Revisiting The Lord of the Rings

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By: Mary Rakas

Words are magic. I discovered this the first time I read The Lord of the Rings, though at the time I hadn’t recognized the revelation. When I stumbled into Middle-earth, I arrived precisely when I meant to. J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga was my introduction to fantasy. The book, the author, and the genre became my favorites that day.

Magic is a prevailing theme. The story is filled with items that create magical effects that have become commonplace. Cloaks render the wearers invisible, crystals make light blaze forth in darkness, words and staffs can open sealed doors and create fire. Rings can even slow the passage of time.

Magic created through the cunning, subtlety, and power of the mind is where Lord of the Rings distances itself from other fantasy. There are many instances where the characters influence others with their minds. This power is strongest in the One Ring. Its true purpose is controlling the wearer’s will. Whether used with good or evil intentions, the Ring ultimately consumes the bearer’s mind, extinguishing memory of light and enveloping the soul in darkness. The mind is such an intimate part of each of us. Tolkien made the quest all the more chilling by showcasing its power.

The Fellowship of the Ring:

Volume one begins as a simple adventure and gradually leads the reader into the true danger of the quest. It exhibits friendship, sacrifice, and temptation. Frodo, a hobbit from the Shire, volunteers to seek the Cracks of Doom in the land of Mordor, ruled by the Dark Lord Sauron, to destroy the One Ring. Despite the darkness and peril he will face, Frodo takes on the task to spare others the anguish. In the Mines of Moria, Gandalf sacrifices himself to save the others from a Balrog, a demon from the ancient world. After his fall, the Fellowship seeks aid from Galadriel, Lady of Lorien, in whom the power of the mind is most apparent. She reads the desires of the Nine Walkers with her thoughts, testing their strength of will.

The Fellowship is broken when Boromir is tempted by the Ring and tries to take it from Frodo. Frodo and Sam escape and continue to Mordor alone. Boromir is killed by a group of Uruk-hai who then attack the rest of the company and capture Merry and Pippin. Aragon, the Elf Legolas, and the Dwarf Gimli seek to rescue them.

The Two Towers:

Hope unlooked for, the magic of words, and betrayal are manifest here. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli find hobbit prints leading into Fangorn Forest. The three hunters don’t find Merry and Pippin, but beyond all hope meet Gandalf, who comes back from death to finish his task. The four travel to Rohan and discover King Theoden under the control of Wormtongue, a servant of the evil wizard Saruman.

Wormtongue is a prime example of the power of words. For years he poisoned Theoden’s mind with deceitful whispers, even to the point of weakening the king physically. Gandalf breaks the spell. He, the three hunters, and also Ents help Rohan utterly defeat the Uruk-hai against all odds. They accompany Theoden to a parley with Saruman, where they meet the two hobbits again. Saruman tries to sway the group with the magic of his voice, but Gandalf breaks his staff and banishes him from the order of wizards.

Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor. They receive guidance from the most unlikely source: the creature Gollum. He betrays Frodo and Sam, and Frodo is poisoned by the giant, evil spider Shelob (perhaps a descendant of Ungoliant). Frodo is captured by Orcs and brought to Mordor. Sam takes the Ring and tries to rescue his master.

The Return of the King:

Through darkness and death, the hopes of the free peoples are fulfilled and peace is restored. Gandalf, in addition to his own power, uses the Elvish ring Narya to inflame the courage of others, moving them to action during the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive with an army of the Dead to succor Gondor’s defenders before they are overwhelmed. The remaining armies of Rohan and Gondor challenge Sauron at the Black Gate, emptying Mordor to give Frodo and Sam a chance to reach Mount Doom.

The plan works. Alone and unaided, Sam rescues Frodo from his captivity in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. They trek across the ashen plains of Gorgoroth and are waylaid by Gollum on the path up the mountain. In a heart-stopping moment, Frodo claims the Ring for his own at the Crack of Doom. By a twist of fate, Gollum steals the Ring and topples into the fire with it, accidentally achieving the quest.

All the evil forged with the Ring is permanently destroyed, the king of Gondor is restored in the crowning of Aragorn, and the four hobbits renew the Shire to its simple beauty. The passing of Frodo (and a few others) into the West is the perfect example of the ultimate sacrifice: giving up something you love so others might keep it. It tugs on the heartstrings and doesn’t let go.

As much as I enjoyed it, magic wasn’t the most outstanding quality of the books. For me, it was how elaborate Tolkien made his world. He created his own languages and alphabets, even distinct geography, to shape Middle-earth with cultural diversity. The grudge between the Elves and Dwarves, established in The Silmarillion, still exists in the Third Age. Legolas and Gimli bridge the gap, building one of the strongest friendships of the age.

Tolkien used such details to bring his world to life and connect with readers. The characters, their emotions, and the trials they face are so deeply human. It is a tale, impeccably woven, of the unquenchable spirit of hope, even a fool’s hope. Members of every race put aside their differences to serve the greater good. Through temptation, loss, sorrow, betrayal, sacrifice, despair, friendship, redemption, courage, hope, and kindness unlooked for, the heroes succeed in restoring peace.

If you ever feel the world is drab, or routine, or unremarkable, I invite you to pick up a book and read. Or find a blank page and fill it with words. Either way, that’s when you’ll see the magic surrounding you.


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