As shameful as it is for me to say, I had not, until just recently, ever read The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring (or, for that matter, the other two volumes of The Lord of the Rings). I'm not sure why I never read them. Perhaps it's because I heard from some people that the books were hard to read. Well, I'm finally getting around to reading them, and I must say that I've enjoyed them thoroughly. Here are some thoughts:
Though technically not a part of the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is clearly where it all starts. As such, I read this book first, and I'm glad I did. Reading this story first provides a great deal of context for things learned in Fellowship. I particularly loved the way the book was written: it always seemed to me like an old man was telling me the story as we sat around a camp fire. Often the narrator would go off on a tangent, then later realize that he had gotten onto a tangent, and would finally have to apologize to you, the reader. Very enjoyable. The one thing I didn't like about this story was the abrupt ending. After the climax is a single chapter, wrapping up a number of threads in a short period of time. Such a jarring transition seems detrimental to the whole story on some level. Overall, however, a terrific story.
The Fellowship of the Ring
This is by far one of the best books I've read in a long time. Tolkien's command of the English language is outstanding, as is his inventiveness. Every character feels alive and their interactions are wonderful to experience. My absolute favorite scene is at the parting of the Company with Galadriel and Celeborn from Lothlórien. Galadriel gives each member of the Fellowship a gift, and she asks Gimli, the dwarf, what he would like. At first he says he wants nothing, but she presses him, so he answers that a single hair from her head would be his heart's desire. He then continues to assert that he doesn't want this; he's only saying so because she commanded him to speak. Here is her reply:
The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. "It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues," she said; "yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous."
She then asks Gimli what he would do with such a gift, and he replies that he would simply treasure it, in memory of her words to him at their first meeting. This pleases her, so she gives him not one hair, but three. Gimli takes them and vows to have them set in an imperishable crystal to be an heirloom in his house, and a token of goodwill between the Dwarves and the Elves until the end of time.
Scenes like this one are peppered throughout the text, and are truly wonderful to take part in. I'm greatly looking forward to the next two books, even though I know how the story plays out.