Book Review: Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

It was the Elven-smiths who crafted the Rings of Power in ancient times, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all. Nevertheless, he was robbed of the One Ring, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, he was unable to find it. By chance, it ended up in the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins after many ages.

Sauron’s power spread far and wide from the Dark Tower of Mordor because of his fastness. All the Great Rings were gathered to Sauron, but he always sought the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

Bilbo disappeared on his eleventy-first birthday, leaving behind the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to travel across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Lord of the Rings Summary

The Lord of the Rings (abbrev. LOTR) is the collective title given to a trilogy of three separate, but related, novels: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). The events leading up to the story of LOTR are described in an earlier novel, The Hobbit (1937); a final novel, The Silmarillion (1977, published posthumously), chronicles the events of the period prior to The Hobbit.

Tolkien’s imaginary world is called Middle-earth, a name for Earth as it existed eons before history as we know it—a world of dark forests, wilderness, lurking creatures, and small garden communities. His novels include hundreds of place-names, with specific details of location, geography, and climate. 

Middle-earth is inhabited by many creatures: men, who resemble modern humans and have the greatest potential for brutality or heroism; dwarves, the short, stocky creatures who wear hooded cloaks, live underground, who are often greedy and grumpy, but who are dependable and strong; elves, who are tall, beautiful, kind, and immortal; ents, the 14-foot-tall tree herdsmen who watch over the trees and resemble them; hobbits, the little creatures most closely related to men, who stand about four feet tall and are humble, peace-loving, sociable, quick, and silent, live in burrows, love comfort, and have no interest in wars or magic powers; and orcs, evil goblins who are mean and ugly.

In the beginning—the First Age—Middle-earth was a peaceful, virtuous land in which evil did not exist. The hobbits lived a simple, happy, safe life in their sunny Shire, tending their gardens and keeping to themselves. 

After many years, the world fell on darker times in what was known as the Second Age. The evil wizard Sauron disguised himself and ordered the noble elf Celebrimbor to forge (i.e., manufacture) Three magic Rings of Power for the elves, Seven Rings for the dwarves, and Nine Rings for the men; the bearers of these Rings would have special powers. 

Ten years later, Sauron—the Lord of the Rings—treacherously forged the “One Ring” that would give him control of all other Rings and their bearers. The One Ring could extend the life of its bearer and make him or her invisible, but could also enslave and change the bearer physically, devouring mind and soul and causing hatred, jealousy, greed, and fear on the part of the bearer and of others who lusted for the Ring. 

On the One Ring, Sauron inscribed, “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them / One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” But Celebrimbor perceived Sauron’s evil intentions and hid the Three Rings; he was then killed when his kingdom, Eregion, was destroyed in 1697 during the War of the Elves and Sauron. 

The Three Rings remained hidden, and Sauron lost the One Ring in the Battle of the Gladden Fields; he then died for the first time. During the Third Age, the Three Rings were kept safe. But evil reappeared within 1,000 years, and Sauron returned in 2460, as war raged everywhere between good and evil. 

Sauron began gathering all the Rings and sought news of the One Ring; it was found in 2463 by the hobbit Déagol, for which his cousin, Gollum, murdered him and immediately became a hateful creature. Gollum called the One Ring his “Precious,” but lost it in 2941. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, found it while on an adventure with the good wizard Gandalf; by 2944, Gollum had begun to look for the “thief” of the Ring. 

In 3001, Bilbo celebrated his 111th birthday by saying farewell to Middle-earth, with the help of the Ring; he left the One Ring behind to his hobbit nephew, Frodo Baggins. Gandalf suspected it was the One Ring.

This is the beginning of LOTR, which will culminate in the War of the Ring and the onset of the Fourth Age. LOTR, a story about the eternal war between good and evil, chronicles Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring for the benefit of all Middle-earth; in possession of the One Ring, he journeys from his home in the Shire to the dangerous Mount Doom, where the Ring is finally destroyed.

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THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: BOOK 1 

It is the Third Age, and Bilbo Baggins, an eccentric hobbit adventurer, vanishes at his “eleventy-first” (111th) birthday party with the help of a magic Ring of invisibility, which he leaves behind to his cousin, Frodo Baggins. 

Frodo lives comfortably in the peaceful Shire until the wizard Gandalf the Grey, who is Bilbo’s friend, tells him that the Ring was made by Sauron—the evil Lord of Mordor—in the fires of Mount Doom and that it is very dangerous to the bearer. 

