Monday, December 14, 2009

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, reviewed by Medha Kirti

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Reviewed by
Name: Medha Kirti (14 years)
School: Carmel Convent School, Malcha Marg, Chanakyapuri

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by philologist J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier, less complex children's fantasy novel The Hobbit (1937), but eventually developed into a much larger work. It was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, much of it during World War II. Although generally known to readers as a trilogy, Tolkien initially intended it as one volume of a two volume set along with The Silmarillion; however, the publisher decided to omit the second volume and instead released The Lord of the Rings in 1954-55 as three books rather than one, for economic reasons. It has since been reprinted countless times and translated into many languages, becoming one of the most popular and influential works in 20th-century literature.
The title of the book refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power, as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, most notably the hobbits, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee (Sam), Meriadoc Brandybuck (Merry) and Peregrin Took (Pippin).
Along with Tolkien's other works, The Lord of the Rings has been subjected to extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story was only the last movement of a larger work Tolkien had worked on since 1917, in a process he described as mythopoeia. Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, religion and the author's distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I. The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great effect on modern fantasy; the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" has been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien's works, and the publication of many books about Tolkien and his works. The Lord of the Rings has inspired, and continues to inspire, artwork, music, films and television, video games, and subsequent literature. Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings have been made for radio, theatre, and film.

• Frodo Baggins, a well-to-do Hobbit of the Shire who obtains the One Ring.
• Samwise Gamgee, the gardner of the Bagginses.
• Gandalf, a Maia in the guise of an old wise man.
• Sauron, a Maia who forged the Rings of Power and the Ruling Ring long ago and nearly destroyed by Isildur.
• Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths - Men of old, enslaved to the One Ring via lesser Rings of Power.
• Saruman, a Maia of the same order as Gandalf, who turns to evil.
• Aragorn, heir of Isildur, rightful king of Arnor and Gondor.
• Gollum or Sméagol, a Hobbit-like creature who is a ring-bearer and turns evil.

The Lord of the Rings and its precursor, The Hobbit, take place during the Third Age of Middle-Earth. Middle-Earth is a continent on a perpetually medieval fantasy world called Arda, which is filled with magical places, people, and events, and where the forces of Good and Evil vie for dominion. It has always been vague whether Arda is meant to be our "real" world in its prehistory, but I for one prefer to think of it in wholly imaginary terms. The confusion probably stems from the amount of detail and realism that Tolkien puts into the story, in terms of things like weather, climate, geography, and even phases of the moon. The history of Middle-Earth is broken up into four eras, aptly called the Four Ages.
During the First Age, the immortal Elves, the first Children of Iluvatar (aka. Eru, "the One"... God, basically), awoke by the shores of Cuivienen in Middle-Earth. Shortly thereafter, they were summoned to Valinor, the Blessed Realm, by the Valar. The Valar are akin to gods in the mythological sense, although they are rarely explicitly called such. In fact, in the creation story of Arda, their role is closer to archangels—witnesses and participants in creation rather than originators. In any case, the Valar pretty much run the show on Arda for old Iluvatar. Those Elves who made the journey to Valinor (which is located across the western sea from Middle-Earth) became known as the Eldar, or High Elves, while those who remained in Middle-Earth became known as the Sindar, or Elves of the Twilight.
In Valinor, the Eldar learned many arts and crafts from the Valar (but don't think they became a bunch of Martha Stewarts). The greatest of the Eldar was Feanor, who created three gems of surpassing beauty known as the Silmarils. However, the Silmarils were stolen by an evil Vala called Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World, who fled with them to Middle-Earth. Feanor and a great number of his kinsmen vowed to pursue Morgoth and recover the Silmarils. Upon returning to Middle-Earth, the Eldar discovered that Mortal Men (aka. "Men"), the Second Children of Iluvatar, had come into the world. Over the following centuries, the Elves and Men battled the forces of Morgoth (consisting of such vile creatures as orcs, trolls, and dragons), but failed to recover the Silmarils. Finally, Beren (a Man) and Luthien Tinuviel (an Elf maiden) ventured into Morgoth's stronghold of Angband and stole one of the Silmarils from the evil Lord's crown. The great-grandson of Beren and Luthien was Earendil the Mariner, who sailed to Valinor to beg the Valar to take up arms against Morgoth. The First Age of Middle-Earth came to an end when Angband was cast down, much of the continent was submerged, and Morgoth himself was bound by the Valar for all eternity. All of this and more is related in detail in The Silmarillion, another fine book.
The Second Age was the time of Numenor, a great island kingdom of Men that lay within sight of Valinor itself. Earendil had two sons, Elrond and Elros, the Peredhil (Half-Elven). Elrond chose to follow the path of immortal Elvenkind, while Elros chose to live out his life as a Mortal Man (albeit a long-lived one). Elros became the first king of Numenor. Back in Middle-Earth, in the land of Eregion, Elven smiths (led by Celebrimbor, grandson of Feanor) began forging the Rings of Power, talismans that gave their wearers great supernatural abilities (not the least of which was invisibility). The Elves were unwittingly assisted in their efforts by Sauron, formerly the chief lieutenant of Morgoth. When the Elves had finished their labors, Sauron forged the Ruling Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom. The One Ring gave Sauron dominion over the others, causing them to be corrupted to his service. Only the Three Rings of the Elves remained free, having been forged by Celebrimbor alone, but even they could not be used without Sauron knowing about it. So for a time, the Elf lords set aside their Rings. The forging of the One Ring revealed Sauron's true nature to the Elves, who declared war upon him. The Dark Lord took the fortified land of Mordor to be his stronghold.
Meanwhile, the descendents of Elros, the Edain, became mighty kings among Mankind. The Numenoreans were powerful and just, but eventually came to envy the immortality of the Elves. This left them vulnerable to the lies and deceptions of Sauron. Through Sauron's treachery, Numenor was destroyed and sank beneath the sea. Only a handful of the Edain, led by the noble Elendil and his sons, Isuldur and Anarion, survived the destruction by sailing to Middle-Earth. There, Elendil established a kingdom in the North called Arnor, while Isuldur and Anarion established the kingdom of Gondor in the south. Sauron was believed to have been destroyed in the downfall of Numenor, but in fact, his spirit had survived and returned to Mordor. While the One Ring existed, he could not be utterly destroyed. However, he was no longer able to take on a benevolent appearance.
To combat Sauron's evil, Elendil joined forces with Gil-galad, last of the kings of the Eldar. Together, the forces of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men were able to storm Mordor, driving Sauron's forces before them. Elendil and Gil-galad were slain, but Isuldur cut the Ring from Sauron's hand, breaking his father's sword in the process. Sauron was not killed, however, because Isuldur kept the Ring for himself, rather than destroying it. The first defeat of Sauron signaled the end of the Second Age of Middle-Earth.
While on his way home from the war, Isuldur was ambushed by a company of orcs. He attempted to use the Ring's power of invisibility to escape, but it slipped from his finger while he was swimming across the Anduin River. Now visible, he was slain by an orc's arrow. The Ring lay at the bottom of the river for centuries, until it was accidentally found by two friends, Deagol and Sméagol. Sméagol promptly murdered Deagol and took the Ring for himself. He used his newfound invisibility for thieving and learning secrets. He was reviled by his people, who called him "Gollum," due to his peculiar habit of making gurgling noises in his throat. Eventually getting fed up with this abuse, Sméagol decided to leave home and made his way into the caverns beneath the Misty Mountains, where he thought he could learn the secrets of the world's making. This was in the year 2470 of the Third Age of Middle-Earth.

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