Similar to my decision to reread the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, my decision to reread these books was inspired by a movie. After watching the fourth commentary track on The Return of the King, I decided I had to reread the series. It hadn’t been that long since I had read them (between the releases of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers), but I had watched the movies so many times that I had lost the original plot in places. Plus, I had read the books very quickly the first time in order to finish them before seeing the films; I wanted to catch what I had missed or not understood. It’s taken me since about February to get through the series, but I finished last night.
The first time I read the books, I skimmed or skipped many of the song and poems that Tolkien sprinkled through his story. I had been in a hurry, and I didn’t understand the significance of the tales of the old Elves and men of Númenor, so I just didn’t bother. This time I read them through. In some cases, some of the songs gave me new understanding. For example, the songs by Aragorn about Beren and Tinúviel were meaningless to me the first time. This time, I understood to read a mirror to his relationship with Arwen. It helped immensely. Of course, many of the Hobbit songs were no more insightful this time than the last.
What I found interested was how much my memory of the books had been overridden by the movies. I had remembered a lot of the changes (like Peter Jackson adding more conflict by having Faramir take Frodo to Osgiliath), but there was a lot I had forgotten. I had lost wild men of the Forest of Drúadan and their leader, Ghân-uri-ghân. I had completely lost to memory the Prince of Dol Amroth. I had forgotten how much Jackson had changed the part the Dead Men played.
An interesting aspect of the stories is the importance placed on bloodlines; Aragorn is a worthy king because he is a direct bloodline descendant of the kings of old, Éowen is a noble and substantial woman because she is the niece of the King, etc. It’s a way of thinking about the role one can play in life that is different than modern American thinking about personal potential. Of course, Tolkien gave the most important and difficult role to a member of a race that had never amounted to much before, so I’m not sure how much emphasis can be placed on this quibble.
Independent of regaining those parts of the story, I really enjoyed reading the books again. Tolkien’s style can be dreary at times (who really uses puissant?), but the overall story justifies such excess.