Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Ring. That Time of Year, Again.

Every year at this time (usually earlier, hospital got in the way) I read The Lord of the Rings, again. I have done so since 1971 when the trilogy was still riding high with young people and in colleges around the world. 

It began innocently enough: like most others who had read the books, there was this feeling that we missed so much on first read that we had to read it again.  And, of course, that was very, very true. In fact, each year when I read the trilogy I find some new bit of text I could swear wasn’t there before - yet I am reading from the same old hard cover books I’ve had since 1974.

I do love the films and watch them from time to time, (all hail Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens!) but there is something about submerging oneself in Tolkien’s written text and imagination and allowing it to wash over you that transcends the visual.  

So colour me Elvish as I spotted this story at the BBC about the social impact of the trilogy beginning in the 1960s.  It’s well worth the read and brings back a lot of memories from my early days in the anti-war movement and the gay rights movement. 

Truth be told - - I had a "Frodo Lives!" tee-shirt in 1969.

From the BBC:
Hobbits and hippies: Tolkien and the countercultureIt was a time of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Not to mention protest against the Vietnam War and marches for civil rights and the women’s movement. Who would think a figurehead for this social upheaval would be a tweedy Christian philologist at Oxford? But during the 1960s, a time of accelerating social change driven in part by 42 million Baby Boomers coming of age, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings became  required reading for the nascent counterculture, devoured simultaneously by students, artists, writers, rock bands and other agents of cultural change. The slogans ‘Frodo Lives’ and ‘Gandalf for President’ festooned subway stations worldwide as graffiti.
Middle Earth, JRR Tolkien’s meticulously detailed and mythic alternate universe, was created against the backdrop of two world wars.  As a professor at Oxford , Tolkien taught Anglo-Saxon, Old Icelandic and medieval Welsh and translated Beowulf, which inspired his later monsters. His fantasy vision, and his sense of evil looming over the good life, was shaped by his devout Catholicism and his experience serving in World War I, in which he lost all but one of his close friends.  “The Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to northern France after the Battle of the Somme," he wrote in a 1960 letter. Frodo and Sam struggling to reach Mordor is a cracked mirror reflection of the young soldiers caught in the blasted landscape and slaughter of trench warfare on the Western Front.

For decades, fans have been obsessed with Tolkien’s Great War of the Ring, with its wizards and magicians, the legions of hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, giants, ents, the dragon Smaug guarding his treasure and the threatening Dark Lord. They were popular initially but sales of The Hobbit (published in 1937) and The Lord of the Rings (beginning in 1954) exploded in the mid-1960s, driven by a young generation charmed by Tolkien’s imaginative abundance, the splendour of his tales from a pre-Christian time and his obsessive cataloguing of the history, language and geography of his invented world. But deeper than this, certain aspects of Tolkien’s worldview matched the perspective of hippies, anti-war protestors, civil rights marchers and others seeking to change the established order. In fact, the values articulated by Tolkien were ideally suited for the 1960s counterculture movements. Today we'd think of Tolkien’s work as being aligned with the geek set of Comic-Con, but it was once closer to the Woodstock crowd.

Go and read the rest of it HERE.

Note: Even if these are available as ebooks, I wouldn't buy them. The thought of all the typos and other misspellings would haunt me for whatever time I have left on this earth.  So, there! My old Hard Covers are it for the next couple of weeks.

I am amazed



  1. That is quite an accomplishment. I read it in junior high school and found it hard to get through all the poetry. I should reread it of course, as an adult. Good books should be read several times throughout one's life, as they do so much at different times.

    1. Yes, I think our acquired worldly knowledge, life experiences come into play. Perhaps junior high school age is too young to really bite into the meat of the trilogy. We're not quite grounded in our beliefs yet and hardly know right from wrong. These are not books to be read as fun fantasy, to be sure. Hope you'll give them another whirl and enjoy the writing and full characters this time. Cheers!

  2. A highly interesting blog. I thought I was the rare one in having quirky habits in my re-reading routines of certain books (and poetry). Sounds like we are both in the same select band. Must do a blog on my own strange behaviour sometime - not that yours is especially odd.

    I also read LOTR first around the time that you discovered it. It was indeed required reading for the 'intellectual' set back then, at that time considered much more eclectic than it is now, having had its popular appeal widened even before the justly highly-regarded Peter Jackson films appeared.
    With your annual perusal I should have expected you to have known the whole trilogy off by heart, but I know exactly what you mean when you come across something for, seemingly, the first time. I often get that sensation with other works I thought I knew particularly well (in my case, Shakespeare above all). I have the same experience when watching a many-times viewed film. Sometimes it seems like I'm seeing a different version of particular scenes in that same film, though I know it can't be.
    I've read LOTR a total of a mere five or six times, but even on that first time 40+ years ago I couldn't quite get onto the required wavelength. I knew from the start that it was a major achievement - and yet....and yet.......
    One of the things I found it hard come to terms with on subsequent re-reads was finding that the kind of language suddenly seemed to change - English language, I mean - from 'standard' to suddenly elevated, then a section in quasi-Biblical style, then a folky vernacular - and all switching with no particular rhyme or reason. The last time I read it must have been something like 15 years ago (high time for another) and I'm wondering if my impression about the changing styles is accurate or it's me projecting my frustration and creating something that isn't there. Must make a point of looking out for it specifically when I do next read it.

    Reading such a hefty tome annually must take a fair chink out of your potential reading time, but it clearly gives you much pleasure, which is good enough reason to do it. I normally get through the three books in about 7- 9 days, I think. There is certainly a sense of satisfaction in completing the journey.

    A few years ago I decided to re-read Dickens' Christmas stories every time the festive season comes around, but after not that long, my enthusiasm is already fading and I maybe won't do it this year.

    Enjoy your coming read - and I wonder what you'll discover this time round that you hadn't noticed previously.


Your comments are welcome if they are positive and/or helpful.
If they are simply a tirade or opinionated bullshit, they will be removed, so don't waste your time, or mine.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...