The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've been working my way through the audiobooks, as many of you already know. The further I get into The Lord of the Rings, the more glorious is all the stuff I missed in past readings. Admittedly the last reading was a while ago and without the benefit of guides along the way to help me see below the surface. More than anything though, listening forces me to slow down and take in the whole book, not just the exciting part I'm dashing through for the adventure.
What becomes very noticeable to me at this point, listening as opposed to reading, is the juxtaposition of the two kings and their hobbit observers. One has been brought back to himself after being under the Dark Lord's sway and the other is prideful and arrogant. It is a striking contrast.
Another thing is how touched I was by the description of those coming to the defense of Gondor, early after Gandalf and Pippin got there. They were the few, those coming out of common need to defend themselves and their lands, in answer to the king's call. It made me understand just how personal war is on that level. It kept coming back to me for hours.
It occurs to me that we are also loathe to let surprises unfold by themselves. I was thrilled at the way Tolkien keeps everyone in the dark over the identity of the stern young man who took Merry up on his saddle, until the crucial moment. I literally wanted to cheer at the moment of revelation. Whereas the movie had to let us in on the secret very early, I suppose in support of girl empowerment. *sigh* Because THAT hasn't been done before.
Listening also allowed me to suddenly notice how Aaragorn's speech has been transformed into something lordly and formal, nobler and grander than when we met him as Strider. It was especially noticeable when he was speaking to Eowyn. "Lady," he would begin every statement to her. In my mind's eye, it was as if he was transformed into the king that we know he is underneath the travel-stained ranger.
The final realization, at this point, is just how the movies lessened the epic scale by making all the heroes less heroic than in the book. They were portrayed with ordinary fears and doubts. I imagine the idea was to give us someone to relate to. However, we already have the hobbits who are, as they themselves would tell us, as ordinary as dirt and happy to be that way. Tolkien's epic storytelling, by contrast, allows the heroes to be imbued with nobility and qualities that emerge as situations require.
We need heroes to look up to who are imbued with something grander than we ourselves have. Otherwise, what is there to strive for? If all our heroes have been knocked down to average, we have only ourselves to look to. And that is not helpful in dire circumstances like those faced in this struggle in Middle Earth. Or even in our own everyday lives.