The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954

This was an unusual choice for Great Books, prompted by a long-term member who’s read a lot of mythology. It didn’t get high marks! I enjoyed re-reading it, but I had never been able to get through any Tolkien until the Peter Jackson LOTR movies, and I certainly sympathize with the general critiques that it doesn’t rank with actual myth, it’s a bit tedious and sexist, and the poetry is second-rate. But this time around both the beautiful descriptions of nature, and the WWII atmosphere of end-times (which apparently Tolkien denied referencing) really resonated with me.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

‘I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’

‘Such questions cannot be answered,’ said Gandalf. ‘You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’

I learned

  • glede – a hot coal
  • hythe – landing-place in a river
  • eyot – small island

Example of what makes me roll my eyes

  • “We have now come to the River Hoarwell, that the Elves call Mitheithel. It flows down out of the Ettenmoors, the troll-fells north of Rivendell, and joins the Loudwater away in the South. Some call it the Greyflood after that.”
  • “under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue”

Short quotes

  • Gandalf re what Gollum “deserves”: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
  • “a cup that was filled with a fragrant draught, cool as a clear fountain, golden as a summer afternoon”
  • Goldberry’s response when Frodo asks if the land belongs to Tom Bombadil: “‘That would indeed be a burden,’ she added in a low voice, as if to herself. ‘The trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves.'”
  • “Nothing passes doors or windows save moonlight and starlight and the wind off the hill-top.”
  • “The wind began to blow steadily out of the West and pour the water of the distant seas on the dark heads of the hills in fine drenching rain.”
  • “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
  • “despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt”
  • “You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous.”
  • “For the fate of Lothlórien you are not answerable, but only for the doing of your own task.”
  • “[Galadriel] seemed no longer perilous or terrible, nor filled with hidden power. Already she seemed to him, as by men of later days Elves still at times are seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.”
  • “The weather was still grey and overcast, with wind from the East, but as evening drew into night the sky away westward cleared, and pools of faint light, yellow and pale green, opened under the grey shores of cloud. There the white rind of the new Moon could be seen glimmering in the remote lakes.”
  • “A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.”

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