Book Review: Starling House by Alix Harrow
My Year in Books: The 2023 Edition

Book Review: The Fellowship of The Ring (Reread)

“Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“May be,” said Elrond, “but let him not vow to walk in the dark who has not seen the nightfall.”

Here’s the story of a little Christmas miracle.

On the night of December 23, I finally gathered all of my shit together—just like, yes, literally (but not literally) and finally got my shit together—and started wrapping the Christmas presents. I got the gifts and the wrapping paper and the ribbons and the tape. But before I started, I needed something good to listen to.

Sure, I could listen to Christmas music. But I needed a good book. A good story to keep me company during my wrapping.

So I grabbed my phone to find something that might fit the feeling I had and that was available on Libby.

And juuuuuust before I tapped the icon, I got a notification from Libby that my hold was available.

Which hold?

Two towers
(This is the cover of the print books I own...the QPBC editions. They have the original, drawn-by-Tolkien maps)

Only the Andy-Serkis-narrated version of The Fellowship of The Ring, which I had been waiting for since September 20.

This isn’t, of course, my first time reading Tolkien. (It is actually the first book I wrote about on my blog, back when it felt revolutionary to just, you know. Share my very own opinions about something I read, as if I were a person whose reading opinions mattered.)

But I’ve never actually listened to an audio version.

So I immediately downloaded my checkout, and Frodo, Sam, Gandalf et al kept me company while I wrapped.

In fact, they were with me for the whole end of December. (It’s a very long audiobook.) I loved this partly because I just love these books. But also because Kaleb has also fallen in love with Tolkien (I gave him a lovely copy of the trilogy for Christmas!) so when he overheard the story he’d stop and listen a bit with me if he had time, and we’d talk about where I was in the plot and how that particular point was different from the movie.

Andy Serkis (he is the actor who played Gollum in the movies, btw) does an excellent job with this narration. The variation in his voices is simply amazing.

The story hit me in different ways in audio. The old use of the word “queer” stood out (and triggered a memory of me at about age 8 telling my mom I thought the round house someone down the street had recently built was “queer” which, in my bookish mind, meant “weird,” and her getting furious and tell me that I couldn’t ever use that word again but she wouldn’t explain why) and caused a few giggles when overheard by certain boys in my house. And for awhile I started thinking, wait, is he saying that the Ring Wraiths are actual black people? Is Tolkien racist? (I mean…as a midcentury, upper-class British man, of course, but certainly he wasn’t implying that the evil creatures were Black folks?)

But eventually, in Rivendell, Elrond explains that they don’t have a corporeal shape, but are draped in black cloth.

Plus, listening to the audio highlighted just how many songs and poems there are. (When I read the books I tend to skim those.)

Really, though, the thing that struck my interest the most on this reread is Frodo’s transition. Of course, he’s gone through some stuff already. Became an orphan, lost Bilbo, and lived with the ring. But he did in the landscape of the Shire, which is the gentle, nurturing landscape and community that buffers him. As he spends more time on the road he begins to change. He grows slower and sadder and darker. That transition really started to grow in my perceptions of Frodo. (Applying it to myself as well, of course.) The way that grief changes us in both our bodies and our minds. That long, hard journey.

Maybe because of the extra grief I’ve experienced since the last time I read these books, and the people whose leavings have made my road darker…I don’t know. That just really stood out to me.

I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Two Towers. Perhaps in time for Valentine’s Day?


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