13 March 2013

Review: The Ring Goes South by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 253 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1954)
Acquired February 2011
Read March 2013
The Ring Goes South: Being the Second Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

To my surprise, I didn't like The Ring Goes South as much as the previous volume in the series. While The Ring Sets Out has a pretty firm focus on the Shire and the dangers facing it, The Ring Goes South is a little more disjointed, alternating between excitement and boredom, and a little too overcrowded.

Unfortunately, it leads off with boredom: "The Council of Elrond" ought to be a textbook case of how not to handle exposition. I like the idea of the backstory, but the way it's related meant I had to go back over it multiple times in order to absorb it all, as I kept on skimming through whether I wanted to or not. I did notice that though there are many songs sung in Rivendell, they're all by Bilbo; the elves themselves do not sing much if at all. It's a marked difference to the more mischievous elves of The Hobbit.

Finally, though, the Company gets underway, and things begin to pick up. There are an awful lot of characters in the Company, and inevitable short shrift is given to most of them. Pippin is there just to be mocked by Gandalf (I loved it when Gandalf threatened to bash his head against the Gate of Moria), but even outside of the hobbits, I found it took a long time to get a grip on any one character's personality, beyond the fact that no matter what plan you come up with, Boromir will think it's a bad idea. They do get some moments, though, especially when Gimli visits Lothlórien and takes issue with the elves' prescriptions... but is then saddened when they must leave.

The visit to the Mines of Moria was definitely my favorite part of the novel: Tolkien very vividly communicates Moria's creepiness, and I'm a complete sucker for stories where characters find a fragmented narrative telling of a past disaster. The journey to Lothlórien is a complete shift, and though it has its moments (the stuff with Gimli, the looking in the Mirror of Galadriel, Galadriel's rant), it feels a little disconnected, and repetitive to the already-long stay in Rivendell.

The last chapter, though, is amazing, from Boromir's breakdown to Frodo's use of the ring to see all Middle-earth to Frodo and Sam's amazingly brave decision. The end of the book left me excited to see what would happen next; I just wish it had cohered a little bit more in and of itself, and that there's been more time to spend with any of the nine principal characters.

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