I finished the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy recently, and I have to admit, I wasn’t impressed. I don’t really know what our cultural consensus of the books is these days, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me as I read that Tolkien was not a writer–at least not one that would make it in today’s market. Don’t get me wrong, he was a genius in a lot of ways, and is a great storyteller, but his books are so different than the ones coming out in this generation, and at times I had quite a bit of difficulty getting through it. Plus, you can hardly blame him for all this, since he was, in a lot of ways, the ‘Father of Fantasy’. So, while there will be lots of spoilers ahead, I doubt many people would care because everyone (except me) has already at least seen the movies.
Before I get to my grievances with this particular book, however, let’s talk about the cool bits. For the most part, I loved Aragorn & Co.’s narrative. Following along as they pursued the captive hobbits, find Gandalf the White, and eventually fight Saruman’s Uruk hai was great. I particularly enjoyed the Ents’ involvement. And when the company got to the Orthanc and sought an audience with Saruman, Gandalf’s conversation with him was pretty cool. His argument was very persuasive, and I wanted him so badly to turn a new leaf and join Gandalf’s fight, but having known a bit of the story I knew it wasn’t meant to be.
I loved the first half of the book, and I think a huge reason for that is because when people talk about Lord of the Rings, most of the time they talk about Frodo and what happened with him. They don’t talk as much about Aragorn and that side of the story, so pretty much everything that happened was new to me.
But then the first ‘book’ ends and we transition to the second half of Frodo and Sam. I was really annoyed with that part because there really wasn’t a whole lot happening. Most of their trials were based on geographical and logistical problems, and as such it focused more on their character and reactions to the world around them (like what they think of Gollum and how they should deal with him). I hated it because I didn’t like either of them. As of writing this post I’ve actually realized that I really don’t like any of the hobbits, for various reasons. Simply put, though, they’re all incompetent, and it becomes frustrating because they are often the driving force of what’s going on around them.
The only thing Sam cares about is Frodo. He’s suspicious of everyone else, and he makes stupid decisions based on his loyalty and stubbornness. He’s apparently everyone’s favorite, but he doesn’t catch my sympathy. Frodo is nihilistic and stubborn. The only thing he cares about is getting the job overwith, and he doesn’t even care if he succeeds. I’m genuinely amazed that such a one-dimensional character managed to become so recognizable in pop culture. Of the three of them, Gollum is by far the most interesting!
The entire second half the book is consumed by gloom and dreariness, and it gets tiresome. My favorite scene in that part is when Frodo and Sam are talking about being the main characters in a story of their own, and not only is it ironic, but both of them manage to laugh because of how crazy it seems. It also specifically says (paraphrasing here) that that laughter is “the first time such a sound was heard in Mordor for [an indescribably long amount of time]”. And I think that characterizes exactly why this part of the book isn’t good. It should be a pair of fun-loving and merry people being juxtaposed against the black and smoky atmosphere. They can have dark moments, sure, but don’t make the entire subject of the second half of the book despair, because that will drain all the life from your reader, which isn’t what you want. This difference would have made the book a lot more like The Hobbit, which I think would have been an improvement.
As a last note, I’m sure this is in the movies, but Frodo kind of dies at the end of The Two Towers. Shelob poisons him, and Sam makes the choice to become the ring-bearer and carry on with the mission. If I had no prior knowledge of the story, it would have been a touching scene with lots of character growth, because it genuinely looks like Frodo is dead. It was an interesting scene, because I had absolutely no clue what Sam would do, but I was disappointed when he went back after the orcs came. Obviously it has to be that way because of how the story unfolds (Frodo will certainly die if Sam doesn’t help), but I think it was a great opportunity for a change of pace, which their line of narrative desperately needed. (To be fair, I don’t have a fix for how the story might unfold if Sam did continue on his own, because I don’t know how the story actually goes, but I think it certainly could have been done).
Now that I’m done with this book, what’s next? Well, not Return of the King. At least, not immediately, but I will get to it eventually. Here is the extent of my knowledge of what happens in the last book, based purely on my limited knowledge of the movies:
- Minas Tirith is important, and I think Aragorn & Co. go there. There are probably at least two major battles, one where they fight oliphaunts (lazy name, by the way, Tolkien.)
- Aragorn becomes king, because it’s like his book, right? No idea.
- The Nazgul King is in one of the battles, and in the movies Eowyn kills him. I think that was specifically a movie choice, though, because Tolkien was notorious for only making male characters important.
- Gollum comes back, though I don’t know when. All I know is that Frodo decides to keep the Ring when they get to Mt. Doom and Gollum fights him for it. Gollum and Ring end up being lava’d. Then they take the eagles back home where they eventually set off across the sea to the West.
Everything else in the book will be a surprise, so hopefully the narrative picks up the pace!