Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Lord of the Rings

This entry is part 33 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

After my The Hobbit review last week, readers flooded my inbox, begging me to review The Lord of the Rings next.

I found this interesting. You would think only those who enjoyed my blog would email in requests. Yet, if they enjoyed it, wouldn’t they read said blog with care, beginning to end?

No, it would seem. Because I mentioned my copy of the Hobbit was part of a box set with LotR at the beginning of the blog. Then, at the end, I stated outright I would be reviewing LotR next.

So, what happened? Did they people love my blog so much they fell into spasms of ecstasy upon finishing it? Spasms which caused them to forget it’s very contents?

That would be kind of cool.

I suppose I should mention at this point that no one has ever emailed me about my blog. Or phoned. Or contacted me at all.

Or read it.

The above was a fiction, and I wrote it all for me. To feed my delusions.

Delusions of success and respect and love from a fan base that will never be.

I’m off for a little cry, then we’ll get on with the review.

The Lord of The Rings and Me

As I mentioned in my Hobbit blog, I’m not going to write about my knowledge of the author of these books. To me, J.R.R. Tolkien is The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and so I’ll talk about that instead.

Like a lot of people of my age, I have seen The Lord of the Rings movies, but I have (or had) never read the books.

Like millions before me, I found the world created by Tolkien fascinating. The breadth of his creativity amazed me.

I have, to my shame, spent time reading up on some of the history Tolkien wrote about Middle Earth. I have read about the pasts of Gandalf and Sauron and such like. Not extensively, but a little, and only on Wikipedia.

I always found this backstory amazing, and I enjoyed the films too. So I guessed LotR would contain enough to keep my interest throughout. Even if they were slow going, and dull at times.

The Lord of the Rings

We all want our blogs to be successful. We want swarms of readers crawling over our posts like flies on shit. We want people to fall in love with it. To hit refresh, again and again, waiting for another blog to appear. We want clinics set up to help people deal with their addiction to our blogs.

We want people to die reading it.

Still, this is the first time I’ve thought it a good thing no one except my girlfriend and parents, read this blog.

Because I’m about to make a statement that could anger millions.

And it is…

The Lord of the Rings books… they’re not very good, are they?


I’m about to compare an author to George Lucas for the second time in three or four blogs.

That makes it a frequent enough event to give it a name, and a name I have given it.

Lucaseimia. The condition of being able to create expansive worlds, yet be rubbish at writing for them.

I know what you’re thinking. Lucas was not diagnosed with Lucasemia until he released The Phantom Menace in 1999. A year often know as being a full 26 years after Tolkien died.

As such, shouldn’t I have named the condition after J.R.R. Tolkien?

Maybe, but what would I call it?


Actually, that sounds quite good.

Better than Lucaseimia.

Doesn’t matter, we’re getting off the point.

The thing I’ve noticed is that great creativity trumps the ability to write well. Tolkien created such phenomenal stories it didn’t matter his prose could be sloppy. His dialogue bloated and unrealistic.

Case in point, at the beginning of The Two Towers, Aragorn says “Alas! Thus passes the heir of Denethor, Lord of the Tower of Guard! This is a bitter end. Now the Company is all in ruin. It is I that have failed. Vain was Gandalf’s trust in me. What shall I do now? Boromir has laid it on me to go to Minas Tirith, and my heart desires it, but where are the Ring and the Bearer? How shall I find them and save the quest from disaster?”

To himself.

I recognise that people say a few words to themselves, here and there. I have on occasion been known to shout “fuck’s sake, Alex,” to myself. (Which is less weird when you understand my name is not actually Mark).

Yet, we do not, as a rule, spill out ridiculous monologues into thin air. And this particular speech is the third he makes to himself in the space of two pages.

That’s the kind of sloppy storytelling I can’t abide.

The problems of The Hobbit strike again

If you haven’t yet read my review of The Hobbit, you can find it here.

Then we’ll talk.

Okay, now you’re back, I want to talk about three key areas that bothered me in the Hobbit that also bothered me in LotR.

The first is exclamation marks.

Someone should ban them from all fiction and non-fiction. We should restrict them to texts, and only after a question mark to state complete shock.


Friend: Man, a crocodile bit off my hand and bitch slapped me with it. Then told me my mum was fat and I’ll never amount to anything.

Me: WTF?!

Me: True though.

Most authors avoid them at all costs, and with good reason. Tolkien, though, chucks them out like he bought them in bulk and needs to get them off his hands.

As an example, check out the dialogue I relayed above. Two of the nine sentences end in exclamation marks. That’s 22%. Way too many.

22% too many.

Yet, people will look at this, and roll their eyes, and say it matters not. It’s minor.

So let’s talk about something less minor.