Frodo, who has previously ignored the rising evil in the outside world, reluctantly accepts responsibility for delivering the Ring (which has already infected him with possessiveness toward it) to the wise elves in Rivendell.

Frodo sets out with his gardener, Sam Gamgee, and hobbit friends Merry and Pippin. Before long, they are hunted by Sauron’s powerful servants, the ringwraiths (i.e., the nine slaves of the Nine Rings; also known as the Nazgûl and the Black Riders) and barely escape death in the Old Forest. 

Tom Bombadil, master of the forest, saves them from malicious living trees. Arriving in the small town of Bree, they meet Aragorn (also called Strider), a weather-beaten, suspicious-looking stranger who turns out to be Gandalf’s friend. They accept his offer to guide them, but on the road, Black Riders catch them and Frodo puts on the Ring to make himself invisible to the attackers. 

Since the Ring was made in Mordor, it attracts the ringwraiths, who are able to see the invisible Frodo. They stab him, and Frodo’s wound refuses to heal. His friends barely get him to Rivendell alive.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: BOOK 2 

In Rivendell, Frodo is cured and the hobbits reunite with Gandalf and Bilbo, who now lives in Rivendell. They meet Elrond, an elven king, and his daughter Arwen, Aragorn’s beloved.

At a council meeting, they discuss the threat of Sauron, who is attacking the outside world with a huge army of subhuman orcs and evil human allies.

Moreover, a formerly good wizard, Saruman, has turned bad and threatens Middle-earth with his ore army. The devious Gollum continues his search for the One Ring, which he had possessed before Bilbo found it. 

The council decides that since the Ring is the most powerful tool for evil in the world, it must be destroyed; but only the flames of Mount Doom in Mordor (where the Ring was made) can destroy it. Since Frodo has been willed (by Bilbo Baggins) to hold the One Ring, he reluctantly volunteers to take it to Mordor. 

Bilbo gives Frodo magic armor (made of mithril, a light metal harder than steel) and the elf- sword “Sting” to protect him. Elrond selects eight people (who become known as the Fellowship of the Ring) to accompany Frodo: Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas, and the human Boromir, son of Denethor, the Steward (guardian) of Gondor (the land closest to Mordor, which has continuously attacked Gondor over the years). 

Aragorn carries with him “Andúril,” the sword of Gondor’s kings, broken years before but now reforged.

The nine set out on their Quest of Mount Doom, but storms prevent them from crossing Mount Caradhras. Instead they must pass through the underground tunnels of Moria. Pursued by orcs, they barely escape to the other side, and Gandalf, fighting off the pursuers, is flung into a deep pit of fire. 

They mourn his death and, deeply discouraged, continue to Lórien, home of the wood elves.

There, Queen Galadriel, the ageless and beautiful holder of one of the three powerful elven Rings, shows Frodo how she refuses to use power manipulatively, and gives the travelers gifts to help them on their journey. 

For 10 days, they continue south by boat toward Mordor, hunted by orcs from the shore. Boromir wants to go to Minas Tirith, the chief city of Gondor, since he worries that the city may fall to Mordor’s orc armies. But Aragorn wants to press on toward Mordor.

Frodo, as Ring-bearer, must choose. While he goes off alone to decide, Boromir, obsessed by the idea that the Ring can be used for good, tries to take it from him. Frodo, desperate, puts the Ring on again, turns invisible, and escapes, leaving Boromir overcome by remorse. Aware that the Ring can cause only trouble to his companions, Frodo heads for Mordor alone. But at the last minute Sam finds him and they leave together, separating from the others and thus breaking the Fellowship of the Ring.

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THE TWO TOWERS: BOOK 3 

Soon after Frodo and Sam leave on their journey to destroy the Ring, Merry and Pippin are attacked and captured by Saruman’s orcs. Boromir dies trying to defend them, and Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas pursue the orcs for four days in an effort to save Merry and Pippin. 

They meet some proud horsemen from Rohan, led by the valiant warrior Éomer, nephew of King Théoden of Rohan. Éomer agrees to lend them horses—including the great Shadowflax—but reveals that his men have just destroyed a band of orcs and have seen no hobbits with them. Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin realize that Saruman thinks one of them has the Ring, and they take advantage of infighting among the orcs to escape during Éomer’s attack. 

