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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are similar in
structure. Both are organized around the idea of a journey
into the unknown and back again, making the stories
circular in form. Each journey can be roughly divided into
four parts: a period of initiation, the fulfillment of a quest, a
battle or battles, and the return home.

In the first part, the inexperienced hero of the story sets out
on a journey with a group of companions. The story
progresses from one safe haven to another, with dangerous
episodes in between. In The Hobbit, for example, Bilbo and
the dwarves set out from Bilbo's comfortable home into the
Wilds. After facing the trolls, they arrive in Rivendell,
where they replenish their supplies. They are attacked by
goblins while crossing the Misty Mountains, and at last
reach the safety of Beorn's home. From there they pass
through the dangers of Mirkwood and arrive in Lake-town.
Frodo and his friends have a similar series of adventures in
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of The Lord of
the Rings.

These adventures serve as a period of initiation: through
them, Bilbo and Frodo are prepared for the tasks that still
await them. These entertaining episodes also give Tolkien
an opportunity to present characters and themes.

The safe havens serve a similar function, introducing
themes and characters. In contrast to the action of the other
scenes, they provide a "tableaux," a graphic representation
of a place or culture. This is especially true of The Lord of
the Rings, with its pictures of Rivendell, Lorien, and
Fangorn Forest, just to name a few. These places add to the
sense of the history and cultures of Middle-earth and place
the plot within the framework of this history. Many people
believe that this balance between the fast-paced action of
the here and now and the slow, grand sweep of history is
part of what makes Tolkien's books stand out as something
more than just adventure stories.

The second part of each story concerns the fulfillment of
the quest, where the hero faces his moment of truth.
(Bilbo's part in the quest is to help recover the treasure;
Frodo's quest is to destroy the Ring.) Each must confront
his fears and conquer them alone. It is at this point that the
character appears as a truly heroic figure.

The third part of the story concerns a war between the
forces of good and evil. (In The Lord of the Rings, you will
notice, the story of the quest and the story of the war are
intertwined.) The good side seems hopelessly outclassed,
but somehow manages to emerge victorious at the last
minute. Tolkien has been building to this moment from the
beginning of the story. Each preceding episode also seemed
bound for disaster. Each time, the danger has become more
grim, and the hope of rescue has steadily decreased, until
the hero has only himself to rely on. As the danger
increases, so does the level of excitement until yet another
daring escape is managed.

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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes

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