35. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
I read The Hobbit a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. My original plan was to read it, then follow it immediately with The Lord of the Rings, but by the time I had finished, I needed a break from Tolkien's writing. I've seen the movie trilogy several times, but what spurred me to finally read the book was that Billy and I were going to lead a discussion of LOTR with our small group. Some parts of the movie still confused me after multiple viewings, and I thought the book would clear things up for me. It did, but I also realized how different the movies are from the book. A few characters were left out altogether, some minor characters had bigger roles in the movies, and part of the end of the book was omitted. Another big issue the movies don't show is the passage of time throughout the story. Seventeen years passes between the time Frodo receives Bilbo's ring and he begins his quest to destroy it.
The book begins with Bilbo Baggins preparing for his eleventy-first birthday. During his party, he disappears from the sight of all, then shortly leaves the Shire forever. At the grey wizard Gandalf's urging, he leaves behind his precious ring, the One Ring wrought by the evil Sauron thousands of years earlier, the one ring he found when he was lost in the caves with Gollum.
Gandalf is suspicious of the ring, and after many years of studying its history, he realizes how powerful it is. Sauron's evil is growing, and the threat of doom for all of Middle Earth is looming. Sauron knows where the ring is, and he's determined to get it. The only way to defeat Sauron is to destroy the ring. The only way the ring can be destroyed is for it to be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom where it was made. And so begins Frodo's quest.
Three hobbits join him: two relatives, Merriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took; and his gardener, Samwise Gamgee. Along the way they are joined by a ranger known as Strider, who they later find out is Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor. After Frodo is seriously wounded by one of Sauron's Ringwraiths, the group travels to the elvish village of Rivendell, where Frodo's wound is healed and he is reunited with his Uncle Bilbo. Before they continue on their journey, four more join them to form the Fellowship of the Ring: Boromir, a captain of the steward of Gondor; Legolas, an elf and close friend of Aragorn; Gimli, a dwarf; and Gandalf.
The rest of the book chronicles the Fellowship's breaking, Frodo and Sam's continued journey, and the efforts of the remaining Fellowship members to draw Sauron's attention from the whereabouts and final destination of his ring.
I enjoyed reading the book and seeing where/how it differed from the movies, but it also provided a good reinforcement of the story in areas I had been confused. By the time I was about one third of the way through The Return of the King, the final "book", I was ready to be finished. The copy I have is 1008 pages, and I was weary of it. Once the story reached a certain point, it seemed to go on too long, but the very end was interesting. The movie doesn't show what finally happened to Saruman, the once -white wizard, and his minion, Grima Wormtongue. You'll have to read the book to find out. :o)
36. There and Back Again: An Actor's Tale by Sean Astin
I guess I needed to decompress from The Lord of the Rings slowly since this was my next book. :o)
Astin is brutally honest, almost to a fault, in this book about his struggles with acting before, during, and after his role in the amazing Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. At times he seems unnecessarily hard on himself, but he's honest about his flaws and how he feels about them. He's also not what one would expect a grown-up child star to be like. His childhood wasn't glamorous as people would like to imagine. It seems he was brought up in a relatively "normal" home in spite of all the trappings of Hollywood and fame.
He also provides in interesting look into the lives of his fellow LOTR costars as they lived together in New Zealand for so long. They were all each other had and their bonds, some stronger than others, grew to be like that of family. Astin was the only actor to bring his wife and young child along, and while that tended to separate him from his fellow cast mates, it also provided him with support the others didn't have - and it allowed him a unique relationship with Peter Jackon and his family since their children often played together.
In spite of the movies' successes, Astin still struggled with his feelings worth as an actor. He describes his conflicting emotions as he was nominated for awards, then didn't win. He seems to have come to terms with who he was and who he is, and he's working on developing who he wants to be.