Friday, April 3, 2009

Frodo Lives!

Tabitha and I finished The Lord of the Rings on Saturday.

It was a long trip through Middle Earth, but well worth the time. I got to share one of my favorite books with Tabitha, who seemed to enjoy it every bit as much as I did. We'd steal bits of time here and there to read together, and talk about the characters and wonder what was going to happen to them, and then be amazed when it did. The other night she told me she wants a copy like mine as a graduation present. That's a long way off, though. We may have to work on compressing that time line.

One thing that you notice when you read this with someone who hasn't read it before is that it can be hard to keep track of where everyone is. When I first read it I kept flipping back and forth to the big fold-out map at the end, but this is the age of teh intarweebs, and maps of Middle Earth can be downloaded and printed out instantly. All the better to keep track of things.

Tabby eventually acquired quite a collection of markers, since each time the Company split up or changed membership it required a new color. I have to say that even I found the tracking process helpful.

One of the odd things about The Lord of the Rings (and there are many, including the fact that the title character is offstage for the vast majority of the time) is its ending. All of the plotlines lead up to the Big Moment and then there is the Celebration afterwards, and you think that it should end there but there are several more chapters yet to go - distances must be travelled, Shires must be scoured, and so on.

A lot of people don't like this part of the book and argue that it was a mistake to let it go on like that. I used to be one of them, but Tolkien himself always argued that these last couple of chapters were an integral part of the story, foreseen from the outset. And over the years I have come to value this little coda to the main story. You can't quite go home again, even if you are the hero and you succeed in your Quest. Homes change, you change, and quests never quite end so much as change focus. You have to enjoy them while you can, and give them up when you must.

I've also always loved the fact that after all the shouting has died down, just about the last words in the book are "Well, I'm back." Not home, really. Just back. Sometimes that's all you get, and sometimes that's enough.

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