Why You Should Read (and re-read) Lord of the Rings
The other day I finished reading through The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the fifth time. I enjoyed it this time just as much as the first. I wrote this article for those who have never read it, to try and persuade you that you are missing out on something that will be good for your soul. Here are five reasons I think everyone should read and re-read Lord of the Rings.
To Get Happy
I’ve never come across an author who can make their readers happy like J.R.R. Tolkien. It is perhaps his greatest strength as a writer. You will experience it here and there as the story moves along, but you will experience a crescendo, an explosion, of happiness during the final six or so chapters. In a culture where almost all our entertainment is dark, has an edge to it, or is set apart by its violence and sin, the one distinctive characteristic of the LOTR books is that they make you happy, and for all the right reasons. This is not a happiness based on sin or worldly desires, but a clean and pure happiness in the best way possible. It’s not naive or over-simplified. It’s just pure and clean.
To See Beautiful Writing
Some of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read come in LOTR. Here is one example:
And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.
If I could write like that I wouldn’t need to work anymore. And, while I won’t quote it here, if you read the ‘Farewell to Lorien’ chapter, you will experience what I believe is the most beautiful section of literature of all time outside the Bible. It moves me to tears every time I read it.
To See the Best in Humanity
A number of people tell me they just can’t get into books and movies like LOTR because they are just not into fantasy. Perhaps they look at these books the way I look at Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: the Gathering: I’m a nerd, sure, but there’s a line I just won’t cross! But LOTR is not a book for people who love mythology and nerd-fantasy. It’s a book for people who long to see the best in humanity. If you love deep and complex stories of friendship, courage, self-sacrifice, chivalry, integrity, mercy, and honor, this is a story for you. If you want to see Christian virtues played out in a plot that keeps you interested, this is a story for you. When I read LOTR, I think of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
To Stir Your Longing for Heaven
Toward the end, Sam, in his overflowing joy says: “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” This begins my favorite part of the book, which is actually all the chapters after the climax. I have never read a book where the falling action and resolution are so long and simultaneously so enjoyable. The two consecutive chapters titled ‘The Field of Cormallen,’ and ‘The Steward and the King’ make up perhaps the most enjoyable sustained reading I’ve ever experienced. Tolkien ties up all the loose ends and resolves each character’s storyline with such joy that it makes you long for the day when everything sad will indeed come untrue—when we can rest perfectly safe and satisfied because the King finally reigns on his throne and justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
To Experience the Greatest Book Outside the Bible
I read all time time and I am convinced LOTR is the greatest book in the world outside the Bible… and it’s not close. If you’ve never read it you are missing out. If you have seen the movies but never read the book, you are missing out. If you decide to jump in, don’t quit during ‘The Council of Elrond’ chapter. It’s long, and it’s got a lot of nerdy history in it, but the reward for continuing on is great. Indeed, the reward is highest at the end of the third book.