Undercooked action and the ease our heroes find in escaping dire situations.

What do people remember from the Lord of the Rings films?

The amazing action scenes, I imagine. The battle in the Mines of Moria. The defence of Helms Deep. The war at Gondor and the final battle outside the Black Gates.

I had seen all these, and I understood they might not feel quite the same in book form. Of course, battles will look more spectacular on screen. But I looked forward to seeing the inspiration for these great moments.

Once more, as with The Hobbit, Tolkien let me down.

For four books Tolkien spends boundless pages on conversations and walking and breakfast. But action sequences are over in a flash.

The fight between Boromir and the Urak-hai from the end of the first film happens off screen in the book. While the big battles mentioned above take only a few pages to complete.

With Frodo and Sam, whenever Orcs or spiders capture them they get free in no time whatsoever. Leaving me to wonder why more drama could not have been drawn out of such promising situations.

It was my second biggest problem with The Hobbit. And it was as bad in the Lord of the Rings.

Still, it remains less annoying than my third point that links The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

The major problem of The Hobbit was that our Hero was not involved enough in the climax. He did not fell the main antagonist and was not involved in the war that followed.

I was hoping this would not be the case in Lord of the Rings. Not least because I had spent almost a thousand pages following Frodo’s journey from The Shire to Mount Doom.

After all that, I wanted him to actually be the hero.

This would have somewhat mitigated my disappointment about Sauron being a villain that was never going to be exciting to defeat.

Yet, once again, the central Hobbit let me down.

Here, Frodo does not get knocked out, but while he is active, it is in the wrong direction.

Upon reaching Mount Doom, Frodo decides he would rather like to keep the ring, rather than destroy it.

Selfish shit.

So, he pops it on his finger, thus alerting Sauron to his presence, and prepares to flee.

He would do it too, if not for the arrival of Gollum. Our little friend jumps upon Frodo, bites off his finger, then falls into the volcano and dies with the ring.

This, for me, was disappointing. As readers, we follow main characters on their journey’s because we want to see them change from weak beginnings to a heroic end.

This doesn’t happen for Frodo. The climax sees him at his weakest point.

Even when he loses the ring he doesn’t get the chance to redeem himself. Gollum falls into the fires below before he has time to register what is happening.

A simple change that saw Frodo realise his mistake (post finger loss) and kick Gollum into the fires below would have made the world of difference.

Even if he, to show some compassion to the creature, had grabbed the ring and chucked it in. That would have been better.

But Frodo, like his Uncle Bilbo, turned out not to have what it takes to be a hero of such a grand story.

After reading, and not enjoying, such almost a thousand pages, I felt cheated too of a proper end. That hurt.

Except, I suppose, that wasn’t quite the worst part of The Lord of the Rings.

The worst part was what happened after the end.

Of course, every story will have something happening after the climax of the book. That’s fine. Even though they do often drag on a little long.

With Lord of the Rings though, the ring is cast into Mount Doom, defeating Sauron.

And we still have six chapters to go.

This is beyond the pail.

Rather than an end, Tolkien treats us to FOUR ‘wrap-up’ chapters. Here characters drip depart, dragging us on whole journey home. One where nothing happens, save for a conversation with Sauroman on the mountains.

Following this, we have the final two chapters, which see Frodo and the three remaining hobbits deal with the Police State that has arisen in the Shire.

Yeah, really.

This out of nowhere storyline sees them defeat yet another foe (who turns out to be Saruman) then have a final wrap up.

I don’t even know what to say. It’s like one of those Pixar films you get at the start of full-length movies. Another story tacked onto the end.

I cannot see it’s reason for being, and I understand completely why they cut it from the film.

This, more than anything, annoyed me about the books.

How many books is it then?

In the introduction to The Fellowship of the Ring, it is made clear that The Lord of the Rings is not a trilogy. It is a single book split into three books (like a trilogy).

Within these three books, there are then six books…

I know, confusing.

And yet, I have reviewed them as I’ve read them, in three. As everyone knows them.

I believe I gave the first two a three, and the last one a two. I am not sure if I was being kind for the first two or harsh for the third, but I do know that I am disappointed.

The Lord of the Rings universe is amazing. It is well thought out and contains elements of one of the greatest stories of all time.

But, for me, the books are not well written. The pacing is off, the dialogue is unrealistic, and the ending (or endings) are unsatisfying.

Note to J.R.R. Tolkien – must try harder.

Although, of course, he’s dead, so he can’t.

Next Time

Next time out we’ll be entering the world of “I See Dead People”

No, I’m not reading the Script for The Sixth Sense, I’m reading the first three Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz.

These are new to me and I look forward to bringing you my review.

See you then.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: The HobbitMan vs Bookshelf: Odd Thomas (1-3) >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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