Saturday, August 28, 2021

Review - The Two Towers

Original Title: The Two Towers
Series: Lord of the Rings, #2
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Published: November 11th, 1954

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (this edition)

To know how I’ll be doing this review and the Return of the King one, please visit my review for Fellowship of the Ring. And watch out for spoilers.

The adventure continues.

The Fellowship of the Ring is broken, and now our heroes are going separate ways, meeting new people, and facing the unknown, while darkness grows, and war marches on the lands of Men. What was one journey is now divided three ways, and if at first you were the 10th member of the Company, here you become the fourth hunter along with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, you go with Merry and Pippin into the depths of the Fangorn Forest, and cross Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes and Ithilien with Frodo, Sam and Gollum. In every possible way, the story gets deeper, and more complex.

One of the things I love the most in the Two Towers movie is that, as the story starts to change and new characters come in, the score also changes and gets deeper. Howard Shore is nothing short of a music genius, because every race has their tune, and he managed to make them utterly different from each other, reflecting their identity. In the Fellowship of the Ring, we met the Elves through a melody that is mysterious, and sounds ancient, but not threatening, while in Moria, the tune is deep, and the male voices have this echoing quality that makes me think their singing was born from the very depths of the mountain. But now, things change. Isengard is unleashed, and its music is heavy on industrial sounds, like hammer on anvil, and with a metallic quality that can only mean war. Yet now, in this adventure, we finally enter the realms of Men, and the music is just incredible. Gondor’s is a majestic, yet still quiet sort of melody, that we already heard with Aragorn and Boromir, but now its meaning grows, speaking of a city of kings and old glory, that, although it’s been diminished over time, is not completely gone. And Rohan, with that utterly unforgettable sound provided by the Hardanger fiddle, matches to perfection the rolling hills and wide plains of the home of the Horse Lords.

After Boromir’s death, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli start the chase that will lead them into the country of Rohan. Things didn’t go as planned, yet there’s still a lot to be done.

I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end.

Aragorn is a loyal friend, and although Legolas and Gimli don’t say it, they would’ve done the same thing. Their loyalty to each other, and to their cause, never wavers, moving them to go after the Uruk-hai that took Merry and Pippin, instead of considering them lost, and abandoning them. But these hobbits aren’t completely hopeless. If until then they were naïve and perhaps didn’t do much for the journey, now they are on their own. And Pippin proves that even being carried as prisoners in that foul-smelling band of Orcs, he can keep his head cool, because it’s his wit what saves them both. Yes, more than once in the trilogy he is a fool of a Took, but this is definitely not the case. Both in the books and in the movie, it’s possible to appreciate Merry and Pippin’s evolution into people they never thought they would become, not even in their wildest dreams. And as Gandalf says, their coming to Fangorn, almost accidental, is “like the falling of small stones that start an avalanche in the mountains”. They may not have the strength to change the course of the war, but they do have the power to awake those that can.

And so, we get to meet the mysterious, yet powerful Ents, the shepherds of trees of the Fangorn Forest.

Treebeard is Fangorn, the guardian of the forest; he’s the oldest of the Ents, the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle Earth.

Treebeard is a fascinating character, with a lot more of stories to tell than the one Tolkien chose to tell us. However, he’s so slow that his chapter kinda puts me to sleep. Yet, I love how Tolkien was able to imbibe his writing with this “no hurry” mindset of his, and the concept of him having a name that is like a story, filled with all the ages of the world. After all, you can’t define the world’s oldest creature with only one word, after all he’s seen and done. Now, as I left abundantly clear, I deeply admire Tolkien for the world he created, and how he wrote it, I mean, the scene in Wellingfall, with the green and golden lights, is nothing short of magical, and all the time I felt I was there, with Merry and Pippin. Yet, if I have to talk about something that is a little hard to get through in Two Towers, is the whole Entwives part. There’s a very long song about them that I skip every time I read this book, because this, just as Tom Bombadil in the previous book, expands the world, but not the plot, and while Treebeard sings about the Entwives, I just want to go back to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, to continue de hunt. It’s a lot more interesting and fun.

