On the Book That No One Likes

The Taming of Sméagol

The average reader's reaction to Book IV (Source)

The average reader’s reaction to Book IV (Source)

Ah, poor Book IV. Of all the six books of The Lord of the Rings (paired into the three volumes with which many are most familiar), Book IV by all accounts is probably the most disdained. Book I possesses the charm and character of discovering hobbits and the Shire with the mystery of the Black Riders and the Ring; Book II has breath-taking travels through Rivendell, Moria, and Lothlorien; Book III packs in the action of Rohan, Helm’s Deep, and the Ents at Isengard; Book V has the epic and iconic struggle of Gondor and the final War of the Ring; and Book VI concludes it all with sadness-tinged joy and heartfelt emotion. On the other hand, Book IV can basically be described with as the following:

Frodo: …
Sam: Oh, cheer up Mr. Frodo!
Gollum: [sneakily] MY PRECIOUSSSSS!!!!!
Frodo: [aside] The ring is taking hold of me…
Sam: Pardon me, did you say something Mr. Frodo?
Frodo: …
Gollum: [with a fish in his mouth] SMEAGOL! SMEAGOL!

A first-time reader of The Lord of the Rings is startled by the dramatic change of pace from war-waging rapidity to slow-wandering molassesity. I suspect that many the returning reader breezes through this section with some skimming in order to return to the gripping struggles of Gandalf and Aragorn.

Yet, “The Journey to Mordor” (for that is Book IV’s subtitle) has much to say to us, the Lenten pilgrims. There is richness even in the dryness: the sparsity of action only highlights the internal struggles of our wanderers, the stark and risky choices they must make, and the relationships that they form. For though the travels of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum can seem monotonous and dull, so too much of our time in the light. Many of our days are as dreary slogs, burdened with our own Ring, dogged by own Gollum, and solely supported by our own lone Sam. We are often lost and do not know the way: we often grow weary and look with frustration at our path ahead. Though seasoned with bold excitement, our own adventure mirrors the Ring-bearer’s more so than any other member of the Fellowship. Even so, as long as we keep inching closer to Mordor, our quest continues.

And so, poor Book IV. A portion of the story so important though its mimicry of our own lives, a journey filled with some of the finest characters and most recognizable moments of the whole Lord of the Rings, so frequently disregarded. Let us give these chapters their due: let us not quickly flip through the pages of Frodo and Sam as we neither should fast forward through the majority of our days. For with examination and reflective pause, we can discover much meaning in the dull and dreary monotony of wandering. And though the pace has slowed and the action quieted, nevertheless the struggle for what’s good and beautiful continues.

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