Treebeard, a friendly ent, takes them home with him to the mysterious forest of Fangorn. The ents, who have been harmed by Saruman and the ores, decide to attack Isengard, Saruman’s home. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas are approached in the forest by an old man in white; they prepare to fight Saruman, but are overjoyed to find that the man is Gandalf. 

He reveals that the fires had not killed him, but that he has undergone deep changes. He is now Gandalf the White, even stronger and wiser than before. The four go on to Rohan and rescue the elderly King Théoden from the evil influence of his adviser, Wormtongue, who escapes to his true master, Saruman. With Wormtongue gone, Théoden immediately becomes manlike again. 

Gandalf persuades Théoden to lead an attack on Isengard and to leave his kingdom under the control of his warrior niece, Éowyn. While a revitalized Théoden leads his army to victory against the orcs, some enraged ents uproot Saruman’s tower, where Merry and Pippin have been imprisoned. 

Saruman’s power is broken, and Merry and Pippin are reunited with the others. But Pippin, tempted to look into Saruman’s palantir (i.e., a magic globe that enables the user to see far into time and space), is nearly enchanted by Sauron. Gandalf saves him and, entrusting the palantir to Aragorn, takes Pippin to Minas Tirith.

BOOK 4 

On their way to Mordor, Frodo and Sam are attacked by Gollum; they overpower him, and in return for his life he vows to serve as their guide.

Avoiding the orcs and ringwraiths, he leads them through a haunted marsh to Mordor’s main gates. When they despair of getting in, he offers to lead them to a secret entrance. Frodo and Sam agree to his plan, but when men from Gondor, who are out fighting orcs, take them into custody, Gollum disappears. 

Frodo and Sam soon discover that the leader of the men, the gentle Faramir, is Boromir’s brother. Frodo fears that Faramir, too, will try to take the Ring, but Faramir has no desire for such evil power. He gives them provisions and sends them on their way. 

As the weather grows worse, Frodo and Sam—accompanied again by Gollum—fight exhaustion and depression. They pass between two opposing towers: Minas Tirith of Gondor (good) and Minas Morgul of Mordor (evil).

When they pause at the crossroads near a huge, broken statue of a king, a miraculous ray of sunshine bursts out and they see a crown of wildflowers on the statue’s head, a sign of hope. Gollum leads them onto the cave entrance to Mordor, where he treacherously attacks Sam, leaving Frodo to be poisoned by Shelob, a monstrous spider. 

Sam escapes and uses Galadriel’s gift—a miraculous Phial of light—to blind Shelob and drive her away. Thinking Frodo dead, Sam sorrowfully takes the Ring to destroy it himself. A little later, however, he overhears orcs saying that Frodo is alive. But they have taken him prisoner, and Sam is locked outside.

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THE RETURN OF THE KING: BOOK 5 

In Gondor, Pippin swears service to Denethor, while in Rohan, Merry vows to serve King Théoden. In response to an urgent appeal from Gondor for help, Théoden prepares his army, while Aragorn, after a long struggle with Sauron through the palantir, leaves on a suicide mission to get allies from the Land of the Dead. 

Éowyn, Théoden’s niece who has fallen in love with Aragorn, wants to go with the army, but is left behind in charge of Rohan. Merry, too, is almost left behind, but Dernhelm, a “mysterious warrior” (actually Éowyn in disguise) takes him along. They ride out on a day when there is no sun—a sign that Mordor will launch a full-scale attack. 

In Gondor, Faramir returns from a meeting with Frodo, and Denethor criticizes him for not seizing the Ring. However, Gandalf supports Faramir’s actions, knowing that if Faramir had taken the Ring, he would have become as evil as Sauron. 

The next day, in a crucial battle that rages for hours, Faramir is seriously wounded and the gates of Gondor are broken by a huge siege. Gandalf alone faces the evil Angmar, king of the ringwraiths.

At that moment, dawn breaks and the army from Rohan arrives. Théoden is wounded by Angmar and dies when his horse falls on him. “Dernhelm” kills Angmar with Merry’s help, then collapses, near death from wounds, leaving Éomer—the new King of Rohan—to lead the desperate battle. 

When ships arrive, bearing Aragorn with reinforcements, the tide of the battle changes and Gondor wins—temporarily. But in the city, Denethor, driven mad by despair and by communication with Sauron through a palantir, tries to burn Faramir and himself on a funeral pyre. 