Ents seem to think at the speed of a growing tree, it appears to me. But everything in Middle Earth is alive, and the Fangorn Forest is no exception. You don’t mess with it without getting slapped. And upon Isengard’s lack of respect for growing and living things, the Ents decide to go to war –in despite that they may not survive it– in a last march that is to be reckoned with.

You don’t want to anger these tree-shepherds. They may be slow but it only took them two days to make a decision, imagine if they were not in a hurry. They don’t like being roused, but when they are, you better have something to hold on to. A war gets serious if the Ents decide to join, because they normally stay out of business that don’t concern them. And even though nor Merry nor Pippin have any experience in war, they understand that sooner or later, in a way or another, everyone would have to fight, no matter what they were (Men, Elves, Hobbits or Ents), and that is what they try to explain Treebeard. The war would get to them sooner or later, and they have to either act, or wait to be destroyed. The world around them doesn’t move at their speed, and won’t wait for them to decide before aiming for the trees with axes and fire.

In the movie, one of the best things about the Ents, other than their design, because there are not two alike, is the overwhelmingly intense music that sounds as they march towards Isengard. It’s ancient, something that hasn’t sounded in ages, something that was powerful, yet dormant, and was awaken. Saruman knows nothing of love, friendship, or honor; only numbers, and servitude, and the Ents come to prove how wrong he is if he thinks the world won’t fight back his abuse. And of course, Sir Christopher Lee’s face when he sees the havoc they cause in his forges is absolutely priceless.

Saruman may have the seer stone, but he definitely did not see that one coming. You forced them to wake up, now deal with it. And later, after Helm’s Deep, when Gandalf and the rest go to find him in Orthanc, it’s amazing how I felt sorry for him. But not because of the words he speaks from his tower, using the little magic he has left, but because he actually has to do that so save his miserable life. Now that Isengard lies in ruin, and Sauron –his so-called ally– won’t answer for him, or help or shelter him in any way, he realizes that, in his lust for power, he was used as Mordor’s puppet, and now is completely alone. Even his own servant tried to kill him by dropping the Palantír on his head. Sauron was never really going to let him share his power, and it’s pitiable how he has to go for cheap tricks to avoid punishment, after all he destroyed in his name. How a wizard known as the White could be so naïve? But there you see it, darkness promises it all, and in the end, it takes everything from you. Saruman learns it the hard way.

In Two Towers, Gandalf is back, as the White. His task in Middle Earth was not done, and he was sent back after the victory over the Balrog of Morgoth, that cost his life. But even though he is more powerful than as the Grey and he can’t be easily hurt, he’s mostly absent in this book. Yet, it’s not in vain. Even though he only uses his power when there’s absolutely no other choice, I think that the fact that the characters do not rely on his magic is also a way in which they grow and evolve, through the facing of difficulties and obstacles just as they are, making them all the more relatable and human. Magic can’t, and won’t, save Middle Earth, but it can doom it, and no one can foresee the end of the road, except possibilities that fade in such an unstable reality, with so much at stake. The only answer is courage and fighting back, as the fate of the world is every day closer to be decided. And that seems to be Gandalf’s task, as he comes and goes where he’s needed, making sure people make the right choices, and do what they are supposed to be doing, advising them, and using his wisdom to guide them in the war that, if won, will lead to the dominion of Men. That is his purpose. His magic is meant to be used against Sauron, and beings like the Balrog, and to help those prisoners of their power. And so was Saruman’s, but getting too close to the Dark Lord has the same effect as having the Ring: all that was good on you gets rotten, and becomes a mean of destruction.

