Book Review | The Fellowship of the Ring

I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings years ago, after I discovered the films. That was probably more than a decade ago (which sounds strange to say!), and this summer I finally picked them for a second time.

Well, I say “picked them up.” That implies I used my eyes to read them. To be more accurate, I listened to the audio versions. Therefore, this review will be both of the first novel itself, and the audio recording by Rob Inglis.

In the last decade, I’ve watched the LOTR films probably a dozen times (probably more). I know those almost like the back of my hand. I can quote large swaths of dialogue at the drop of a dwarven helmet. I have both hosted and attended marathons of the films (though we never got through the entirety without falling asleep or voting to fast-forward through certain sections—I know, blasphemy). So really, returning to the source material was a bit like reuniting with an old friend. That being said, I forgot how much I enjoy Tolkien’s narrative voice. He has such a skill at drawing readers in, and his turns of phrase and names are so charming and quintessentially British at heart.

This book starts out with an introduction into hobbit life, and who doesn’t like that? Right away, the world swallows you up and you cannot but see yourself in the Shire, gossiping along with the Brandybucks and Proudfoots about Bilbo’s upcoming birthday. This leisurely, methodical way of beginning a story might not suit everyone, especially those accustomed to the intense action sequences starting right away, but Tolkien clearly wants us to learn about and enjoy his world as much as he does. When the adventure begins—granted, quite a way into this rather lengthy work—it is the now-classic hero’s journey with all the trope-y character archetypes we know and love.

The characters are solid, distinct, and well-established, for the most part. The hobbits are our closest friends and probably drinking buddies, Gandalf is our delightfully quirky old uncle who just happens to have magic powers, the elves are enigmatic and ethereal, Aragorn is strikingly powerful and just cool, and the others of the fellowship balance out the cast of personalities. Nine is a lot to juggle for a main squad (but can I just say, goals) and along with the side characters, this book has a ton of speaking parts. However, Tolkien makes them memorable, each serving to reveal a different facet of Middle-Earth. From Tom Bombadil and Goldberry to Elrond and Glorfindel, from Bilbo Baggins to Barliman Butterbur, this land is peopled with lots of fun figures.

The plot is also enjoyable. We see fantastical worlds with magic and power, face dangers large and small, and all in all have a great time. The pacing is good, taking just enough time for the readers to become comfortable in each place before moving on. This is clearly written by a man not only knowledgeable about his creation, but proud of it. Worldbuilding at its most solid. Needless to say, every page reminded me just why this series was one of the most influential works for the fantasy genre. The tropes and cliches now manage to seem fresh and exciting all over again in the one of the original forms.

What else was newly exciting was hearing this novel performed as an audiobook. Narrator Rob Inglis does a good job, with his engaging voice and—from what I can tell—skillful pronunciation of Elvish words. However, sometimes he struggled with distinguishing between characters. With such a large male cast, some of the nuances between voices were lost. I struggled to differentiate between Boromir’s and Aragorn’s voices in particular, only to be saved by a dialogue tag here and there. Still, overall Inglis crafts a fine performance.

In the end, revisiting The Fellowship of the Ring was a great decision. A nice, familiar romp through a well-written, well-thought-out, fantasy land featuring excellent characters and wonderful writing. Truly, this is a classic. It’s a long, winding journey, but one I have revisited many times and certainly will again in the future.

Overall rating: 8/10

What’s your stance on audiobooks? Is there a particular book by a specific narrator you think is especially great? Let me know!

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