkness advances in the story, there are less and less songs, although they are never completely gone. So, if you are ok with them, read them as you go, but if you are like me, my advice would be, skip them as you read, finish the chapter, and then come back and read them.

Finally, a couple of things on the movie. An adaptation is also a way of honoring the author, and I think that, in this case, it was fully accomplished. I don’t know much about the process of filmmaking, but I can tell when those behind it pour their hearts and soul into it. The results show it. And for many of us, this trilogy was the reason why we fell in love with epic fantasy. They are cinematic perfection. Now, I don’t have proof of this, but neither doubt, about the fact that there was a before and after in fantasy filming and writing, with Lord of the Rings. Few things have been so influential, and so rich, in storytelling, as these books and movies are, even with a simple storyline of good versus evil, and yet, with every character having their own voice, in a perfect balance of virtues and flaws. Obviously, they couldn’t keep everything exactly as it is in the books, and certain aspects that could become too much had to be cut. Nevertheless, they managed to sneak little things here and there that fans and readers would recognize, even if they didn’t go too deep or detailed into them. Like the hobbits finding the mushrooms right after rolling downhill to escape Farmer Maggot, and later, Aragorn singing very quietly the Lay of Lúthien, one night before getting to Weathertop.

If you made it this far, I bow before you, my dear reader, and thank you with all my heart for reading my long review. But don’t think I’ve said it all. My love for these series is too great to summarize it here. I have a lot more characters, and movie aspects, to talk about. And if you stay through those, well, may your life be blessed with every possible blessing, because to stay through this insanely long review, you definitely have Sam’s perseverance, and Aragorn’s nobility.

Thank you so much for reading!
See you soon!


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