March 25th is celebrated as Tolkien Reading Day – something I came to know a few days later. A day marked to celebrate the life and work of JRR Tolkien must be quite something, fans and readers sharing their favorite passages from Tolkien’s work. I was introduced to Lord of the Rings (LoTR) from the movie franchise and right then on I was mesmerized by the characters, the stories, and the magical realm of Middle Earth.
Last year I finished reading the first part of LoTR, The Fellowship of the Ring. There are many things to note in the pages, and something that really stood out was how Tolkien describes the imaginary world of Middle Earth, the myths, and the lives that were, that was, and that will be. I felt as though I was reading a history of a real world. It is almost impossible to imagine the depth of art and work that must have gone into the making of the story.
Fiction isn’t real. The characters aren’t real. And yet there is a touch of truth behind, an invisible line of connection with the characters you’d never meet. That is the mind of the creator, the writer. A mind we marvel at.
Since 2003, Tolkien Reading Day has been celebrated by The Tolkien Society. This year the theme is Hope and Courage. When I lack courage I remember Frodo, when my patience wavers I think of Arwen, when I search for a guardian I look for Gandalf, when hope seems far I pray to be like Samwise, and when I think of life well lived I seek for the tiny yet strong Hobbits.
Here are some of my favorite passages from The Fellowship of the Ring.
‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.Book 1, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past
‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’
A poignant line that also features in the movie franchise. It speaks of both hope and courage. All we can do is decide what to do with the time that is with us.
‘But where shall I find courage?’ asked Frodo. ‘That is what I chiefly need.’Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company
‘Courage is found in unlikely places,’ said Gildor.
Like Frodo carries the burden of the ring, each of us carries our own. Where do the fires of Mordor lie where we may be able to leave the ring to burn, we cannot tell.
‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’Book 1, Chapter 5: A Conspiracy Unmasked
Merry admits that he is scared and so are the others, but they are going to stick together. Friendship is one of the most heartwarming elements in the book. Friendship between the Hobbits, between Gimli and Legolas, and a untold friendship we develop with these unreal yet real character.
All that is gold does not glitter,Book 1, Chapter 10: Strider
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
One of the most famous lines from the entire series.
His left arm was lifeless, and his side and shoulder felt as if icy claws were laid upon them.Book 1, Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
One of the most remarkable passages in the book is description about places, and of the events that happen to the characters. The perspective is so well thought of, the words chosen so carefully that we are almost standing besides the characters as they fight the devil and witness the landscape of Middle Earth.
‘It’s out of his own head, of course,’ said Frodo. ‘I am learning a lot about Samwise Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he’s a jester. He’ll end up by becoming a wizard – or a warrior!’Book 1, Chapter 12: Flight to the Ford
‘I hope not,’ said Sam. ‘I do not want to be neither.’
Sam does indeed end up as a warrior. The ring has no effect on him, that’s how pure he really is. When I first watched the films almost more than a decade ago, I thought of Sam as a funny and nice character. I did not think of him as a warrior. But over the years I have come to respect Samwise Gamgee so much more.
Glorfindel was tall and straight; his hair was of shining gold, his face fair and young and fearless and full of joy; his eyes were bright and keen, and his voice like music; on his brow sat wisdom, and in his hand was strength.Book 2, Chapter 1: Many Meetings
On whose brow sits wisdom and his whose hands lies strength, Glorfindel is indeed a character I would like to meet for real. Tolkien’s description of character brings the book to life.
The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.Book 2, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond
LoTR questions the notion of the strong and the weak. What is strength and what is weakness after all? Sauron was stronger than anyone else and yet he was weak and thus became the dark lord that we know about.
Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them.Book 2, Chapter 8: Farewell to Lorien
Seeking the unknown, the not understood is one of the major themes of the book. The Fellowship heads out to perform a task that could likely get all of them killed. But they must go on without knowing what holds for each of them. While we may not carry a task to save the whole of life on earth like the Fellowship do, what lies for each of us can at times be difficult to see. We cannot truly tell what will happen next. But maybe the paths are already laid even though we do not see them.
As I revisited my think LoTR book with notes and lines all over, I can feel a warm and fuzzy feeling taking over me. A little light that is saying that it will be okay. Maybe it is Gandalf speaking.