Monday, August 26, 2013

Red Book Of The Westmarch!


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is the renowned and beloved fantasy of the 20th Century, a carefully constructed epic filled with elegaic romance, sprawling imaginary vistas, and pert memorable characterizations. I've read it a few times over the course of my lifetime, but I might have to say this most recent venture to Middle Earth might be the best yet.

For the first time I read the novel as Tolkien intended, a single book. The trilogy we know is a result of the limitations of publishing which balked at issuing a book so massive and opted instead in the early 50's to bring out the saga in three mostly annual volumes, each given a memorable title of its own. I've always preferred The Fellowship of the Ring, but this reading with the focus on a different structure has given me new admiration for The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

If each is seen as a single volume, there is almost inherently an expectation of a rise and fall within the narrative structure. That exists in abundance in the first part, the part of the story which introduces the majority of the characters and the mileau. Those characters follow a story arc which sees them become aware and finally resolved, transformed from bystanders into legitimate heroes.

Neither of the other volumes really has a fair chance to recreate that arc, and for the most part don't. But seeing the story as one complete yarn, the latter stages of the epic come more fully into focus and build on the charming and sometimes quaint beginning with robust full-blooded heroic adventure on an every-increasing scale. This sweep works when the story is understood as a single narrative and not three individual ones. This bias ingrained in my own understanding of the tale by its marketing, has limited to some small extent my appreciation of the latter stages. Until now.

Despite the clever marketing by Ballantine Books and others, when I'm thinking of the "Red Book of the Westmarch" in the future, it will always be two narratives and not four. 

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