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I finally, FINALLY read this last year, after two decades of having it on my "to-read" list. I actually tried to read it as a teenager: thought it was stupid, kid-stuff. So last year at age 35 I gave it one last try, since it was my last chance to read it in a pre-movie world...

And boy, did I love it. I guess I can understand why as a teenager I thought it was kid's stuff, but now it seems taht I just completely missed the most important things - many of them are just sort of assumed and unsaid in the books. You almost have to have a feel for the very English tone of motivation (duty, love) and of some of the relationships (especially the gentleman-servant relationship between Frodo and Sam). I basically needed to do more reading then before I could get it. Anyway, LOTR is a lot more philosophically mature than I thought as a kid. One example that shows this is the ending, with who stays in Middle Earth and who goes back to the elvish land; also, the way the hobbits were changed by their experience in the war.

I think there is a big structural weakness in the story, though. This was a nagging thought I had throughout reading the books, and it never went away. There is no direct confrontation between the good guys and Sauron. The climactic scenes in Mount Doom are terrific, and they are urgently necessary in the sense that the whole story points to those moments. Yet when all is said and done, Sauron is never confronted. There are good reasons for this in the narrative, and I think it has a lot to do with Tolkein's message about evil: that you can confront its servants and defeat them in your time, but you can never entirely wipe out evil. You will always have to remain alert. Yet still, I think it is a weakness in the story. The most direct comparison is with Stephen R. Donaldson's first Thomas Covenant series: the whole story gains in power from Convenant's climactic confrontation with Lord Foul. I think LOTR is probably the better work - broader in vision, more mature philosophically, etc; plus Donaldson is utterly reliant on Tolkein's precedent for the entire genre he works in - but the example of the Covenant series really highlights what I see as the one structural defect of LOTR.

Terrific work. At the end, I was grateful I had managed to read it in a world that was still pre-movie.

Regards,

Jim
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