IF YOU HAVE ONLY SEEN the movie version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you are missing out on an extraordinary literary work.
Granted, it takes a while to get into — a criticism also (and often) leveled against authors Steven King, Herman Melville and other exposition-happy types. But you’ll be surprised by the richness of the prose, the wealth of Middle-Earth’s detail, and the extensive background material. It truly reads like an historical travelogue filled with interesting sights and people. (And you’ll also encounter some significant differences from the movies, chief among which being that Aragorn is not a wimp.)
As you may know, our story begins with a birthday party for one of the Shire’s most notable characters. Let’s check in on him, shall we?
When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had no become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure. And if that was not enough for fame, there was also his prolonged vigour to marvel at. Time wore on, but it seemed to have little effect on Mr. Baggins. At ninety he was much the same as at fifty. At ninety-nine they began to call him well-preserved, but unchanged would have been nearer the mark. There were some that shook their heads and thought this was too much of a good thing; it seemed unfair that anyone should possess (apparently) perpetual youth as well as (reputedly) inexhaustible wealth.
‘It will have to be paid for,’ they said. ‘It isn’t natural, and trouble will come of it!’