On re-reading The Lord of the Rings after 20-odd years

I don’t often re-read books, and I don’t have a personal attachment to J. R. R. Tolkien as I do to the works of William Gibson or H. P. Lovecraft. Yet, at the age of 32, in 2015-2016, I re-read The Lord of the Rings (1954).

This article was first written in early 2016, before I added any other book reviews to this site. It used to be a lot longer. It was updated in 2021, moving almost all of my unresearched impressions into what passes for a review on this site, and leaving only the following autobiographical note:

I first read Tolkien’s epic in Swedish around the age of 11, circa 1994. It was the longest and most mature work I had attempted at the time. Though I cannot recall how I’d heard of him, I remember being proud specifically of reading Tolkien, showing off the library book in my hand to inquisitive adults. I liked it very much and went on to The Silmarillion (1950s/1977), The Hobbit (1937), The Book of Lost Tales: Part One (1983) and, after seeing Peter Jackson’s films, The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two (1984).

I don’t think I actually remembered much of LotR when I saw the films. On re-reading the book, I found that in memory I had misplaced Beorn from The Hobbit into LoTR, and put a flaming sword in Gandalf’s hand at the breaking of the gates to Minis Tirith.

As a child, I think what I liked best about Tolkien was the integrity of what he called the “secondary world” in his writings, though this breaks down a bit in the posthumous publications. As an adult, my two favourite parts of LoTR are the chapters on Lórien, where everybody just feels OK about the natural rhythm, and the rich apocalypticism of Pippin’s chapters at the start of book V. The latter endured better in my memory than the former, I am ashamed to say.