It’s been a long time coming, but our Tolkien Virgin, Mark-Edmond, has submitted his final review.  Yes, he finished the books long ago with his many notes and thoughts intact, so it truly didn’t take him 3 years to finish the books.  I can’t say enough to thank him for doing this.  He has written 103 reviews… a review for each chapter in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  That, my friends, is dedication (and no, there was no other incentive for him to do this)… For those of you just coming across our Tolkien Virgin for the first time, I encourage you to start at the beginning, or do what many have done and read the books again, and when you finish each chapter, compare your mental notes with Mark-Edmond’s reviews.

And so, without further delay, here is his final entry!

Book VI
Chapter 9
The Grey Havens
(and Tolkien Virgin concluding thoughts)


But Sam Was No Sorrowful At Heart, And It Seemed To Him That If The Parting Would Be Bitter, More Grievous Still Would Be The Long Road Home Alone...“But Sam was no sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone…”When it’s all said and done, I find myself staring at the last words on the last page in silence, awash in emotion, wondering “how can it end?” But like I mentioned in my last article, I know it doesn’t really end. The story is alive, and I can imagine Middle-rarth going on into the Fourth Age. But, I still feel like I’m losing something since without the words to guide me there comes a point in the future too shrouded in mist that I can no longer see and can only wonder what becomes of Middle-earth. I want to stay in Middle-earth and watch its history continue to unfold. I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters I’ve grown attached to. Sam’s fitting words there at the end strike me as the beginning of something, the details of which are left to speculation–at least for those things not clarified in the Appendixes and Tolkien’s notes and other writings.

Well, I was wondering about Fatty Bolger, and low and behold, I turn the page and there he is–our last conspirator–being released from the Lockholes along with the other prisoners, though I was disappointed that he played no other role. Lobelia, whom I found I no longer despised, was among the prisoners, and I was pleased to see “the feud” ended and Frodo returned to Bag End. That was smooth writing on Tolkien’s part. After all, we couldn’t have Frodo back in the Shire and way over in Crickhollow, but it had to take a life changing event to get Lobelia to give up Bag End–and for nothing.

I was even more pleased, of course, to see the beginning of the healing of the Shire. I don’t know about you, but I (like Frodo) hadn’t forgot about Galadriel’s gift to Sam. Not to toot my own horn, or anything, but I suspected that it would be used in just such a fashion. I did have a hard time believing that there was enough “dust” in that box to do as much good as Tolkien would have us believe (I mean just how big was that box, and just how tiny the grains of dust inside?), but it was a nice touch. Especially the mallorn. On the other hand, though, I will say that with the trees growing back so fast and the harvest being so great, and everything being repaired and improved, there seems little left to remind the Hobbits of the threatening darkness just passed and the danger they faced and the loved ones dead and gone… the Shire is, indeed, going back to sleep, and I’m not convinced that that’s a good thing.

With Pippin and Merry more jovial than ever, and Sam wed to Rosie and living with Frodo in Bag End with his new-born daughter, the only hint of shadow is the one that continues to haunt Frodo. We are reminded in one instance of his loss of the ring, and in another about his evil wound from the attack on Weathertop. He is most definitely changed, lacking joy. And with Bilbo’s 131st birthday come, Frodo and Sam set out once more.

Along the road they meet up with the elves and Bilbo, and it dawned on me as it did on Sam, Frodo’s going with them. Well, I was torn. How sad it is that Frodo can’t enjoy what he sacrificed to save. But, on the other hand, if there can be no rest for his spirit in Middle-earth, then perhaps  he can find what he needs in Valinor. Tolkien’s words here are apt, “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” Fiction or no, that’s something it would be good for us all to remember. On an aside, I thought it odd how in this critical paragraph, Frodo seems to be able to see into the future a ways–is this just informed guessing, or part of how he’s changed? So much for the possibilty of long talks with Tom Bombadil, Frodo’s journey will take him to a place where there are plenty of fascinating persons with whom to keep conversation. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam worked his way back to talk with Tom every now and then.

At the Grey Havens I was delighted to come across Cirdan the Shipwright again. He’s one of those characters that helps keep the entire story tied together from the Silmarillion till the end of the Lord of the Rings for me. I can think back on the thousands of years he’s lived and the things he’s gone through and it just amazes me. (In the Silmarillion, I took more notice of Cirdan than I did of Galadriel or other characters that also appear in the Lord of the Rings.)

