I am a long term Tolkien fan. My parents gave me the first volume of Lord of the Rings for Christmas back when I was in grade school. I read and reread the entire trilogy several times. I read it aloud to my children years later. I saw all the Peter Jackson movies.
So when I saw this title down at the Littleton Village Bookstore I bought it. I read it. Somehow, Currey manages to let the words roll out but never gets around to saying anything that I didn't know before I read it. "Shoveling" is what my high school English teachers called this style.
English teachers, and literary critics have never liked Tolkien, despite or perhaps because of, its enormous popularity. Tolkien has little "hidden meaning" of the sort that literary types enjoy searching out. Tolkien doesn't hide any meanings. He lets his love of trees, the countryside, Anglo Saxon myth and legend , courage, Elvish languages, and endurance stand right out in plain English. There isn't all that much that needs teaching in Tolkien. This might account for the disdain for Tolkien shown by teachers and critics.
Tolkien creates a wealth of truly wonderful characters. Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, Theoden, Faramir, Barliman Butterbur, Treebeard, Galadriel, Merry, Eowyn, and Pippin. Tolkien's bad guys are really bad, the baddest ever. Sauron is more evil, more dangerous than any other villain in literature. Saruman and Denethor are not far behind in the practice of villainy. This is in contrast to modern literary style of a single character coping with his psychological hangups. Sauron doesn't have psychological hangups. He knows exactly what he wants and he moves directly toward getting it and crushing his enemies.
Lord of the Rings follows the classic formula for story telling. The protagonist (a unisex word for hero) is faced with a challenge. He rises to his challenge, and makes a first attempt to deal with it, and it doesn't work. At the climax of the story he makes a final do or die attempt to surmount the challenge and either wins or looses. All the rest of the story is anti-climax. In chapter 2, The Shadow of The Past, Gandalf explains to Frodo about the ring and shows him what he must do. From there on thruout the rest of the book, we readers are perfectly clear about the Quest's objective, although we have no idea how Frodo is going to cope with it. At the climax, Frodo fails, he takes the ring for himself, and is saved by Gollum of all people.
One reason for Tolkien's popularity is the Middle Earth setting. It's beautiful, it's comfortable, it has dangers lurking in the darker spots that heroes can overcome with courage and cold steel. It's the sort of place many of us would like to retire to, or perhaps move to tomorrow. It is solid in our imaginations, so solid that Peter Jackson's movie sets looked just right, first time I saw the movie. Tolkien's prose is so vivid that Jackson, Jackson's set builders, and I, an old reader, had the very same image of what the Shire and Bag End should look like.
Since Tolkien, numerous authors have attempted to write fantasy. I've read some of it and it's not Tolkien, in fact most of it is dreadful. Somehow Tolkien did it, and nobody else has been able to. I'm nor sure why, but that's the way it is.