Dec 25, 2019

The Lord of the Rings: Good Beyond Hope

It's one of the iconic stories of my life, told over and over again until it becomes myth.

How, in fifth grade, I stumbled across a copy of The Hobbit in the folklore section of the Denkmann School library, and read for the first time: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

I spent the next two days immersed in a new world, Middle Earth,with hobbits, elves, dwarves, goblins, magic swords, giant spiders, a dragon, a gollum,  and a beautiful, evocative map.

And no damsels-in-distress to gum up the works; Middle Earth was occupied entirely by men.

How, two years later, in seventh grade, the Scholastic Book Club offered The Two Towers, blatantly advertised as the "sequel" to The Hobbit.  I ordered it, waited patiently, and when it arrived, rushed home and began to read eagerly.  Aragorn, Boromir, Frodo..who were these people? This was not a sequel at all; it was the second book in a trilogy.  I had been swindled!

How I snuck a ride to the Readmore Book World downtown and bought the rest of the trilogy, and read...well, most of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The Shire scenes, with gay couples Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin wending through the Old Forest, fighting off Dark Riders and Barrow-Wights, meeting Tom Bombadil, reaching Rivendell, setting off with a fellowship of nine, including gay couple Legolas and Gimli.  Around the time they reach the Mines of Moria, it bogged down, and I started to skim.

The Two Towers was mostly unreadable, sheer boredom.  I skimmed through everything except for Merry and Pippin among the Ents.

The Return of the King, more of the same, with Frodo and Sam, especially Frodo, suffering for no reason, as if Tolkien delighted in torturing his heroes.  I skimmed through everything until the end, when they return to the Shire to discover that it has been broken up by the Industrial Revolution.

I couldn't bring myself to admit it for many years, but The Lord of the Rings is not a great novel, or even a good novel.  30% of it is torture porn (let's see what other horrible things can happen to Frodo!), and 60% is repetitive, ponderous, and dull.  Everyone has twelve names, everyone's sword has twelve names, and they're always stopping the action to sing.

And talk about anachronisms:  The Shire is 18th century England; one expects to hear the bothersome War of Independence being fought in the Colonies. But outside the Shire, it's the early-Medieval world of the Anglo-Saxon thanes.

Yet still I thought of it as the greatest book ever written.  I pressed it into the hands of my friends as if it were a religious tract.  I revered it as sacred writ.  I began working on my own fantasy world in imitation, with my own elves and dwarves, magic sword, and fabulous maps.

It seems like a paradox.

But the Lord of the Rings wasn't for reading.  It was for gazing at the covers.  The artist, Barbara Remington, had not read or even seen the book before drawing the covers, so she drew from magic and myth.

My favorite was The Two Towers, with its stylized sharp mountains, red sky, and dark flying riders.

It was about reading the cover blurbs, with quotes from Loren Eisley, W. H. Auden, and C.S. Lewis (none of whom I had heard of yet): "Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart....good beyond hope."

That line is better than anything in the book itself.

It was about gazing at the maps, and marveling at all of the mysterious places. I particularly liked the edges, the places not mentioned in the books: Rhun, Far Harad, the Ice Bay of Forochel, and Carn Dum ("here was of old the witch-realm of Angmar").

It was about reading the appendixes, with the languages, the indexes, the genealogical charts, and the timelines, with the discussions of what happened to the characters after the War of the Rings ended.

And it was about discovering the fates of the gay couples:

Merry and Pippin lived together for the rest of their lives

Legolas and Gimli crossed to the Elf paradise together

Frodo crossed over alone, while Sam pursued a heteronormative life of marriage and children.  But at the end of his life, he, too crossed over.

Was there ever a book so filled with gay romances?

That's what, in the end, rendered The Lord of the Rings "good beyond hope."

See also: The Lord of the Rings

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