Beyond the Fangorn Forest, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli enter the green plains of Rohan, where darkness is slowly taking over and poisoning their king’s mind. Rohan has always been my favorite country in Middle Earth. In contrast with places like Lórien, life in the Land of the Horse Lords is more about practical things: riding, weapons, battle and honor (never forget honor). And it’s also the home of my favorite character in the trilogy.
Éowyn, daughter of Éomund, niece to King Théoden, and White Lady of Rohan. She represents everything her country is, and is a strong female character that was written long before the concept was popular (or as popular as it is today, at least). Now, I feel like I really need to say this. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Tolkien didn’t write strong female characters. They may not be in Lord of the Rings, but The Silmarillion is filled with them. There, we can find proud Haleth, who, after both her father and brother died in an Orc raid, took the reins, and lead her people with strength and resilience (and for that they were later known as the Halethrim). There’s powerful Queen Melian, mother of Lúthien, whose magic kept both Elves and Humans safe in Doriath. There’s Lúthien herself, who dared to enter Morgoth’s fortress to save Beren, and ultimately sacrificed everything for love. There’s Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, princess of Gondolin, who died trying to save her son, by stepping on the way of a poisoned spear. There’s Emeldir, Beren’s mother, who was responsible for leading the women and children of her people to the safety of Doriath after the conquest of Dorthonion, their home. And there’s Nienor, that, though her fate was sad and tragic, still dared to pose as a male soldier so she could find her brother Túrin, joining her equally strong mother, Morwen (she even tried to fight Glaurung’s spell, but proved too much for her).

But Éowyn is the most remembered of them all, and an utterly unique character. This is a woman who understood, a long time ago, that no one would come save her, that she had to be her own hero, and that if she wanted something, she had to make it happen herself. Along with her brother, Éomer, she was responsible for keeping Rohan’s head up, while the king was under Saruman’s spell, all the while stalked by Gríma, and promised as his war spoil. I’m glad the movie included her story from before the travelers meet her, and that her appearance as she’s first seen was respected, with the simple white dress and her long hair like a river of gold. The only thing I feel she lacked in this book was the opportunity to stab Gríma, after he had followed her steps for so long. He so deserved it.

Miranda Otto’s performance is absolutely perfect. If you don’t know who Éowyn is, at first it seems that she will be just a royal lady in elegant dresses with one or two lines of dialogue here and there; but then she grabs a sword, and you see that she’s no damsel in distress, nor she will ever be one. Miranda kept true to Éowyn’s spirit as a shieldmaiden, and was able to show her strength, in despite that in this movie she doesn’t do much fighting (at least not with swords). She wants to, though, especially during the warg battle (which is not in the books, but to keep things moving in the movie was a great choice), but her uncle begs her to lead their people to the safety of Helm’s Deep. I love her, but I’m afraid I’m with Théoden on that one, because if both him and Éomer died in battle, she was Rohan’s only hope. It was wise to listen to reason this time.

I think it’s admirable that Éowyn’s worst fear isn’t war or death, but a cage.

There’s a very significant take in Return of the King, that reflects this:

It matches this quote from Two Towers:

For over the plain Éowyn saw the glitter of their spears, as she stood still, alone before the doors of the silent house”.

Éowyn, standing in Edoras, while the fiddle sounds, is a beautiful image, but it’s also what she hates: waiting at home for the men while they deal with the important stuff and get all the glory. And taking care of the bewitched king, her worst nightmare had come true, she had nothing else to fear. She was eager to fight and yet, she was sad and lonely, doomed to play nurse to an old man she loved, but who didn’t even recognize her. As a woman in a world of men, that would be her fate, if she didn’t step forward to change it. And when Aragorn comes along, she can feel his majesty, and falls in love with the idea of him. Miranda Otto was capable of showing us the exact moment in which that happens.

I never considered this to be a love triangle with Arwen, because they both are just too different, and don’t get to be rivals over his heart. While Arwen knows Aragorn and cares for him as a man, Éowyn cares for him as a king, the one that promises freedom, and the opportunity to turn her into everything she knows she can be. Because the fact that by the end she doesn’t get to be the Queen of Gondor, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have what it takes. She had leading qualities, and her people loved her and were willing to obey her when Théoden left for Helm’s Deep.

And speaking of the King of Rohan…

I want to mention the wardrobe department here, although this is entirely my own interpretation. I think Théoden’s costume also tells his story. While under Saruman’s spell, he’s wearing this big fur-trimmed coat, fully dressed in light brown shades that give him a totally stale sort of look, like he’s drained of life. But after Gandalf sets him free, that changes completely; back as himself, he starts wearing richer, more lively colors and fabrics, like deep brown and red with hints of green and gold, in pieces that do not hinder his movements, and never again he’s seen in such a big coat that is more ornamental than fit for movement.

