Hello, everyone. I’m Kate Nepveu and I’m very excited to be here blogging a chapter-by-chapter re-read of The Lord of the Rings.
I initially began this project elsewhere a couple years ago, but stalled out after seven chapters. I’m restarting it here with the goal of posting at least once a week. I hope you all will join me in a close reading of the text, as I try to see a very familiar work with fresh eyes.
More about this project after the jump: why I’m doing it, how it’s going to work, and how I approach the text. A discussion of the book’s prefatory material follows tomorrow, and the discussion of chapter one of Fellowship will be posted next week.
I decided to re-read Lord of the Rings and post about each chapter in 2006. I believe the last time I read it was at the end of 1997, when I purchased my current paperbacks* in London on a term abroad and, I think, started re-reading on the plane home. I certainly had not read it since summer 2001, when I started keeping a book log.
For all that it had been years since I’d last read it, I still wanted a way to come to it fresh. I first read LotR sometime in elementary school, and there was a period of several years where I literally re-read it annually. I also have a good memory for text, and so this long and close familiarity made it difficult to see what was actually on the page. For a similar reason, I’d previously listened to The Hobbit as an audiobook. But the production’s portrayal of the characters just didn’t match mine, and I decided that the problem would only be worse for LotR because of the movies.
(When I read, I usually neither hear nor see what’s described on the page. Instead I experience the book in some intermediate space between words on a page and movies in my mind, which is effectively impossible to describe. (Stephen King’s phrase, “falling through the page,” is accurate but not helpful.) However, I will hear and see suitable references provided by others.)
Instead, then, I decided to post about each chapter as I read it, hoping that this would remind me to read closely. I also read several critical works, looking for fresh approaches. However, because I was re-reading on my own time and schedule, the project eventually fell by the wayside.
When I was recently on maternity leave, I decided to go back to the re-read as a bite-sized method of getting some intellectual stimulation. I started by reading some additional critical works, and in the meantime, I asked Tor if they’d be interested in hosting the chapter-by-chapter re-read.
I wanted to move this project to Tor.com for two reasons. First, I thought that blogging on someone else’s site would make me more likely to stick to the re-read. Second, the discussions on my LiveJournal had been terrific, informative and engaging and lively. I think that the wider audience here at Tor.com can only improve these discussions.
As I said, I’ve previously posted through Chapter Seven of Fellowship, as well as about some supplemental critical readings. You can find all of those posts indexed at my LiveJournal.
I’m not going to re-post the notes on critical works, but I will be re-posting my comments on Fellowship’s Foreword, Prologue, and first seven chapters. I will update these posts to reflect the prior discussions, my more recent critical readings, and this round of re-reading. I’ll also link to past posts where relevant. From chapter eight, of course, I’ll be starting fresh.
Finally for logistics, spoilers for anything Middle-earth are fair game here. If you’re new to LotR, there’s a chapter-by-chapter first reading called “A Tolkien Virgin”, by Mark-Edmond, but note that the posts are listed in reverse-chronological order, with little blurbs for each post, so unfortunately the post listing itself contains spoilers. (There used to be another first reading by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, but the link currently redirects to a single blog post.) If you know of other reading posts, spoilery or not, please leave a link in comments.
Approaches to the text:
Before I start talking about my reactions to the text, I should give some background about the way I approach it. (This is modified from an old post on belated biases.)
A bit about me to start: I’m in my early thirties, a New Englander, and a lawyer. My background in history and European literature is patchy at best. I mostly read fantasy, with some science fiction and the occasional mystery or romance thrown in. Lately I’ve lost interest in new-to-me epic secondary world fantasies, particularly those in medievaloid European-derived settings. The most important things to me when reading, hands down, are character and plot; conversely, prose is generally least important. As a non-white feminist, one way I react to books is how they treat gender and race, but that’s only one part. I have one variant on a favorite books list at my LiveJournal, and you can see what I thought of books I’ve read recently over at my booklog.
As far as LotR, in the past I’ve said that my favorite part was The Two Towers, book 1, and that my least favorite part was Ioreth. My choice of favorite dates from when I was very young and much more interested in the bright heroics of the epic sections; I don’t know whether it’ll stay that way now. Ioreth is just jarring.
I think my favorite character is Faramir, in which one may well again spot the workings of a pre-adolescent romantic mind. It doesn’t usually occur to me to pick favorite characters these days, so I don’t know whether I’ll bother to revisit this one. Problem characters are, somewhat predictably, Eowyn and Sam. With Eowyn, every time I have to re-construct the chain of reasoning that, last time, seemed to make it all make sense; it just never seems to stick. With Sam, it’s less comprehending his motives than having issues with the way the text treats him. For both, I do my best to recognize the context that I bring to the text, and separate out “I don’t like/agree with this” from “I don’t think this was skillfully portrayed.” I have no deep feelings regarding Tom Bombadil, the other polarizing character.
I regard the ending as bittersweet rather than heartbreaking, something I realized when reading Michael Swanwick’s reaction.
Other things about the way I’ve read the text:
- I tend to skim the poetry, because it’s not a form that I usually find rewarding and reading it takes enough effort that I usually leave it in favor of more familiar things. I am making the effort this time, as the goal is to re-read every word.
- I always dread the journey through Mordor, and I’m always surprised when it’s not as long as I remember.
- Of course I read the Appendices, though I skip the stuff on languages and calendars. I mean, it’s what else happens! (I am the kind of person who likes long wrap-everything-up endings. I can’t help it.)
Finally, regarding the other writings about Middle-earth:
- As already mentioned, my booklog entry on The Hobbit.
- My booklog entry on The Silmarillion, which makes me cranky.
- I read Unfinished Tales quite some time ago, but none of the other Middle-earth writings. I’ve read some of Tolkien’s other fiction works, but long enough ago that I don’t remember anything useful about them.
- And, though these posts are not about the movies, here’s what I thought of them: Fellowship, first and second viewings; Two Towers, initial reactions roundup and the DVD; Return of the King, initial viewing, second viewing, and the extended edition.
Questions about the project overall?