Posted by: Lizzie Ross | June 20, 2010

LOTR Madness

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, do you really need all the other bibliographical info?

A great place to start my Guilty Pleasures Week. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve read these 4 books. Let’s see, here’s the math: I’m nearly at the end of my 6th decade, started these early in my 2nd, so let’s give it a conservative 45 years of reading pleasure for this quartet, with easily one complete read for every 2 years.

Twenty times! Including the one read-aloud of the entire series to my daughter sometime during the 1990s. Last year, I completely immersed myself, with the EP DVD (the three movies AND 20+ hours of arcane design/script details/deleted scenes) alternating with each book. The various theme songs became ear-worms that haunted my dreams. Don’t think I’ll do that again.

What is it about these books that brings me back to them so often? First of all, it has to be Tolkien’s incredibly complex and thorough creation. Talk about “world building” — he wins the prize, hands down. Flora, fauna, empires with histories going back thousands of years, languages, food, poetry and songs, family trees, good, evil, and so many distinct cultures: elves, dwarves, men, orcs, wizards, hobbits. It’s a world I’m happy to revisit; some days, I wish I lived in it.

The characters themselves draw me back to their stories. Pippin and Merry appeal to me more than Frodo, Bilbo and Sam, but they’re all sympathetically portrayed, and I feel for Sam whenever he must leave his beloved Frodo. As for the humans, I cry each time Theoden says farewell to Eowyn on the Pelennor Fields, and cheer when Eomer and Aragorn join forces at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. I always read the extensive Appendices in Vol. 3, for I love the bittersweet tale of Aragorn and Arwen — another tearful moment when she bids her husband goodbye, and then makes her way back to Lothlorien to die.

The Appendices, in fact, carry the saddest moment for me, when Legolas and Gimli leave Middle Earth to sail to the Undying Lands. It’s just a tiny date in a chronology, but it symbolizes the end of all things Middle Earth-ish. It’s at that moment that I most want to start reading again from the beginning, from those 12 dwarfs knocking on Bilbo’s door, to reassure myself that Middle Earth hasn’t disappeared.

When I first read these books, they were about adventure and magic, dragons, wizards and hobbits, but once I passed age 40, they became more about death — about accepting it, mourning it, even welcoming it (as Aragorn does at last) as a reward for a well-lived and fruitful life. Tolkien denied any allegorical connection to WWI and resented any such connection with WWII, but it’s difficult not to see the horrors of earthly war, of comrades dying all around you, in the battle scenes. The chapter on Many Partings captures the sombre tone of a death-bed scene, and when Gandalf joins Frodo on the boat from the Grey Havens, I can’t help thinking, No! A world without Gandalf, impossible!

Yeah, ok, these are only books, after all, but ones to which I’m permanently tied. That may, perhaps, be the reason I start them anew every other year. My re-readings may be a strange version of nostalgia. Just as some people long for an idealized past (one never as nice as we like to remember; as the saying goes, “Even the old days weren’t as good as the old days”), I long for those early days of Middle Earth, when everyone’s happy and the Rangers are doing their hard work off stage. I should try stopping just as Gandalf arrives for Bilbo’s 111th birthday party — but then I’d miss Strider. No, can’t do it. Must Read Entire Series.

I understand that readers bring their own experiences and expectations to their interpretations of any text, so I’m not surprised at my changed readings over the years. Even after so many visits to Tolkien’s world, I still find something new in the familiar stories, and I have to wonder what I’ll discover there, as I head into my 7th decade.

BTW, The Thain’s Book is an extensive on-line reference, incorporating information from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. It’s another entryway into Middle Earth for us Tolkien-manes.

And thanks to a comment, I now know about The Tolkien Library, another extensive site devoted to all things Tolkien. The photo to the left is your link.


  1. Hey thanks for this article, it sort of is a relieve to hear that other people have the same virus as myself. I’m also in the situation that I have to re-read the works by Tolkien over and over again… my counting stopped after 38 times the Lord of the Rings and 50 times The Hobbit… Silmarillion must now be around 30 times as well! Re-reading the books for me is still every-time a different experience and still I discover new things as well. It just shows the depth of these books and the deeper you get (especially in the Silmarillion) the less you understand how one man was able to create these books. It is very understandable that Tolkien did not manage to complete The Silmarillion, and that it took him a life to write is can be felled all over the book.

  2. […] already posted about my biennial trip to Middle Earth, during which I’m all things Tolkien. I pull out the […]

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