The real Théoden is not the one that sits in his throne and does nothing while his land suffers, but the one who says this:

But I will not end here, taken like an old badger in a trap […] When dawn comes, I will bind men sound Helm’s horn and I will ride forth.

This is a king speaking! Rohan won’t go down without a fight, even with slim chances of victory. And then:

I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be”.

I love Théoden for this. And with such spirit as an example, no wonder Éowyn and Éomer are who they are, as children of kings, with the same sense of duty. And although we never get to know Théoden’s son, Théodred, I’m sure he shared that very same love for the Riddermark. He died fighting, after all, like a true son of his father. It was good that, in the movies, Théoden’s grief over the loss of Théodred was included. In the book, it is overlooked, he only says “I have no child. Théodred my son is slain. I name Éomer my sister-son to be my heir”, and that’s it. But in the movie, there’s a funeral scene, and we can actually see Théoden as a heartbroken father, crying on his knees, in front of his son’s grave, making him so deep, so human, that it’s tear-worthy.

Something that is very noticeable in this book is Aragorn’s evolution. It’s amazingly well done how he comes to everyone’s life like a quiet sort of thunder. He doesn’t appear on a big moment of glory or majesty; he just strolls in, in old, ragged clothes, and speaking in a calm voice, and yet, no one can remain unchanged after knowing him, because they all can feel what he is, and see how he is, a man that is selfless, wise, and powerful. It’s fair to say that, in every character, there’s a before and after Aragorn. Yet, it’s not that he changes a lot as the story goes on. It’s more about revealing his real self, the man he’s always been in despite of the Ranger’s look and attitude, and that everyone can sense.

But still, he remains humble. During the Helm’s Deep battle, he exclaims “Andúril for the Dúnedain!”. Not Gondor. The throne isn’t his yet, and he doesn’t brag about his bloodline. He doesn’t even speak of himself as future king. And that is constant with him. He doesn’t force anyone to do anything, in despite that one order from him would be enough to set anyone in motion. And that is the same attitude he has towards Arwen, in despite of how much he loves her.

She’s not in the book, but in the movie, we see her as Elrond tries to convince her to leave and take a ship to the Undying Lands. It’s an utterly sad scene in which Arwen has to face the perspective that, even if Aragorn survives the war and reclaims the throne, it will entail that she gives up immortality to stay with him. The time of the Elves is over, and if she wants to stay, it will have to be as a mortal, understanding that Aragorn simply won’t be with her forever. Elrond is harsh but realistic with her, showing her the bitter side of her choice. But ultimately, if staying is worth it or not, it will be her decision.

It’s not like Elrond doesn’t want Arwen and Aragorn together, it’s just that he doesn’t want her to regret her decision, because there’s no turning back from it. Arwen may not be strong the way Éowyn is, as she doesn’t belong in the battlefield and the wielding of weapons like she does, but her choice isn’t an easy one, and her strength lies in her love for Aragorn. And no matter the choice she makes, Aragorn will respect it, because he wants what’s best for her. Theirs is an immortal true love.

And then, battle reaches Rohan. Helm’s Deep has to be one of the most epic ones in the history of cinema. Until then, you were at the edge of your sit, but when it starts, it’s just… breathtakingly epic. There’s no other word to define it.

Yet, it is also raw and realistic. You can feel the men’s despair, because they are simply too few to defend the keep against ten thousand Orcs, and see how they even prepare children for battle. However, one of the things I like about the movie, and that it doesn’t happen in the books, is this:

Bravo to the armor department for Haldir’s stunning look.

At one point, in the movie, Galadriel asks “Do we leave Middle Earth to its fate? Do we let them stand alone?” In the books, save Legolas, no other Elves come to fight alongside the Riddermark, and at first it bothered me, because it’s their world too. They did a great job guarding their own borders, and even when their time was ending and most of them were leaving, they should have stayed and fight along with Men, for a better world. It’s not like they aren’t warriors, after all. But later, as you read the appendixes, you see their absence is justified, for war had already reached their own lands. As Gondor and Rohan fought both Mordor and Isengard, Thranduil in Mirkwood, and Haldir in Lórien, lead their own battles against invaders, same as the Dwarves in the Iron Hills. So, it’s good to know they were doing their part for the world.

