Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tolkien's Epic: The Lord of the Rings

I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, arguably the best piece of epic fantasy ever penned by mortal man.  I was first introduced to Tolkien years ago by my father; he would read portions of The Hobbit to us kids and I think that he assumed we understood far more than we ever did.  I attempted to read the series for myself in middle school.  This meant that I skipped most of the story and continued to not understand most of everything else.

When I finally made the decision to devote significant effort toward reading good books, I felt that The Lord of the Rings was a reasonable place to start--especially since I had by then seen Peter Jackson's films and knew that I would be able to follow the story.  This time through, I found that I have a special fondness for these tales because of the time I have spent studying ancient history and because of my love of foreign languages and cultures.

During my short time as an Ancient Near-Eastern Studies major, I read several histories of the ancient world since Alexander the Great.  Tolkien attempted to produce an entire mythology of the western world.  I am impressed by the kind of information that he created to weave together the histories of all his fanciful creatures.  These books are not just good stories about the will of good to conquer evil against all odds, but a short glimpse of an entire world that only exists in imagination.

Further, Tolkien was a philologist.  He understood the power of language and the connections that an individual's or a people's speech have with their culture and values.  I have always been fascinated by cultures other than my own, and I know that all of us can learn a lot about truth by looking at the world through the perspectives of other people--and the more different the view, the better.

This image is an artist's representation of character interactions in the Lord of the Rings films.  The horizontal axis is time.  The vertical grouping of the lines indicates which characters are together at a given time.  I am including this here simply because I think this chart is amazing.

*Cropped image.  Original image obtained from xkcd.com.

I will conclude this post with a short list of a few words that I learned from the last few chapters of the final book:
  • tryst- an appointment to meet, especially in secret.
  • to quail- to lose courage in the face of danger; to succumb to fear.
  • wain- a large, open farm wagon
  • smial- the hobbit name for their holes (this one is just for fun).

1 comment :

  1. Finally, the boy discovers literature. Who knows? He may plunge into the abyssal depths of Shakespeare someday.

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