Denethor dies, but thanks to Pippin, Faramir is saved. Aragorn uses his kingly healing power to restore Éowyn and Faramir to health, then leads a band of soldiers, including Gandalf and Pippin, to the gates of Mordor. There, a messenger demands their surrender, displaying Frodo’s armor.

Though anguished about Frodo’s fate and fearing that Sauron has the Ring, Gandalf rejects his demands. They join in battle, and Pippin is wounded just as eagles—the greatest and noblest of birds—arrive to help Gandalf.

BOOK 6 

In the meantime, Sam has followed the orcs into Mordor, hoping to free Frodo. The Ring is a heavy burden, tempting Sam to claim its power, but he resists. He finds Frodo locked in a tower and returns the Ring to him. 

Sam finds some orc clothes for them both and they escape. Plagued by thirst and exhaustion, they head for Mount Doom through the desolate land of Mordor, and miraculously find fresh water. Days later, they reach Mount Doom; and as Sam begins the ascent with the worn-down Frodo on his back, Gollum attacks. Sam defeats him, but mercifully releases him. 

On the mountaintop, Frodo, overwhelmed by the Ring, cannot destroy it; instead he gives in and claims its power. But justice is served when Gollum, slipping past Sam, attacks Frodo, bites off his ring finger, and falls with the Ring into the flames of Mount Doom. 

The Ring is destroyed and Frodo is released from its spell; the War of the Rings is over. Huge eagles fly to the rescue of Frodo and Sam, who are reunited with Merry and Pippin in Gondor and honored by Aragorn and the elves. Meanwhile, Éowyn and Faramir fall in love, and Aragorn, as Elessar, is officially crowned the first King of the Reunited Kingdom, thereby regaining the throne of his Dúnedain forefathers (hence the novel’s title, The Return of the King).

Faramir is made Prince of Ithilien, and Aragorn marries his beloved Arwen. The hobbits begin their journey home, passing through the now safe lands that were once so dangerous. They meet Saruman, who has become an old beggar but who refuses to give up his evil ways. 

When they finally arrive home, they are forced once again to do battle—this time, to free the Shire from evil men led by Sharkey, who turns out to be Saruman. 

Wormtongue kills his former master, leaving the hobbits to rebuild the Shire. Sam, scattering magic dust given to him by Galadriel, marks the beginning of a year of tremendous prosperity. 

Sam, Merry, and Pippin flourish—but Frodo, who has experienced a darker side of life, does not. The next year, when Gandalf and the bearers of the three elven Rings pass through the Shire on their way to cross the sea—where the elves still live happily—Frodo joins them. 

The Fourth Age—the Dominion of Men—has begun, and since humans do not understand elves and other nonhuman creatures, Frodo knows that he, too, must leave Middle-earth forever.

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Lord of the Rings Characters

ARAGORN II: Last Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North; restorer of Dúnedain kingdoms in Middle-earth; as Elessar, he is first King of the Reunited Kingdom. Experienced, intelligent. He has great power and love of friends; utterly committed to battle against Mordor.

BOROMIR: Older brother of Faramir; son of Denethor II. Young, proud, headstrong; noble at heart but craves glory; power of Ring obsesses him.

DENETHOR II: Last Ruling Steward (guardian) of Gondor. Originally noble and heroic; now worn down, driven to harshness and despair by continuous battle with Mordor.

FARAMIR: Boromir’s younger brother. Intelligent, gentle, responsible. A good leader and great warrior. Not tempted by the Ring.

FRODO BAGGINS: Easygoing hobbit. Chosen to carry the Ring because of his humble nature; has no desire for power; can resist the Ring’s charms. Shows mercy and compassion to others. The Ring wears him down and isolates him; often makes him suspicious and possessive. He emerges from his ordeal more serious and perceptive.

GALADRIEL: Elf-queen in Lórien. Beautiful, kind, perceptive, concerned, unselfish.

SAM (SAMWISE) GAMGEE: Hobbit. Frodo’s gardener and most faithful friend and helper. Protects Frodo.

GANDALF: Good wizard. Centuries old. Respected for his wisdom and heroism. Fond of hobbits; often shows sense of humor and affection. Sometimes impatient. He is the character most responsible for the defeat of Sauron.

GOLLUM: Subhuman. Long ago corrupted by the Ring. Thin, strong, sneaky, spidery creature. Prefers caves and darkness; is alternately flattering and treacherous.

