Well here goes. A few months after completing my slow, but steady trek through the story of the Lord of the Rings, I will endeavor to share some of my thoughts on this epic tale. On the one hand, I feel as inadequate as the hobbit himself must have felt as he understood the enormity of his task. What can I say that will do justice to such a mighty work of literary genius? Perhaps my expression of my feeling of inadequacy is itself a first statement of how deeply impressed and moved I am by this story.
It’s truly amazing to notice the impact that good books can have on us. Thats perfectly understandable, considering the unique privilege that reading affords us. What other activity allows us an opportunity to jump into the author’s shoes for a bit and experience their adventures; to go places you’ve never been, and learn from people who lived in a different place and time? Especially due to the great length of the story of the Lord of the Rings, reading such a work is a journey and adventure in and of itself. You walk away from a book like this a slightly different person. This is perhaps the first of many more memories and impressions that I will share from this journey.
People often say that J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t invent Middle Earth but rather discovered it. Reading these stories this is the exact impression that one gets. The world in which the story takes place is so much bigger than just the story itself. It’s a whole other universe that fit inside this little man’s mind and it’s quite a stunning picture of the power of imagination and literature. And yet, the things that he is saying are simply the product of his life here in the real world. Thus, the story gives a new angle on old truths.
One of the most powerful aspects of the story is the profound depth with which Tolkien develops the characters and their relationships between each other. In there own unique ways, each character is a display of deep integrity and virtue. Despite the overall dark and dreary tone of the story the characters fill the story with a light of inspiration and hope. Each one, in their various ways faces challenges that push them to their limits, that force them to reexamine the reason for which they allowed themselves to be involved in such a quest. Tolkien does a balanced job of presenting each character as having his own set of limitations and flaws. However, in the midst of their imperfections and failures, there is a common willingness and conviction to stand for what is right, and to do it in a way that demonstrates the utmost dedication and sacrifice.
Adversity is indeed one of the greatest tests of our true selves, of our convictions and of our actual values. The force of the darkness and tragedy that permeates the story here is one of the most impressive aspects of the book. The vanity of any endeavor against such a profound foe is almost palpable to the reader. There is every reason to give up and give in. And yet here the power of the characters shines through most brightly. They don’t just do what is right – they do it in a context where there seems absolutely no incentive to do so.
When all hope is stripped away, there is pure conviction and raw character than holds the person together like bars of steel in the midst of difficulties. They are not great because they all perfectly accomplished all their goals. They are great because they chose to react most perfectly and selflessly within the challenging circumstances in which they were placed.
That really is the definition of true character. We do not pick our trials and troubles. We do not always get to live the life we dream of. The question is, are we rooted down in the convictions that will allow us to simply be the best we can we in the circumstances in which we are placed? What lies behind the soft masks that we daily wear? How do we explain the validity of our foundation? How do we know that this foundation will endure on the final day, the ultimate day, when all hope and fluff is stripped away to reveal who we really are?