For most fans of the fantasy genre, whether it be in literature or cinema, there is no denying that JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is the best of the genre. In the realm of fantasy literature, this epic story defined it and influenced authors who would go on to create epic works of fantasy of their own; and in the realm of cinema Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the trilogy paved the way for big budget adaptations of books into movies, allowed fantasy to return back to our screens, and pushed innovative techniques in filmmaking and creature design.
Starting now, I will be doing reviews of “The Lord of the Rings” books and the movies (both the theatrical cut and extended editions); and I’ll be making a character guide for each of the Nine Companions in the Fellowship of the Ring, complete with a comparison of each character in the book versus their movie versions. Of course, these will be interspersed with the usual movie and television show reviews that I have planned out as well.
The legacy of “The Lord of the Rings”, in both forms is definitely significant. Without “The Lord of the Rings”, there probably wouldn’t be Young Adult Fantasy literature, JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, or George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones”. Without Peter Jackson’s films, we wouldn’t have film adaptations of books such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” or the “Harry Potter” series, or even the “Game of Thrones” tv show; we wouldn’t have epic trilogies that Hollywood seems to love; and we wouldn’t have had the innovative performance motion capture technology that gets better and better as the years go by, the special effects and the use of “big-atures”, and all the awe inspiring work that was put in to the costumes and creature creations that the WETA workshop did. Truly, in both literature and in film, “The Lord of the Rings” is a masterpiece.
It is interesting to think that all of this was made possible by an Oxford professor named JRR Tolkien, who was an expert in literature, linguistics, epics, fairy tales and legends; who, one day decided to attempt to make an epic fantasy story of his own.
However, it is so epic that sometimes, it seems pretty daunting to actually start on the movies or the books to be able to experience how great both the books and the movies are. Hopefully, this little guide will help those starting out with Tolkien not be too overwhelmed with it all.
What is “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy about?
Set in the fictional land of Middle Earth, it tells the story of the struggle of the peoples of Middle Earth to ensure that the titular “Lord of the Rings”, the Dark Lord Sauron, doesn’t get his hands on his One Ring of Power that will allow him to dominate and rule the entire land. Thrust into the center of this are a group of determined individuals from different races of Middle Earth, who are sent on a quest to help a young Hobbit named Frodo Baggins destroy the ring once and for all. The trilogy is comprised of six books in total that were published in three volumes- “The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Two Towers”, and “The Return of the King”. The entire trilogy was actually the sequel to “The Hobbit”, but got grander in scope.
“The Hobbit”, set around 60 years before the events of the trilogy, tells the story of Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo Baggins, who ends up finding the ring during an epic adventure he once had with a band of dwarves.
Where should I start with the books?
If you don’t want to start with something dense and epic, I suggest that you start with “The Hobbit”, as it is shorter and an easier read. Unlike “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which is more epic in scope, “The Hobbit” is more of a Young Adult Fantasy novel, and a little bit more of a fairy tale adventure than “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
However, if you think you can do epic right away, start with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, then read “The Hobbit”, and then if you are a big fan and want to know more about the world Tolkein built, read “The Silmarillon”, which basically tells you the history of Middle Earth in the form of several stories and tales.
Who wrote the books?
John Ronald Reuld Tolkien or J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit”, and several other books dealing with Middle Earth as well as other books about epics such as Beowulf.
Tolkein was a lieutenant and served during World War I. Afterwards, he became a professor at Oxford where he was a professor of the English Language and Literature. He was close friends with C.S. Lewis and a member of an informal literary group called the Inklings.
Should I read the books first or can I watch the movies first?
It really depends with you. If you are the type that wants to know more about the source material first, read the books. However, most might prefer watching the movies first, because it will help you appreciate everything he wrote down better, from the lengthy descriptions to the epic battle sequences. I myself read the books first before watching the films. However, this time around, I did watch the movies before I finished reading the books, and it really helped me picture the landscape that they journeyed through, and it helped me picture the battle sequences better.
However, take note that there are changes from the book to the film. Some of these changes were necessary as the way you tell a story in a cinematic way is different from the written word, but it never lost its essence and Jackson was as faithful as possible to the book itself. The Extended Versions, however, are the ones that are more faithful to the book.
