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January Books 6) The Lord of the Rings

6) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Enjoyed it just as much as I ever did; last read it just around the time Bridget was born to take my mind off imminent paternity. Of course I was moved to reread it largely because of having seen RotK recently and also followed the BBC Big Read.

Things that stood out this time: I remember way back in a discussion of the book in Cambridge, probably at a Jómsborg meeting fifteen years ago, someone commenting that Merry and Pippin are in fact really distinct characters. And it's quite true; I hadn't really picked up on it before, but Merry is the one who plans the move out of the Shire, looks at the maps in Rivendell and directs the Battle of Bywater at the end. Pippin is the impulsive one who wakes the Balrog, grabs the palantir, and swears fealty to Denethor.

Someone in my friends list was complaining a few weeks back about the songs. Well, I agree that the ones near the start of the book are somewhat twee but they really do pick up, and actually add to the narrative. Compare, for instance, how you can blithely skip over the immense amounts of poetry in A.S. Byatt's Possession and feel that you haven't missed a thing.

And really, the effortless way in which he can change gear in his use of language is something we all should envy. Compare the epic, Anglo-Saxon metre of "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" -

Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel's son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain. Out swept his sword, and he spurred to the standard, hewed staff and bearer; and the black serpent foundered.
And at the start of the next chapter, we are back to direct speech:
Something terrible may happen up there. The Lord is out of his mind, I think. I am afraid he will kill himself, and kill Faramir too. Can't you do something?
And finally, the ending becomes ever more powerful as I get older.

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