The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Inglis

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, Book 3)What can one say about J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King? It’s the long denouement of Tolkien’s epic saga The Lord of the Rings. I hadn’t read it in over 20 years, so I had forgotten just how long the ending is. I think Gollum actually falls into the crack of Mount Doom clutching the Ring, Frodo’s finger still attached, around the middle of the book. The rest of it is setting things to rights and putting a nice bow on the whole story. Of course, my perception may be off because this time I was listening to the books instead of reading the print versions.

As with [amazon_link id=”0788789821″ target=”_blank” ]The Hobbit[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B00BR9WMW2″ target=”_blank” ]The Fellowship of the Ring[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”078878983X” target=”_blank” ]The Two Towers[/amazon_link], Rob Inglis narrated The Return of the Ring superbly. His characterization once again impresses, and he handles the scene between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at Mount Doom particularly well. I can’t think of a finer reader for the series. Nothing about his reading disappointed me.

I noticed a propensity for Tolkien to tell a little more than show in this volume, and I don’t recall noticing this issue the first time I read the books. In particular, the Battle of Pelennor Fields seems to be related mostly second hand and after the fact, which is a little disappointing. All of the action in this battle is shown in the [amazon_link id=”B0037WTD5G” target=”_blank” ]Peter Jackson film of the same title[/amazon_link], so perhaps that interpretation interfered with my memory.

One of the ways in which I feel Jackson erred with the movies was to give the Shire the short shrift. It’s a lovely country, and Tolkien brings it to vivid life in his books, but Jackson omits the entire section of the novel in which the Scouring of the Shire sets the hobbits free from the yoke of the wizard Saruman and his band of ruffians, and in which Merry, Pippin, and Sam become heroes in the Shire (Frodo’s role in saving Middle Earth is largely overlooked at home—the great ones are never really appreciated at home).

At the end of the film version of The Return of the King, there is a scene which always makes me cry when I watch it. Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry, are bowing to Aragorn, and he says, “My friends, you bow to no one.” And then he bows to them. It’s just such a wonderful acknowledgement of everything they did to save the entire world, and the fact that the king humbles himself before these little folks that people forget about (Treebeard himself needs to add them to the list of the world’s creatures)—it’s just an amazing moment. I didn’t remember it happened in the book, but it does (sort of, words and things are changed), and it’s even grander.

I have to admit my favorite character for years was Gandalf, but as time has worn on, I have come to appreciate Samwise Gamgee, and I think he’s my favorite now. He is the steadfast, loyal friend—even as Frodo begins to succumb to the Ring, Sam remains by his side. His sadness when Frodo departs for the Grey Havens is pitiful. And he is the guy who winds up getting married and having a bunch of little hairy-toed hobbit babies. I just love him. I know a lot of Tolkien’s fans go in more for the elves, but I have to say the hobbits are my favorite.

Incidentally, I made a soap called Hobbit’s Garden that smells like apples, oak, English ivy, and rain. It’s available from my Etsy store, where you can find some other nice soaps I made as well. I have one bar available to ship right now, and the other batch I made will be ready July 6.

It feels almost sacrilegious to do so, but I am knocking half a star off my rating for this book for the excess of telling versus showing, but I am of the opinion that the series should be taken as a whole, and if so, then it’s a five-star read all the way.

Rating: ★★★★½

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The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis

[amazon_image id=”078878983X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Book 2)[/amazon_image]I have been listening to J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel [amazon_link id=”078878983X” target=”_blank” ]The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Book 2)[/amazon_link] as narrated by Rob Inglis while making soap and taking walks (trying to drop a few pounds). The first time I read this series, I whipped right through all three books, unable to put them down. The next time I tried a re-read, and the time after that, I wound up bogged down in The Two Towers. I told myself it must be that there was a lull in the pace, but now that I’ve listened to it (and finished it, this time), I think it was just me because there is a lot going on in that book.