Should I watch the Theatrical Cut or the Extended Editions?
If you are not a die hard fan and just want to know what the hype is about and whether you should read the books afterwards, I suggest watching the Theatrical Cuts first, as it is not as long as the Extended Cuts, and will be easier to watch.
However, if you are a long time and die hard fan, I say go for the Extended Cuts as it greatly expands on character motivations and has little nuggets from the books that are there. I personally prefer the Extended Cuts over the Theatrical Cuts. However, if you are a completist, then you will probably watch both versions anyway.
Who starred in the films?
For the Hobbits, Elijah Wood played Frodo Baggins, Sean Astin played Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Billy Boyd played Peregrin “Pippin” Took, Ian Holm played Bilbo Baggins, and Dominic Monaghan played Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck. Sir Ian McKellen played the Wizard Gandalf the Grey, and Sir Christopher Lee played Saruman the White. Viggo Mortensen played Aragorn or Strider, while Sean Bean played Boromir of Gondor. John Rhys-Davies played Gimli, son of Gloin, a dwarf; and Orlando Bloom played the elf named Legolas Greenleaf. They were joined by other big names such as Liv Tyler, who portrayed the elf Arwen Undomiel; Hugo Weaving who portrayed Arwen’s father, Elrond; Andy Serkis who did an impressive motion capture performance for Gollum; and Cate Blanchett who portrayed the elven queen Galadriel.
Why Should I Bother Spending Time Reading or Watching, or Doing Both for This?
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, both the movies and the books are masterpieces in their own right. The books defined fantasy as a genre and laid the foundations for other fantasy writers. The movies showed Hollywood that with enough planning and innovative techniques, that almost nothing is unfilmable, it gave rise to the trend of fantasy on the big screen as well as the trend of big epic trilogies and adapting books into movies.
Who are the main characters of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy?
First off, one should note that the titular “Lord of the Rings” actually refers to the main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron.
The whole crux of the entire story and the fate of the entire Middle Earth actually rests in the hands of two Hobbits (people who are the size of children, but not as stocky as dwarves) named Frodo Baggins and Samwise “Sam” Gamgee. The other main characters of the book include two other Hobbits named Peregrin “Pippin” Took, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, a wizard named Gandalf the Grey, two men named Aragorn or Strider and Boromir, a dwarf named Gimli, and a woodland elf named Legolas Greenlef.
Where are the books and movies set?
They are set in the land of Middle Earth, a land where many different races and creatures live together in harmony. Most of the story is set here, and throughout the films, we actually get to visit most of the places in Middle Earth, from the Shire all the way to some parts of Mordor.
Any extra tips when reading the book? Any extra tips for the movies?
The books have maps in the front; and “The Return of the King” has appendices which explain some things, expands the story of some characters, and has several family trees as well that one can refer to. In order to get a sense of where they are going and how far they’ve traveled, I suggest tracking their journey by referring to the maps from time to time. To understand how some of the characters are related to each other, refer to the family tress that are provided. Those actually helped me understand some things and actually became more engaged in their journey while reading it.
The bonus material in the Blu Rays of the Extended Cuts are really such a joy to watch! They may be long, but they make you appreciate all the work and effort that was put into the films from the actors to the writers, all the way down to the costume department and the WETA Workshop who created the armor, swords, prosthetics, big miniatures, etc, that made this movie possible.
I hope that this quick primer about “The Lord of the Rings” will help you decided whether to read the books and watch the movies, and I hope that this will also aid you in your “Lord of the Rings” experience as well!
Do you love “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy as well? Did you prefer the Theatrical Cuts or the Extended Cuts? Did you read the books before watching the movie? What did you think about the changes they made? Also, if you have any questions about “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, whether it be about the movies or books, feel free to ask me about it in the comments below!
Image Sources: Official Lord of the Rings Trilogy Movie Facbook Page, Official Lord of the Rings Trilogy Books Official Facebook Page, Amazon, Official JRR Tolkien Facebook Page