|The Lord of the Rings, first edition (published 1954-1955)|
My goal is to shine a little light on details in the book that might otherwise go unnoticed. Although The Lord of the Rings is a much read and much loved work, there's a surprising gap between what people see in the book and what Tolkien actually wrote. Our understanding of it is tinted by everything that has come afterward: illustrations, movies, games, and indeed the entire genre of fantasy literature as it evolved in Tolkien's wake. As I've written before, this legacy can lead to powerful misreadings. Discovering Middle Earth in its pristine state means unlearning 60 years of interpretations and expectations.
And so I want to use these posts as a way of forcing myself to read The Lord of the Rings with fresh eyes. This involves a close reading but not scholarly exegesis. I've modeled my approach on Tolkien's own advice about how to share and appreciate his works:
...any reader whom the author has (to his great satisfaction) succeeded in 'pleasing' (exciting, engrossing, moving etc.), should, if he wishes others to be similarly pleased, endevour in his own words, with only the book itself as his source, to induce them to read it for literary pleasure.
Tolkien wanted the book to be enjoyed not dissected -- even citing Gandalf’s warning to Saruman that “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” (Letter 329, Letters of JRR Tolkien, 1981).
And so in my next post I'll look at the the Forward to The Fellowship of the Ring. I'll hope you'll read along...