On the Pleasures of Re-Reading “The Lord of the Rings”

As I do every year, I’ve recently started re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Those who are familiar with my old blog no doubt know that, every December, I commit a good amount of my blog space to a discussion of Tolkien and his works, and this year is no different. So, to inaugurate my first Tolkien Appreciation Month on this author blog, I thought I’d talk about the pleasures of re-reading Tolkien.

I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was about 9 or 10, and it proved to be one of those truly life-changing literary events. I simply couldn’t stop reading it; it seemed to exert some sort of hold on me that I couldn’t break. Full of trembling fear at the Ringwraiths, swept up in the majesty of Tolkien’s world, and moved to tears by this tale of sacrifice, I knew that here was a book that I’d return to again and again.

Part of this, I think, comes from the fact that it was my Mom who introduced me to Tolkien and that she, like so many others, had returned to it repeatedly over the years. Re-reading it with her was a way of forging bonds with her, each of us sharing our observations and thoughts about the book, as well as explaining to one another why we took pleasure in it.

In the years since, I’ve read it dozens of times, but still something keeps me coming back again and again. Sometimes, this was an external factor. When, for example, the films came out in the early 2000s, I found myself reading The Lord of the Rings on a yearly basis. While in undergrad, I also took not one but two courses on Tolkien, which encouraged yet more readings. And then there were The Hobbit films, and the release of further volumes from Christopher, notably Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin. Each one gave me a reason to return to the stories that started it all. It’s now become basically an annual ritual for me to pick up The Lord of the Rings and to give it another read.

Sometimes, I read it slowly, savoring each and every word, allowing myself to become fully immersed in the beauty of Tolkien’s language. Even a cursory reading of The Lord of The Rings reveals a man who knew how to describe landscape in a way that almost no one else in epic fantasy has come close to matching (Terry Brooks is one such). On these readings, I often allow myself to even linger over the songs (certainly one of the most divisive aspects of the book, with some fans loving and others hating them). At other times, I go at a faster pace, sometimes skipping to the parts of the book that I find the most enjoyable.

Either way, I continually and consistently find new things about the story itself, the characters, and the world that Tolkien crafted with such care. That, to me, is one of the most extraordinary things about Tolkien in general and The Lord of the Rings in particular. No matter how many times you read it nor over how many years, it can still manage to surprise you. In that sense, they are both very much like the hobbits themselves.

At the same time, there’s also something comforting about the familiar notes, about knowing what’s going to happen yet enjoying the journey anyway. I love reading the chapters that detail history (such as “The Shadow of the Past” and “The Council of Elrond”). And, silly as it sounds, I still get a chill when the Ringwraiths first begin to make their appearance. And, divisive as it may be, as the years have gone by I’ve even begun to enjoy Tom Bombadil.

A lot about me has changed in the 20 years since I first read The Lord of the Rings. Still, every time I pick it up, I found myself drawn back, reminded of that sense of wonder and joy that accompanied that first reading. No matter what happens in the outside world, and no matter how dismal and depressing it may be at times, I know that there is a different sort of world awaiting me between its pages.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must rejoin Frodo and company. Cheers!