Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

So I am presently reading the second book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have found it to be a laborious read, and will probably stop for quite a while before taking up the third. It is unlikely that I would have read it had more interesting fare lying around the house this weekend.

The series has been described as a "non-modern novel", meaning that reader is not privy to the inner thoughts of the characters. This is certainly true, and I had not thought about it until I read this explanation. It reminds me of, more than anything else, Beowulf or the Old Testament. The Lord of the Rings is an ancient epic written in modern times. It is not simply a fantasy novel as, say, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. The Lord of the Rings is a wholly different creature.

Take, for example, the funeral of Boromir at the beginning of The Two Towers. Upon releasing his body into the river, Aragorn and Legolas spontaneously burst into coherent and topical songs about the heroic life of Boromir. The reminded me of the way that Hannah began singing in The Book of Samuel immediately after she was told that she had conceived a son. This a literary device, not literal history, and reflects the oral culture from which Tolkein's characters hail. In fact, the many stanzas of poetry that the characters have committed to memory is almost alien to the modern, text-bound mind. The men and women of The Lord of the Rings are not 21st Century people with swords and chain mail; they are ancients in mind and outlook.

And not only the poetry -- the way that the characters address each other in honorifics and speak to each other like warriors inevitably bound for immortalization by troubadours -- all of it reflects the premodern approach that Tolkien took. I neither approve nor disapprove, but I do recognize what an enormously challenging task the author undertook.

Nonetheless, I find myself rather bored of the story, and am moving on. I anticipate that the next book that will come in is Jeff Cooper's The Art of the Rifle.


Anonymous said...


Have you ever seen this?

Perfect harmony of comic book, LOTR, and D&D geekery - all in one.

Anonymous said...

Or even using HTML:


Jeff the Baptist said...

I remember finding that Fellowship was too talky, Towers was better, and that Return of the King was an instant read. But like you I really struggled to get through it the first time. If I'd had a working TV, I might not have read them at all.

John said...

Oh, that is awesome, John. Thanks!

BruceA said...

The first time I tried to read Lord of the Rings, I gave up somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers, around the place where Gandalf was talking Theoden back to health after releasing him from Wormtongue's spell. I started over from the beginning a couple years later, and this time I sailed through the whole 1700+ pages. I don't know what was different; maybe I was just more prepared for it the second time around.

John Meunier -

That's a great link!