Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hullo Old Friend!

Life is good! I’ve been re-reading The Lord of the Rings since for the past three weeks, and whether its in the early light of the morning, the hot sun of lunchtime afternoon, or in the late evening when the house is quieting down, my time with the Professor is just about the highlight of my day.

As exceptional as a visit from your childhood friend, a visit that happens erratically, spontaneously, every couple of months or years. And as you can imagine, not only is the reacquaintance fond and heartfelt, but every time you visit you learn something new about your old pal.

This is my fourth go-round with the greatest piece of fiction of the twentieth century, over a span of 35 years. This time, though, I have no agenda other than pure enjoyment, a way of celebrating a very grim and dark period in my life. As a result, the pages are whirling by in a blur, and the hands of the clock spin round so fast when I’m reading of Middle-earth that I think Einstein must be involved somehow.

Anyway, what’s different this time?

Good question.

What completely struck me unawares is the weaknesses just below the surface in Aragorn. All of Tolkien’s characters are fully enfleshed, wondrous shades of gray in full spectrum. No one is fully good, no one if fully evil ("not even Sauron, in the beginning," saith Gandalf in The Fellowship). No one is all-knowing, no one is a foolhardy oaf. No one is the consummate hero, no one – er, hang on. Aragorn. I think my past experiences with Aragorn erroneously led me to consider the heir of Isildur the all-good Prophet Priest and King. Faultless, courageous, benevolent.

But wait. How did I miss his tortured agony over the failed decisions he made in the wake of Gandalf’s demise? The self-doubt, the railing against fate, self-recriminations over choices that he thinks could have been made better, though we know differently. I had not seen this Aragorn before (or at least it never stuck in my memory), and it is truly refreshing.

Though not a new observation, I never cease wondering about the number of creepy events that sprinkle The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s not something Tolkien’s noted for, yet it’s an outstanding element of the book. Consider:


- the eerie, otherworldly wail of the Nazgul in the forest at night … answered by another cry miles distant, both interrupting the hobbits’ campfire song

- the glowing eyes Frodo sees – or thinks he sees – in the mines of Moria and later in the relative safety among the elves in the woods

- the soft patter of feet as the company moves through Moria … that lasts a step or two longer than any echo should

- when Pippin startles Gandalf by dropping a stone down the bottomless well in the mines, ending in a plop after almost too much time has elapsed – then answered, a few minutes later, with an ominous tom-tap, tap-tom

- the apparition of the old man appearing to Gimli during his night watch on the plains of Rohan … is it Saruman, or something else?


Three weeks in I’m up to Chapter Three of Book Three. That’s about twenty percent finished with The Two Towers. At this rate I’ll probably finish earlier than planned, somewhere around the middle of August.

Must slow down! Must slow down!

1 comment:

Edward Kasa said...

Enjoy. Great memories of Middle Earth.