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Book Review: The Return of the King (Lord of the Rings Trilogy #3) by J. R. R. Tolkien

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So, I finally finished reading the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy. I began with The Fellowship of the Ring, followed by The Two Towers. Now, about a decade after the movie-related hype, I finally read the whole three.

Should I put a synopsis here? Perhaps, just for completion’s sake. This is the third and final installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where evil fails and good triumphs. Aragorn returns to reign as king, and Frodo, together with Sam, journey to the middle of Mount Doom. The mission is to destroy the evil ring, of course, but as this ring is evil, and possesses every person that has possession of it, Frodo has a hard time throwing it in the fire. Good thing there was Gollum, because Gollum bites off his finger together with the ring, but loses balance and therefore falls into the fire. This signals the end of evil in Middle Earth, and peace reigns again.

So, that should be the end of things, right? But apparently no. As the four Hobbits journey back to the Shire, they still face little bits and pieces of evil, apparently due to Saruman, who invaded the Shire together with his evil Men. The Hobbits defeat this, and finally, peace reigns in the Shire.

That was pretty much the end of things. Frodo is happy, Sam is happy, until Frodo goes on a journey that the other three Hobbits are not a part of. Fantasy ends, and the story concludes.

The thing is, after reading the three books, I don’t think I was impressed, impressed enough to be excited to read the three books one after another the way other people did it back when the movies came out. I kind of regret that I saw the movies before reading the books, but after reading the books, I still conclude that it wasn’t worth the hype. Or perhaps it is just me, that I am not a big fan of fantasy in the first place. Well, let me explain.

First, I have this impression that fantasy stories always have something to do with travel. Perhaps that is not the case, and there are other fantasy books out there that do not involve traveling, but this trilogy definitely has a big travel component. Characters move into different places, carrying rings, riding horses, marching towards battle, and so forth. There is even a map in the beginning of the book to aid people in visualizing where the characters go. I suppose I find it rather boring that fantasy always involves a travel component. Can’t fantasy be psychological thriller as well?

Second, I wish that the trilogy concluded with the destruction of Mount Doom and evil in general. That was a big climax right there, and it would have been a better ending after all the events that were portrayed in the three books. I wished that the ring was destroyed, and the king was installed, and people return to their respective neighborhoods, and the book concludes. No, instead, the Hobbits return to the Shire and evil is still there. It’s as if there is a big conclusion in the form of the destruction of the ring, and there is a smaller conclusion in the form of the defeat of Saruman after he invaded the Shire. One would hope that the story is already concluded when the ring is thrown into the fire, but no, there’s still a storyline that continues. Plot-wise, I didn’t like that aspect, as it was quite anti-climactic.

So, one year and three books later, now I can say that I have read a fantasy book. I still am not a big fan of it, although I do appreciate the fact that this is considered classical fantasy literature. But aside from that, I felt that it didn’t shine enough for me to be enthusiastic about it. Good triumphs over evil, yeah, I already knew that. I don’t see why one needs three books and a whole alternate universe to narrate that punch line. It was taxing on my imagination, and it never offered something different and new from the other stories that say the same conclusion.

So, as I think it was just an average book, I am not giving it a high score. Granted, I know that my opinion is of the minority here, and most people consider this to be a spectacular piece of literature. 3 out of 5 stars.

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About Jeruen Dery

  • http://about.me/jeremiahburns Jeremiah Burns

    I don’t fault you for not liking a piece of work for whatever reason. People like what they like, and that’s that.

    But I’m surprised that as a “PhD candidate in the field of linguistics”[sic], you didn’t seem to have any sort of appreciation for the loving lengths Prof. Tolkien went to in order to create his world around a set of invented languages.

    I recommend you read “On Fairy Stories”, a short essay by Tolkien which goes some way to explain his motivation for writing anything at all…and then see if you still feel the same way.

  • http://www.linguist-in-waiting.com Jeruen Dery

    I have to tell you that linguistics is a broad field: I have friends who definitely appreciate the intricate linguistic systems that Tolkien created just to tell his story. However, I am a psycholinguist: I deal with how language is processed in the brain. I couldn’t care less about how systematically intricate Tolkien’s constructed languages are. That being said, I do agree that he is a method writer who took great efforts in constructing the world he had in his imagination.

    By the way, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll try and get my hands on it sometime.

  • http://www.linguist-in-waiting.com Jeruen Dery

    I do agree that Tolkien is commendable for going to great lengths in creating constructed languages just to tell his story. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are linguists who would surely appreciate that.

    However, constructed languages isn’t my cup of tea. My specialization is psycholinguistics: how language is processed in the brain. As such, I am more interested in how and why your brain lights up, not in whether such-and-such a constructed language is awesome or not.

    By the way, thanks for the recommendation. I’d try and see whether I can get my hands on it sometime.

  • Kate Rider

    Many Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories involve travel BECAUSE of the Lord of the Rings. Inspiration begets inspiration. It also allows the protaganist to be amazed enough about fantastical things that they are described and expounded upon. If you grew up with flying pigs, it isn’t a big deal. If the foreign land you are visiting has them, and home doesn’t; then you have a story!
    If you want a psyco thriller I recommend Asimov’s Foundation series and McCaffrey’s Arcona series.

    Herbert’s Dune has extensive travel, but it is an amazing psyco thriller. Fear is the Mind Killer!