Two years ago I would not have believed that I'd start reading books that I have spent most of my life avoiding. However, my reading horizons (which I used to think were fairly broad) have expanded enormously since I joined Goodreads and I suspect that's going to continue for the reasonably foreseeable future.
So here I am, embarking on a buddy read of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I come to this first volume of the trilogy with some disadvantages. Not only have I never been a reader of fantasy, but I've no background in reading the type of literature which informed Tolkien's writing. This novel has not been part of the fabric of my life, as it has been for so many readers.
My lack of an intellectual and emotional connection to Tolkien's writing has thrown up some issues for me. For example, one of the aspects of the novel which struck me early on is the seeming lack of female characters who actually do anything other than look decorative. While I understand that this is consistent with the type of epic narrative Tolkien was inspired by, on balance I'd prefer a novel to have no female characters than stereotyped ones. However, the way in which female characters are depicted was never going to be a make or break issue for me and the appearance of Galadriel did much to redress the balance.
Another issue is the amount of speechifying done by the characters. I don't mind lots of words in very long novels. C.S. Lewis said "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me", and that pretty much reflects my attitude towards both cups of tea and books. However, the characters do seem to spend more time talking about the thing they are going to do and talking about the thing they just did than they spend actually doing the thing. And they don't just talk about it, they recite poems and sing songs about it and then they talk about it some more. What with the speeches, the poems, the songs and the recitation of genealogies, there are a lot of words to concentrate on. Concentration is important, because I listened to the audiobook narrated by Rob Inglis, so there was no zoning out and no flipping back over a few pages to remind myself about what just happened. While I really liked Inglis' reading of The Hobbit, I'm less taken with his narration of this novel. It may just be that he reads it in a way that makes the declamatory bits even more .... well, declamatory. If I had read the book rather than listened to it, my inner voice might have toned that aspect down a bit.
What I've loved from the beginning of the book is the sense of being on a journey and Tolkien's impressive - no, more than impressive ... overwhelming and amazing - creation of a complete world. That world is so vividly evoked and is described in such detail that the reader can't help but be right there, immersed in it. But while it took me almost all the novel to get there, I'm not just involved in the world now, I'm also involved in the narrative. When I finished listening to The Fellowship of the Ring this morning, I moved right on to The Two Towers, eager to find out what happens next.
I probably won't ever have the passion for this novel that is felt by so many people I know. It's not woven into the warp and weft of my life in the way it would be if I had first read it as a teenager. However, I understand why readers develop a passion for Tolkien's writing and for this book. I can really see where that passion comes from. This work is such a literary achievement. Who would have thought that I'd like it as much as I do. Not me.