The story wouldn’t be complete without Gandalf, of course. With him wearing Narya the Great, Elrond wearing Vinya, and Galadriel wearing Nenya, the Three are together for the last time in Middle-earth, their time now passed. The last-minute arrival of Merry and Pippin is followed swiftly by farewells and the final departure. Will there be a ship for Sam one day, I wonder: “There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.”

When Sam gets home, he’s presented with Elanor. Time to get back to life. And it all ends with that perfect phrase, “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

The Appendices

Now, naturally, I went on to read the Appendices, as well. Appendix A was especially interesting. I was excited to see Cirdan appear, again (what’s the deal with me and Cirdan??). The story of the destruction of Angmar was really cool. I was particularly glad to get more background information about the Witch-king. It expands my appreciation of him as an enemy–more than just the nastiest “Black Rider.” The section about the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs was interesting. And I was stoked that it ends with the bits about Legolas and Gimli: Gimli and some other dwarves inhabited the Glittering Caves and Legolas along with some elves from the Greenwood inhabited Ithilien. I totally love how it ends with the suggestion that maybe Gimli joined Legolas as he finally sailed over Sea. In Appendix B, we learn a few things, as well. Especially noteworthy is the later years of Sam and how he too sailed over Sea, the eventual deaths of Merry and Pippin, and again the suggestion that Legolas went with Gimli to Valanor..

That being said… Those of you who are big fans of the Appendices probably have noticed that I’ve yet to comment on the section about Aragorn and Arwen that everyone seems to think is so special. Well, I hated it. Not all of it. Just the end of it. It trully, and fundamentally ruined my opinion of Aragorn. Every time I read the books after this I’ll never be able to think of Aragorn/Strider like I did, before. And in that respect, reading the Appendives has actually decreased my overall enjoyment of the books in general–knowing that one of the primary characters (one we’re supposed to believe is noble and good) could turn out to be such a butt. Arwen gave up immortality (in a sense) and life with her kind in Valanor and took on the uncertainty of death all for love of Aragorn and how does he thank her? He selfishly chooses to die rather than grow old and feeble. Absolutely horrible. She loved him and wanted him stay with her longer, but he broke her heart and effectively killed her when he chose the easy way to end his life. After everything that he would do something so selfish like that… man, that just really pisses me off. But, hey, I wouldn’t be the Tolkien Virgin, if I couldn’t find something I didn’t like, right?

The Lord of the Rings

So, what did I think of the Lord of the Rings, over all? Awesome. Of all the authors I’ve read, Tolkien brings a sense of reality to Middle-earth that other authors can’t match. There is a depth to Tolkien’s writing that makes LotR literature and the rest (or nearly so) pulp-Fantasy. I know I’m repeating myself, but Middle-earth is astoundingly real. Also, something I’ve found in other fantasy stories, that is thankfully lacking in Lord of the Rings, is an overwhelming emphasis on magic. Magic in Middle-earth is far more subtle (if it can even be compared to the magic in other Fantasy stories), and in that way far more refreshing and, ultimately, rewarding.

Now, don’t get me wrong I love “lesser” authors and the occasional easy read, too. Moreover, I haven’t become a Tolkien fantatic. I almost never re-read books, and although there is a nobility, a greatness to LotR that others lack, I don’t find myself compelled to re-read it over and over. I hate to disapoint those folks who have followed me along all this time in hopes that I would love LotR as much they do, but I read it, I thought it was incredible, but I didn’t love every minute of it. And I’m defintely not so affected that all other Fantasy books are no longer worth reading.

Certainly no reading of LotR would be complete without at least one re-read, but you have to understand that by going through the books (starting with the Silmarillion) as slowly and as carefully as I did, in order to be able to write something thoughtful about each chapter (well, hey, at least I tried) now that I’ve finally reached the end, I find I have no desire to proceed with the obligatory re-read any time soon. Having read a lot of the comments on my reviews I was tempted to lie at this point so as not to disappoint the die-hard Virgin followers, but alas! I was unable. Don’t fret though, there is still a part of me looking forward to eventually reading through it again. It’ll be fun to go back through it along with my old Tolkien Virgin reviews and see what kinds of stupid stuff I wrote!

What about the movies?

