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The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - Barron's Booknotes
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In The Hobbit the danger and the excitement reach a peak
when the forces of good seem about to be overcome by the
forces of evil. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien builds to
two simultaneous peaks. One occurs at the point when
Sauron's forces sweep down on the small army led by
Aragorn at the gates of Mordor. The other occurs inside
Mordor, as Frodo struggles with Gollum on the edge of the
Crack of Doom, where the Ring is to be destroyed. Both
the war and the quest reach their resolution in the same
instant, when the Ring is destroyed and with it, Sauron's

The fourth and final part of each story serves to wind things
down. The hero returns home, looking forward to comfort.
He finds instead that his home is threatened. But he has
grown through his experiences and is able to regain what is

Of course, there are many important differences between
the two works. The Hobbit follows the story through
Bilbo's eyes and tells of events in a chronological sequence.
In other words, you hear about things as they happen, rather
than jumping ahead to future events, or flashing back to
something that happened in the past. When Tolkien departs
from this chronological sequence in The Hobbit, he
carefully guides you through the jump in time: "Now if you
wish, like the dwarves, to hear news of Smaug, you must
go back again to the evening when he smashed the door
and flew off in a rage, two days before."

The story line of The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand,
is much more complicated. The Lord of the Rings is a
trilogy, consisting of three volumes (Parts One to Three)
divided into six sections (Books I through VI). The novel
jumps back and forth in time, following the stories of
several characters. The various story lines finally converge
near the end when all the characters are reunited as Aragorn
is crowned king of Gondor. Tolkien uses these shifts in
viewpoint to good effect, often ending his scenes as cliff-
hangers, slowly building the tension to its climax. But
trying to follow the different story lines as he jumps back
and forth from one to the other can be very difficult.
Tolkien doesn't guide you through them as he did in The
Hobbit. But he does give clues to help you put the pieces in
order. For example, when Tolkien returns to Sam and
Frodo in Book VI, he shows you that he's jumping back in
time by telling you what Merry, Pippin, and Aragorn are
doing at the same moment.

Many people have commented that The Hobbit is like a
simple fairy tale, whereas The Lord of the Rings is more
like a great epic poem of the past, such as The Odyssey of
Homer or Beowulf, the famous Old English tale of
heroism. Like both fairy tales and epics, Tolkien's books
are stories of heroism in an imaginary world filled with
fantastic people and creatures. But The Hobbit, like many
fairy tales, is first and foremost the story of an individual's
growth into maturity. It has a fairy-tale ending, with Bilbo
smoking happily on his pipe many years later, rich from his
adventures and satisfied with his life. An epic, on the other
hand, tries to relate the hero's story to a long history and is
more concerned with questions of moral choices and the
fate of all men, than with its individual hero. In fact, many
epics, such as Beowulf, end with the death of their heroes.
The Lord of the Rings shares these characteristics of epics.
Unlike Bilbo, Frodo doesn't live happily ever after. He's
been wounded physically and also psychically by the loss
of the Ring. His passage to the Blessed Realm at the end of
the book may be interpreted as a symbolic death.

Part of Tolkien's genius lies in the way he combined the
forms of fairy tale and epic. The heroes of most epics are
larger than life, possessing great strength and ability, like
the superheroes of comic books. But people nowadays find
it hard to identify with such impossible heroes. Frodo, an
ordinary person who has been thrust into a situation beyond
his abilities, is a more suitable hero for a modern audience.
Aragorn, on the other hand, is a classic epic hero. But he
has a fairy-tale ending, winning a kingdom and marrying
his lifelong love. So you see, Tolkien didn't just copy the
old forms of fairy tale and epic. He reworked them to meet
the needs of a modern audience. From the great success of
his books, he seems to have achieved his goal.

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

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