When it comes to an epic series of novels, you have several choices. If you dig septets, you have two main contenders. You could opt for Narnia [Aslan owns every other talking animal, let's not kid ourselves]. Or, if you’re like me and possess your own custom-made magic wand [true story, and no, you can't have it], you may have read Harry Potter once or twice.
But, if you would rather submerge yourself in an entire universe of fantasy races, languages, histories, and subcultures, [complete with its own supplemental volumes, footnotes, and more hours of commentary than you could shake an impressively knotty staff at] you could read Tolkien.
Seriously, J. R. R.?
Way to explode everyone’s minds for generations.
I now have an avid Tolkien fan in my life, so I have committed to reading the series this year. That said, there are a few things I already know about the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit
[Not to brag, but I can sit still during multiple 3-hour movies and remember the most basic plot points].
3 Things I learned from Lord of the Rings:
If you have to get somewhere, you’d better hustle.
One of the first things I noticed about the film series [which the books may or may not betray as easily] is that Middle Earthlings are fit. They have to be. And I’m not just making that assumption based on all the battle-fighting and armor-bearing that goes on there.
They run everywhere: up and down mountains, through meadows, through the Shire, in and out of valleys. Practically every single scene involves moving along at a pace or two beyond a brisk walk.
What I’m saying is, Peter Jackson could have held open calls for his extras at a city-wide track meet. I know that directors with bajillions of dollars in the operating budget are allowed a few creative liberties now and then. But I’m confident that the whole running thing fits in with Tolkien’s vision.
After all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.
Cool People Have Facial Hair.
This is not news to me. But Tolkien’s literary chops lend credence to this valuable relationship between being cool and keeping your face warm. The dwarves [sample from the Hobbit shown above] all have facial hair in Middle Earth (even the women).
Not only that, but Aragorn– the crazy-awesome, impossible-not-to-be-interpreted-allegorically, redeemed hero-human of Middle Earth–is never one to be spotted with a clean shave.
Based on the relationship in Tolkien’s work between beard and greatness, you never know what awesome thing might be just around the corner for good ole Strider.
But no one in the series proves that Tolkien thought facial hair was cool more than the Grey/White wizard. Gandalf: bearer of the million-mile beard, automatically makes every scene he is in Your Favorite Scene.
And yes: the staff, the unconditional love of his friends, the firework shows, the smoke rings, and the pointy hat are all amazing. But without the beard? Gandalf the Grey would just be Gandalf the Okay.
Tolkien completed and published Lord of the Rings in 1954, but gender stereotypes were apparently “not his thing”. Some of the most powerful characters in the saga, with the most pivotal roles in the action, are women:
Arwen inspires and revives Aragorn, eventually sharing rule of his kingdom with him.
Galadriel protects the hobbits and their companions throughout their journey to destroy the Ring of Power; she was a light to them in dark places.
And Eowyn? Well, she STABS THE WITCH KING IN THE FACE WITH A GIANT SWORD, and essentially saves everyone.
Thanks to Tolkien’s precedent, you can forget the image of a forlorn, sad-sack, wilting lily of a girl being trapped in a tower, waiting for some horseman to come rescue her. Because women are vital, women are strong, women are indispensable.
According to Tolkien, I can go forth and conquer.
And conquer I shall. Starting with his books, at least.