Essays

When Does LORD OF THE RINGS Get Interesting?

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The short answer is: it doesn’t.

…Still here? If that first sentence didn’t make you throw your device in a fury or send you on a rage-tweeting spree, that probably means you’re not a toxic stan! Congrats to you!

I’m guessing you’re still a bit skeptical anyway. But before you start questioning my credentials, I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Like, at my peak, I could recite poems and songs from the book and draw out huge family trees. Not that I (or any fan, for that matter) have to prove anything to anyone to like what I like. But, you know, just for the record.

I do stand by my short answer. Sort of. Obviously it’s a little more complicated than “The Lord of the Rings is actually boring.” Because it certainly isn’t. At least not to those of use who care.

And that, I think, is the heart of the matter. Frankly, if you’re asking the question, then the short answer will likely remain true unless and until you find a reason to become genuinely invested in the greater LOTR universe. And according to a very (un)scientific and (in)comprehensive poll I took of my fellow Rioters, this was definitely the consensus. Many of us fans are fans because we were introduced in childhood, because it’s a connection to some sort of nostalgia or precious memory. Those of us who came to it later had a much harder time getting into it and might even dislike the books, while still being able to appreciate some parts of it.

I’ll tell you how I got interested in LOTR in the first place. If you’re some kind of puritan about this kind of stuff, let me just tell you right now that you might end up wanting to scream blasphemy at me, but that’s a problem for you to deal with within yourself. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m the child of immigrants and non-readers, so I’d never even heard of LOTR until Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. I was 9 years old when Fellowship came out. I didn’t see it. Didn’t even know it existed. The following year though, when I was 10, I went to the movies with my friend and her family to watch The Two Towers. Despite zero context or background information other than my friend whispering to me as the lights went down that some wizard guy died in the first movie, I was fucking enthralled. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen in my young life and even the three-hour runtime was not enough, so I went home and watched Fellowship (which my dad, a big movie guy, happened to have on DVD) the very same day.

Now, picture my excitement when I — the big book nerd who got in trouble with my non-reader parents for reading too much (?!) — found out these amazing film masterpieces were based on novels! So I obviously got my grubby little hands on them immediately, plus The Hobbit for good measure. Being one for chronology (we’ll ignore the order in which I watched the movies), I read The Hobbit first, and absolutely loved it. Many of my fellow Rioters also agree that The Hobbit is the most interesting part of The Lord of the Rings (again, based on my super (un)scientific and (in)comprehensive poll) without even actually being the same book. This isn’t really surprising though since, as we know, The Hobbit was more specifically aimed at children, while The Lord of the Rings was not, so the pacing and language in the former is really quite a bit more conducive to a fun reading experience.

After The Hobbit, I proceeded to The Lord of the Rings. And, oof, let me tell you. As much as my 11-year-old self was infatuated with these movies and The Hobbit, actually reading the trilogy was such. A. Drag. I somehow made it through the entirety of Fellowship — Tom Bombadil and Elrond’s never-ending council and all — but had to finally give up when Merry and Pippin were talking to Treebeard in Two Towers. So let’s call it like it is. These books are dense AF, y’all! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s just a fact!

If any of you stans are still here and pulling your hair out crying that this is the most amazingly written book ever and it’s just me who’s not getting it…get a grip. Tolkien’s here to play around with languages he made up, not to captivate an audience. Just like a history textbook might be cool if it’s about an event you’re particularly interested in, that doesn’t mean it’s written to be riveting to all.

To actually address the question at hand though…at what point does this book get interesting? Obviously, this is a very subjective and your-mileage-may-vary type of situation, but a phrase that I see thrown around probably the most often is “when the hobbits finally get out of the Shire,” approximately halfway through Fellowship. It’s when the story starts to really feel like a quest with stakes instead of just wandering around and hanging out with Tom Bombadil for no reason. Plus, it’s around this time that we meet Strider, and if you like gruff, mysterious, greasy dudes (and who amongst us doesn’t?), he’s your guy.

Fellowship in general, though, is known for having its ups and downs (and the downs are really quite low…*cough* Tom Bombadil), so if you’re more interested in the battles and the politicking, the other two volumes might finally be where you hit your stride. Fellow Rioter Ann-Marie Cahill struggled through both Fellowship and Two Towers before we finally got fully into Eowyn’s story in Return of the King, so if you’re similarly looking for strong, female characters, you’ve unfortunately got a ways to wait. And fellow Rioter Annika Barranti Klein was not convinced until the appendices, “because while they are extremely boringly written, they confirm Legolas and Gimli’s true love (sort of).” Not that I advise torturing yourself through 1,000 pages of slogfest just for that, but hey, you do you. (But really, please just feel free to DNF if you hate it after, like, 50 pages. It’s not that important, I swear.)

I, of course, did eventually make it through the entirety of The Lord of the Rings. After a few years of letting my obsession with the movies marinate and grow stronger, I read and adored the books once I was in high school. But does my infatuation mean I’m going to shove it into everyone’s face or expect all my friends to also love it just as much as I do? Absolutely not. LOTR doesn’t even come close to being in the category of book that I think everyone should read or would recommend widely. It’s a pretty straightforward good vs. evil story, and most people already have a good enough idea of it, so actually reading the book wouldn’t be especially groundbreaking for anyone.

I think it’s important to have the ability to recognize that things can be influential to the culture without being particularly interesting. And things can be important and meaningful for individual people without being particularly interesting on the whole. Just look at all the things that bore me to death, like soccer, Shakespeare, the Beatles (yes, I’m here to make enemies of all fandoms)! So, if you don’t already find LOTR interesting or care with all your heart and soul about the characters in this universe, don’t force it! It’s not going to get better!

If you do find a catalyst that gives you a newfound devotion to this story though, welcome! There’s plenty to be excited about here other than just the books anyway, so don’t fret. Those books are kind of objectively boring. And I would also die for them. Both can be true.

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