With the movies coming out, I feel compelled to say something on the subject: How? That’s my question. How can any movie ever do justice to the Lord of the Rings? They’re bound to screw things up, cut things out, alter the story in major ways to fit the movie format, and I’m extremely doubtful that the final product could be in any way satisfying to anyone who has truly appreciated Tolkien’s work. Then there’s the casting selections–I’m sorry but Sean Astin is NOT Sam! Elijah Wood is DEFINITELY NOT Frodo. That skinny gaunt faced guy is nothing like the Strider/Aragorn I found in the pages of the books. And how could anyone mistake Kate Blanchett (albeit easy-on-the-eyes as she is) for Galadriel? Of course, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the movies anyway. Maybe, if I can divorce my experience of reading the Lord of the Rings from the movies (yeah, right!), maybe then I can enjoy the movies on their own, as being merely inspired by the books. Hmmm…

Thoughts on the Tolkien Virgin Project

I started this project with one purpose in mind. Read the Silmarillion first and then see how it affected my reading of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The idea was to simply jot down some notes when I came across something interesting and post them along the way paying particularly close attention to those things first mentioned in the Silmarillion that I came across in the later (chronologically) books. Oops. I made the mistake of writing more about the first few chapters in the Silmarillion than I had intended and Ted and Jonathan (the creators of Tolkien Online and a couple of my closest friends) quickly conveyed to me their desire for me to continue writing reviews about each chapter. Along the way, my articles became simple summary/opinion reviews of each chapter, and believe me, it wasn’t easy. Some folks will quickly point out that it was an extremely unnatural way of reading LotR and that my reviews and experience in general were skewed by the fact that I tried desperately to come up with something to write about each chapter when I frequently wanted to just keep reading (many articles are more summary than they are opinion-oriented).

The question nobody really cares about: So, how DID your reading of the Silmarillion before the other books affect the rest of your Middle-earth experience? Hmmm. There were a lot of people who thought reading the Silmarillion first would somehow ruin or detract from my Lord of the Rings experience. Certainly I experienced LotR differently than anyone who started with the Hobbit or Fellowship (that was the whole point). And although it is valid to assert that the books were initially intended to be read without prior knowledge of the Silmarillion, I think that reading the Silmarillion did NOT negatively affect my reading of the Hobbit or LotR. There was such a backlash against my reading the “Of the Third Age” section at the end of the Silmarillion (since it would have spoiled all of the major points in the rest of the books) that I didn’t read that section. So, by reading the Silmarillion first in the way that I did, I got all the history without the spoilers.

Did understanding the reference to Orome or my knowledge of Telperion, the Eldest of Trees, or other such references destroy some of the magic and wonder that other virgin readers experience? Yes, but in a good way. Sometimes not knowing what this or that reference means can be delightful in that it tickles your imagination with possibilities or even just a general unknown. But in this situation, I think knowing the meaning behind the occasional reference to something that was in the Silmarillion enhanced my Lord of the Rings experience. The truth, in this case, is so much more enriching than a tickled imagination. Where some people pause and think, “huh… I wonder what that could possibly mean,” I thought, “Wow! That’s awesome!” I will admit that ultimately there were very few direct references to the Silmarillion that I noticed. For example, if Ted hadn’t accidentally mentioned it to me, I wouldn’t have understood the significance of Faramir’s passing reference to Gandalf as Oromir in Towers. I will also admit, as is obvious from reading my reviews of the Silmarillion, that by the time I’d finished the Silmarillion, I was really pissed off. After all, it’s a well-written collection of horrible tragedies piled one on top of the other. But, I still think that anyone who reads the Silmarillion first will have a more enriching Lord of the Rings experience, by knowing the unthinkable list of tragedies that have led up to this more satisfying (for me, at least) victory and sense of hope for the future (I’ll always remember Galadriel’s cryptic comment to Treabeard in Many Partings). Clearly the dry style and depressing events in the Silmarillion are a good way to scare away virgin readers, but I would recommend reading the Silmarillion first to anyone I thought could handle it–after telling them not to expect bowls of cherries and cream.

And finally, I would like to express my thanks to anyone who has joined me on my virgin journey through Middle-earth. I know my comments have upset more than a few of you, but to all of you who have stuck with me to the end: thank you, thank you, thank you. Most especially to all those folks who have posted positive and encouraging messages for me in the comments section beneath the articles and on the messageboard: you have my heartfelt appreciation.

Keep thinking!

Sore dewa, itsumademo ogenki de. Sayonara.

Mark-Edmond Howell
the former Tolkien Virgin
Kanazawa, Japan