For those of you who have only seen the movie, the book is different. In the movie, the action involving Merry, Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn flips back and forth with the action involving Frodo and Sam. Not so in the novel. The first half of the novel finds Boromir falling at the hands of orcs who kidnap Merry and Pippin to take them to Isengard. Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn give Boromir a funeral and go in search of the hobbits. On the way, they meet Éomer, nephew of King Theoden of Rohan. They join the Rohirrim to defend Helm’s Deep against the onslaught of orcs, then head to Isengard, where they finally find Merry and Pippin, well and safe and rescued by Treebeard. The Ents have risen against Saruman. Meanwhile, Gandalf has seemingly come back from the grave and taken Saruman’s spot on the White Council. He drives Saruman out of the White Council and breaks his staff.

The second half of the novel concerns Frodo and Sam’s descent into Mordor, during which they meet up with Gollum, who becomes their unlikely guide, and Faramir, who allows Frodo go free and even spares Gollum at Frodo’s request. Gollum leads Frodo and Sam into the lair of the great spider, Shelob, and in that darkest hour, all hope seems lost.

At this point in the hero’s journey that is The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is in what Joseph Campbell called “the belly of the whale.” It is the bleakest hour, when his quest seems doomed to failure, and his life is in its greatest peril. He has come all the way to Mordor, only to be ensnared by an ancient, evil beast. Even good old Samwise thinks his master is gone until he overhears orcs saying Frodo is still alive.

I was struck again, as I always seem to be when I watch the movies and as I was the last time I read The Two Towers that Faramir is a much better man than Boromir. He is one of the few characters in the novel not to be tempted by the power of the Ring, even when it is within his power to take it and use it as he would. He is truly a brave and noble man and one of my favorite characters.

I was struck listening to Sam talk about how the story of the destruction of the Ring might be told one day.

The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you, at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and find things all right, thought not quite the same—like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in!

What a spectacular comment on why we tell stories and why the hero’s journey, in particular, continues to speak to us. And of course, Tolkien always understood that about stories, and that he put that wisdom in the mouth of Samwise Gamgee makes me love both Tolkien and Samwise even more. Sam even has a little bit of insight into the villain’s role in the story. Gollum is arguably more pitiful than villainous, but he does betray the hobbits, and Sam was always right to be wary of him. Sam said:

Even Gollum might be good in a tale, better than he is to have by you, anyway. And he used to like tales himself once, by his own account. I wonder if he thinks he’s the hero or the villain?

Same shows a great deal of insight into the nature of what Tolkien would call fairy stories. The villains are as important as the heroes to a good yarn, even if they are not much fun to be around in real life.

Rob Inglis is an excellent narrator, and he does a particularly brilliant characterization of Gollum. He manages to distinguish most of the characters from one another. In addition to Gollum, his Samwise, Merry, and Pippin are all excellent as well. Gandalf and Aragorn sound like they should. No voice is out of place. His dramatic reading of the plot brings the story to life, and I thoroughly enjoy listening to it so much that I found myself making excuses to plug the audio book in and listen.

If you haven’t re-read [amazon_link id=”0788789821″ target=”_blank” ]The Hobbit[/amazon_link] or The Lord of the Rings in a while, I encourage you to give Rob Inglis’s narration a try. He’s an excellent reader of a rather ripping good tale.

Rating: ★★★★★

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The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Book 1)I have been listening to Rob Inglis’s audio recording of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring while making soap. He’s a fantastic reader, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him read Tolkien. In particular, Inglis does a fabulous job with all the songs in Tolkien. Case in point, I have never much cared for the Tom Bombadil section of The Fellowship of the Ring, though I did enjoy the part where he rescued the hobbits from the barrow wights; however, this time, I quite enjoyed the magical old fellow. Same with Galadriel’s songs. His voice characterizations are quite good. I think Aragorn comes off as sounding a bit too old, but I have no other complaints. Inglis’s characterization of the hobbits is particularly good.

I decided to re-read these stories some time ago, but I find I often become bogged down in the middle of [amazon_link id=”0547928203″ target=”_blank” ]The Two Towers[/amazon_link] somewhere. I decided perhaps listening to the books might work better for me, but the books have only recently become available on Audible. If you haven’t heard them before, give Rob Inglis’s reading a chance. He’s one of the best readers I have heard, and I can’t imagine that Tolkien himself wouldn’t approve heartily of Inglis’s rendition of his work.

Rating: ★★★★★

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