LEGOLAS: Elf. Quick, intelligent. Fierce fighter.

MERRY: Hobbit. Frodo’s friend. Adventurous, trustworthy, and capable of courage and endurance.

PIPPIN: Hobbit. Young, often immature and impatient, but learns true courage and wisdom.

SARUMAN: Evil wizard. Once good, now corrupted by a desire for power. Persuasive, treacherous, powerful.

SAURON: Lord of the Rings. Evil wizard; ruler of Mordor. Defeated in the end.

Lord of the Rings Analysis

1. GOOD vs. EVIL

The major theme of LOTR is the battle between good and evil. Good is seen as positive, creative, and natural; evil is seen as negative and destructive. Some characters are entirely good (Galadriel) or evil (Sauron), but most have a mixture of good/evil and must struggle against their evil side.

Common evil characteristics are possessiveness and a desire to dominate and control others; good traits are endurance, mercy, and kindness. In some characters, evil wins (Gollum, Saruman); others are destroyed by the struggle (Denethor). Good wins out in most.

2. THE RING

Makes its bearer invisible, but makes him or her more visible to Sauron and the ringwraiths; it also makes the bearer see the world as dark and shadowy. The Ring symbolizes evil power; it infects its owners with a sense of possessiveness and suspicion (note Frodo’s anger with Sam for taking the Ring when Frodo is wounded); the Ring makes others crave it for the power it will bring them (Denethor, Boromir, even Sam) and corrupts good intentions (Boromir’s desire for the safety of Gondor turns into a desire for power). 

Sauron’s evil has corrupted the world; after his defeat, the holders of the elven Rings leave Middle-earth, ending the Golden Age of song and myth. Power is what the “One Ring” offers, but the desire for power corrupts good people (Saruman, Denethor).

Only the noblest people can use power well (Gandalf, Aragorn), yet even they feel burdened by it. Frodo is small, unimportant, and ordinary, but by denying his desire for power, he accomplishes a heroic and important deed (i.e., the destruction of the Ring).

3). THE QUEST LOTR: 

Chronicles two separate (though parallel) quests: (1) Frodo’s and the hobbits’ journey from innocence to wisdom; (2) Aragorn’s quest to become king, thereby restoring the rule and dignity of his royal ancestors. The quest is lonely and exhausting for many characters (Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn). 

Some gain new maturity through their struggles (Frodo, Pippin, Éowyn), while others experience a symbolic death or rebirth into a new understanding (Gandalf “dies” in Moria and is “reborn” with new wisdom; Aragorn visits the Land of Dead and returns to become king). 

Although there is no formal religion in Middle-earth, Tolkien (a devout Roman Catholic) makes it clear that Christian values help destroy the Ring: endurance, self-sacrifice, the refusal of worldly power (Gandalf, Faramir, and Galadriel reject the power of Ring), and mercy (Aragorn, Sam, and Frodo spare Gollum).

4. FATE vs. FREE WILL 

Some wise characters (Gandalf, Elrond) think certain events were meant to happen (e.g., Frodo was “chosen” to have the Ring). This idea may reflect an impersonal fate, but also shows the idea of a controlling force directing events. 

Free will (choices made without divine intervention) is important, too: Frodo must still choose to carry the Ring himself. Tolkien shows that individual actions and characters have a great impact on the world and that each person must make choices that guide the course of his or her life.

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Lord of the Rings Review

Some critics call the novel an allegory (symbolic tale where concrete figures represent abstract ideas such as Truth, Greed, etc.); others disagree and call it a myth, epic, or romance. 

Character names express personality traits: easy-flowing names for elves (Galadriel), playful and amusing names for hobbits (Bilbo, Merry), harsh, ugly names for orcs (Shagrat, Snaga).

Though the tone varies from comedy and lightheartedness to tragedy and sadness, the most common criticism of LOTR is that it is often stilted, aloof, and fails to appeal to human emotions, despite its tremendous technical achievement.

About The Author

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973) was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He was raised in a poor Roman Catholic family in Birmingham, England.

Tolkien fought in World War I (1916) and later became a professor of English at Oxford. When his children were young, he told them tales of an imaginary world called Middle-earth which his Oxford colleagues urged him to write down. The result was the hugely successful Middle-earth series of novels. Tolkien also wrote scholarly criticism.

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