After several years of teasing I decided time was ripe for me to read the one book I've been planning to read for ages. I'd dearly like to flatter you into belief that I've read Kant or something similarly sophisticated, but I won't try to.
I read Lord of the Rings trilogy (actually have got about 100 pages before I finish it) and must say that I don't regret the choice. Naturally, I have more important things to be doing at the moment - like studying biochemistry for my exam, but compared to LOTR, biochemistry is just so dull. ATP here, ATP there, whereas in LOTR you have kings and queens and - elves!
The book is very epic. Not just the action, but the mere wording of every sentence. The book vibrates with heroism and pride and clearly cuts the border between good and evil. This is actually one of the few points that bothered me. You have either the good guys or the bad ones. And if a good guy starts transforming, then he will almost always fully convert and unite his forces with the evil master(s). Boromir is a typical example of that. (Incidentally, in Harry Potter (I hear you groan, but at leasst the nice Googlebot alwaysss listensss) Snape is a character who cannot be classified either as a baddie or a goodie and this shade of grey about him is what I like, because the world is not divided into good and bad people; actually you have a whole bunch of people, perhaps the majority, who are sometimes this and then at other times the reverse.) I see what Tolkien is trying to say about the good and the bad and those who want power above all, but it just seems so unnatural to have this strict division. Frodo and Bilbo are perhaps the only characters who succumb to the power of the ring, but stay pure at heart.
I actually quite liked the style; the long sentences and the awkwardly lengthy dialogues. However, I was annoyed with the slightly patronizing tone Aragorn and sometimes Gandalf use towards the others. They seem so lifted above the mundane, there is the pride (so evident in their address and manner of speaking) and the almost unbearing virtuous character traits, especially in Aragorn that made me sick with all the perfection. Couldn't Tolkien create more normal characters? Characters that have their flaws, but are essentially still good (if he was so fierce about protecting the forces of light). It is true this is a historical piece (or it aspires to be such) and is set in 1400 and something, but still... were all people (the big folk) speaking that way? I liked the hobbits, really... I mean, they have an appetite that is not likely to be matched and big, hairy feet, but they're behaving normally, whereas anyone who was someone (the lost heir to the throne) had to speak in long, complicated sentences adorned with so much decorum and almost overbearing politeness that I had difficulty reading them. I do understand it was important to make the distinction between the future king and the others, but did Aragorn really have to be so perfect? (The films make him slightly more flawed, which I liked. Also, the book has so little of the Aragorn/Arwen backstory I felt their marriage was solely out of platonic inclinations. Hadn't I seen the films before, I would have been puzzled about them.)
I loved the maps. At any point when someone mentioned a place or a path they would take, I checked it on the map. I liked the complexity of the Tolkien's world, but have to mention that I skipped most of the oral tradition: songs and verses incorporated in the text. At first I tried reading them, but later on I would just skim through that section. You're virtually in the middle of a fight, the orcs are swarming around the characters and then all of the sudden they'd break into this song... All right fellows, do pluck up your courage by singing, but I want to know how many orcs get a taste of Gimli's axe, not about a battle several thousand years ago.
All the flaws aside, the only big flaw Tolkien's text has is the lack of a really strong female character(s). Contrary to the film Arwen, where their story is explained more thoroughly, the books boasts about two places where she is mentioned. In Rivendell she just stands and talks to Aragorn and in the Return of the King, she marries him (A little like the Jolie/Pitt debacle, don't you think? ;) Just kidding!). There are a few passages, where their love is hinted at, but hadn't I seen the films first, I would have been puzzled. Surely love wasn't at the heart of Tolkien's work, but had he stressed this little side-plot more, had he presented more prominent female characters, his work would have been perfect indeed. The absence of women was what bothered me immensely. I loved Eowyn because she is the only female character who gets enough space and who is directly important in one aspect of the book - the war in Gondor. Galadriel is interesting and her help comes handy in several places in the book, but again, she should have been more prominent, she should have had a bigger role, perhaps by just one direct intervention in the war or in completing the destruction of the Ring. Another nonsense regarding women is connected to the war. The Rohirrim are known as the soldiers and fighters and their women seem to have been taught to duel/fight as well, so it really seems illogical to call for every man in Rohan, who is old enough to be able to carry a sword and take them to Helm's deep when there are women, who are just as good fighters and who are slightly older (thus also more experienced). Denying the women their role in the story and almost pushing them out of the action seems a little too protective of the "weaker" (?) sex and certainly doesn't help the novel. When I complained to boyfriend about this, he said the book was written more than 50 years ago and that women just weren't as prominent in the public life then. Anna Karenina was published in 1877 and women were far less prominent in the public life then, but reversing the roles and putting a woman in the limelight proved to be a formula for success.
Overall, the book was captivating and I frequently read till 2 in the morning, because I just could not put the book down in the middle of a fight. After the current affairs were settled, there, almost immediately (or several hundred pages later, which is just the same) was a new battle and you just cannot go to sleep thinking - well, they might not make it, but what do I care?