But, Elves or no Elves, the point is that the Helm’s Deep battle is so immersive, that you forget about everything else, both in the book and the movie. Gimli and Legolas add the comic relief to all the blood and destruction around them, with their killing count, the same way Haldir’s death adds the element of loss, because in the book, no significant characters die in this battle. However, as the day comes, the Orcs take the fortress and plant their flag, and Men do their best in despite of exhaustion, fighting to their last breath; it all seems lost, and in one last ride, Théoden decides to go down as the king he is. The cry of “Forth Eorlingas!” has always made me want to jump from my seat and charge along with the riders, as there’s such pride and dignity in it, for the Mark and who they are, that is infectious.

And then Shadowfax neighs, and Éomer returns, and you feel the relief, the renewing of hope. I have cried. Yes. How I feel when that happens, it’s beyond words.

Few things are as epic as the charge of the Rohirrim with the rising sun.

And yes, I know in the book it’s not Éomer but Erkenbrand from the Westfold, but I don’t care. I love Éomer, for his loyalty and his spirit. A worthy future King of Rohan.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Anduin, Frodo and Sam continue their journey, utterly lost in the labyrinth of rocks that is Emyn Muil. And it’s maddening. The description is so well done, so vivid, that I felt as lost as Frodo and Sam, even if the place is little else than grey rock, water streams, and dead trees.

As they go, the Ring gets heavier, and I can’t but think about Galadriel’s line in the movie that states that Frodo begins to understand that the Quest will claim his life. This doesn’t necessarily mean physical death. The journey takes a toll on both Frodo and Sam, but Frodo is slowly losing himself, taken over by the Ring; even if he survives, the scars won’t fade, and his life will never be the same. He’s been deeply hurt both in body and soul, and yet, there’s still a long way ahead of him, with no less than the weight of the world’s fate on his shoulders. But there’s hope, and it relies on the most unlikely of creatures. Because in the middle of Emyn Muil’s grey landscape, Frodo and Sam meet one of the most iconic characters fiction has ever known.

So… Gollum. What a character, right? He’s the living proof of what happens to those who keep the Ring for too long. Their essence is lost, as if the Ring is feeding on it. He became a hollow, primitive creature, ruled by his basic instincts of survival, hunting with his bare hands and eating raw fish. He can barely speak properly, even when before finding the Ring, he wasn’t very different from hobbits. He forgot the basic names of everything, as he calls the Sun and the Moon, the Yellow Face and the White Face. He lost his language, keeping only a few misused words, and the skills he needs to keep himself alive. Hunger and hiding are his driving force, he was reduced to two things alone. The rest is his Precious. He had it for so long that he lost himself, he was reduced to no more than a sad carcass of what he used to be. Yet, a part of him remained Sméagol, and that is the one that Frodo wants to reach. As Gandalf said, he still had a part to play in this tale, even though he’s overall a wretched, pathetic creature. However, his depth lies in trying to understand both him and the Ring. Whatever it was that it did to him, it consumed him whole.

It’s amazing how one little decision contributes to the shaping of the world and sets so many things in motion that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. You see it in Isildur, in Frodo, in Merry and Pippin… But most of all, in Bilbo. His pity over Gollum, in despite of the wicked, disgusting creature he was, meant one step closer to destroying the Ring, and basically to the outcome of a war that hadn’t even started by then. He couldn’t even have imagined it, but, as it is said, the great tales never end, and those who have already played their part step aside, so others can continue it. If it wasn’t for Bilbo, if he had gone through with it, Frodo would have never gotten to Mordor alive. Sam never trusted Gollum, and constantly watched him, but with Frodo, it’s different. He, other than being their guide, lets him see his future, what he would become eventually, if he didn’t carry on with his task, that was slowly taking over him. And it’s chilling.

