This book was a personal purchase.
So, how many times have you seen the movie?
What keeps drawing the crowds and packing the theaters?
The special effects? Stunning, I’ll admit. The casting? All the characters look the way you’d expect. All those factors play a part, but ultimately, they’re not the true reason for our fascination.
It all comes back to a 60-year-old book.
Tolkien’s masterwork, for many, stands alone as fantasy’s greatest tale. Rarely will anyone argue that point, and neither will I. Rather, it’s interesting to note what makes The Lord of the Rings work so well, on so many levels.
In one sense, it boils down to good, old-fashioned storytelling. Tolkien’s language reads like a yarn spun for a live audience. His tale marches forward, leading inexorably towards Middle-Earth’s fate: Frodo must destroy the Ring or see everything destroyed. In essence, the author presents a simply told tale: no frills, no convoluted subplots, just a well-told story. But that alone can’t explain why it tugs at us and compels us.
So… what else is present?
The answer lies in the characters. No single character personifies good alone, or evil alone; all have complexity. Boromir fails when his desire to do good is twisted by the Ring, but he redeems himself and sacrifices everything. Aragorn fears his heritage and doubts his worth, but doesn’t hesitate when need dictates that his leadership skills be put to use. Even Gollum, whom we love to hate, retains a core of strength and self-worth.
Middle-Earth itself bears a personality and a presence, which reflects the war waged upon it. In other stories, the impact of both the conflict and the Ring’s influence on the land might have seemed too vast, but Frodo’s trials mirror Middle-Earth’s struggle, and thus he brings good versus evil down to a very personal level.
Here, as this world’s Third Age draws to a close, our hero is the unlikeliest of beings: not a warrior or a wizard, but a person (like the reader), and one with a good heart. Ultimately, all must pin their hopes on that goodness, and trust that Frodo will come out the other side of the great darkness that is Mordor. Only Frodo has the strength to face that evil and continue onward.
This makes Frodo a hero. “I will take the Ring,” he says, “though I do not know the way.” He continues, even when all indications are that he and the quest will fail. Who among us hasn’t gone forward in tough times, even if the probably outcome is bleak? Through Frodo, through Middle-Earth itself, we share the journey through darkness and pain to the possibility of eventual triumph.
In a time of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter plot devices and corny stories, a 60-year-old novel puts all others to shame. Tolkien remains fantasy’s grand master.