With Gollum and his reluctant help, Frodo and Sam manage to finally leave Emyn Muil behind, and after trudging through the Dead Marshes, and finally finding the Black Gate closed, they take a different route that leads them to the fair Ithilien, where they meet another of my favorite characters in the whole series.

Faramir, son of Denethor II, and the very embodiment of honor.

Yet he felt in his heart that Faramir, though he was much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser.

He’s the only character that lost some of its essence in translation from book to movie, although in the end, his true heart prevailed. He’s a man of his word. He has everything in his favor to just take the Ring, but he said he wouldn’t do it, and he won’t. That is the main difference with the movie, because there, Frodo and Sam are his prisoners, while in the book they are his guests; Faramir is actually not as cold-hearted as he appears to be in the movie, but if I have to read something on it, I see it as a way he has of being some sort of replacement now that Boromir would never come back, obeying rules, and trying to do what he would do. Yet that is not who he is.

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend […]”

Faramir doesn’t want power, but rather, he seems more interested in knowledge, and can’t detach himself from his feelings the way his brother could. Though he’s too young to be such a wise man, he has a sense of responsibility, and he’s a warrior by need, not for the love of battle. He himself says that he doesn’t kill unless he absolutely has to. Even though in the shadow of Boromir, Faramir was indeed a true Son of Gondor, less proud, perhaps, but equally brave, and ready to die for his cause. But the main difference with his brother is that Boromir was willing to do literally anything to save Gondor, while Faramir is not. Not just anything. He wouldn’t delve in darkness, he had boundaries, lines he didn’t cross. He simply wouldn’t take what wasn’t his.

I liked that, in the extended edition, they included a scene with Boromir and Faramir together as brothers, after reclaiming Osgiliath for Gondor.

There, you can perfectly see both their differences and their similarities. Faramir loves Gondor as much as Boromir does, but he’s not made for war, nor finds any joy in it. He fights because if he doesn’t, no one will. With Boromir gone, and without him too, Gondor’s men would be leaderless. But he’s more fit for the diplomatic aspects of war. His strength isn’t physical or in combat, but that doesn’t make him any less strong, and I think he was more fitted for the Fellowship than Boromir. He didn’t have his same attitude, he even says that he wouldn’t take the Ring, and much less use it, even he had found it by the side of the road. I believe that if he had been the one to go to Rivendell, perhaps the Company would have lasted longer.

I think it is necessary to mention the amazing job done by the wardrobe department with Boromir and Faramir, to show the difference between the two. While Boromir is dressed in more elegant, distinguished pieces, framing this huge presence he is, Faramir’s outfits are more like a Ranger’s. If no one tells you he is the captain, you wouldn’t guess it, because he’s dressed with almost no difference with his men. Obviously, the clothes of an Ithilien Ranger respond to a need of camouflage, but I mean, his looks are way humbler than his brother’s, as he seems the kind of person who gets lost in the crowd, but not quite. And Boromir definitely did not give that image. You could instantly tell he was an elite warrior, someone of rank and status. And that is also one of the reasons why Faramir is such a great man, modest and yet worthy of respect, followed blindly by his men, no matter where he leads them.

One of the main differences with the book is that Faramir never takes Frodo, Sam and Gollum to Osgiliath. But if anything, it helps to see how men are being besieged in every possible front, how Sauron is actually worried about Gondor fighting back, and left Saruman to deal with Rohan, like a minor nuisance. He knows the power to defeat him in the battlefield is in Gondor, especially if Isildur’s heir still lives and reclaims the throne. And even in the middle of all the chaos, Faramir gets one step closer to understand the burden Frodo is carrying, and that everything around the Ring is a lot bigger than himself, than his father, and even Gondor itself, finally accepting that pleasing Denethor is not more important than doing the right thing.

In this book, Sam continues his task of being… well, Sam. Even though he is as lost as Frodo in the wilderness, his innocence is just too much for the darkness that gets closer with each passing day. He’s the one that keeps Frodo moving, and although he’s not the wisest or the strongest, his loyalty is unbreakable.

Sam is the one that keeps up Frodo’s hope, taking care of him and helping him bear his burden, slowing down the darkness that is slowly taking over him. And he does so by being himself.

Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into song or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards.

I want to hug this hobbit. He’s so simple and adorable! For God’s sake, he wants his tale to be told by the fireside! Through the journey he gets in contact with the very same immense power that have corrupted people way older and more powerful than him, and yet, the Ring can’t do anything about someone whose greatest ambition is this one. This is what keeps darkness at bay. Sam’s promise and love are his driving force, and when he attacks Shelob, it’s for sheer anger, managing to wound her in ways no one, ever, could before. He had no idea of the magnitude of his enemy’s power and strength, he just wanted to defend his master, and acted on an instinct. His purity is too much for the darkness of the Nameless Land.

In Two Towers, once again, Tolkien’s writing is gold. The way Minas Morgul is described is utterly terrifying. As Minas Ithil, it used to be a fortress of Gondor, so it wasn’t always a place of darkness. But it was taken over during the Third Age, and since then it has been controlled by the Ringwraiths. The place drips evil and horror, it’s where the doom of Middle Earth will start. It’s basically Mordor’s threshold, both literally and figuratively, because what’s coming is way, way worse. Now, few things are so appalling as the description of the darkness that reigns in Shelob’s lair. It’s too well written, because it’s not just that you can’t see with your eyes. Your mind also gets blinded to all memory of light, making it inescapable, because you can’t go back to what you don’t remember, you can’t get out of a darkness you have always been in. There’s no smells other than the stench of rotten corpses, and nothing beyond the blackness of the tunnel. It’s just… terrifying. And this is even before knowing about the nightmare creature that dwells inside that mountain. All paths that go into Mordor are watched, and this one is no exception. No wonder not even Orcs want to take it.

Yet, I have to say this. I think it is amazing how Tolkien could write about darkness, and make it different in each place the characters face it. It’s not the same one in Moria, than in Mirkwood, than in Shelob’s Lair, or later in the Paths of the Dead. In each of these places, it is silent and deep, and yes, it’s ominous, but there’s no way it means the same thing. Not all darkness is the same, just as no one is corrupted by it in the same way. Galadriel’s phial is what helps them cut through the sheer blackness of the lair, but as they get closer and closer to the heart of Mordor, not even the star of Eärendil can get past its power. There will be a point in which the hobbits won’t be able to rely on any sort of help anymore, and they’ll have to go on as they are, with nothing but their own willpower to keep moving. This horrible place is just the beginning of that. Yet, hope prevails. Frodo is stung by Shelob, and when Sam believes him dead, he takes up as Ring-bearer, determined to finish the quest, in despite of his despair. And this is a hero for me. The one that is broken and makes mistakes, doesn’t want to go on, and yet, finds a reason to keep moving, even if he must go alone, and there seems to be nothing else to be done, nor way out. If this is not the definition of hope, then I don’t know what it is.

No matter how many times I read this book, it will always leave me fascinated, and unbelieving how one single man could create all this. This universe that we get to know is worthy of a standing ovation, and it’s so incredible, that my love for it is beyond all words, beyond all review. It’s a fantasy world, and yet, it’s amazing how close it is to us. I myself can relate to some of these characters in the trials they go through, and understand their struggles, even when their obstacles and mine are way different. But this is what makes stories classics, after all. Their ability to resist the test of time, and mean something different in each stage of our lives.

Now, I final word on the movie trilogy. People may disagree with this, but I’ll say it, anyway. I think these movies were made right when they needed to be made, before fantasy filming became more about the special effects and the action sequences, and less about the story they wanted to tell you. Before CGI became almost everything the actors work with, and the computer effects were perhaps less sophisticated, but the story is so compelling that you forget you are watching, completely absorbed and having forgotten about the world outside. I’m not saying that there weren’t good fantasy movies after Lord of the Rings, but I hardly ever saw something done with such passion for a story, in which not a single scene is a waste, and there’s such a perfect balance between worldbuilding and characterization, in which you can both fall in love with the characters, and get fascinated with the places they visit.

They are, without a doubt, the bests in their genre.

If you stayed this long, may you be blessed! 
Thank you so much for reading!

See you soon!

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!