Drumroll, please!  After a full year off from the Lord of the Rings, I’ve decided to celebrate by blogging again.

But first, an account of my doings in the meanwhile.  What books were magnetic enough to pull me away from the greatest literary achievement of the 20th century?

Well, Dante’s Inferno, to be sure.  It can be read as an instructive Traveler’s Guide to Mordor, with supplementary material on the Habitat and Behavior of Orcs.

Then there was Jane Austen’s Emma.  A thousand pages from the complete works of Adam Smith.  George Eliot’s Middlemarch.  And lastly, Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose.

In his Postscript to “The Name of the Rose”, Eco makes some remarks about the importance of plot in a narrative:

“Unquestionably, the modern novel has sought to diminish amusement resulting from the plot in order to enhance other kinds of amusement.  As a great admirer of Aristotle’s Poetics, I have always thought that, no matter what, a novel must also—especially—amuse through its plot” (60).

Tolkien himself had made similar remarks in his Essay on Fairy Stories, noting that the rise of both Drama and the Novel had tended to exalt character at the expense of plot.  Continuing his discussion of plot in the Postscript, Eco mentions Tolkien himself.

“I believe there are three ways of narrating the past.  One is romance, and the examples range from the Breton cycle to Tolkien, also including the Gothic novel, which is not a novel but a romance.  The past as scenery, pretext, fairy-tale construction, to allow the imagination to rove freely.  In this sense, a romance does not necessarily have to take place in the past; it must only not take place here and now, and the here and now must not be mentioned, not even as allegory.  Much science fiction is pure romance.  Romance is the story of an elsewhere” (74).

I believe part of my dissatisfaction last year with The Lord of the Rings, and my ability to do the unthinkable—that is, not touch it for a year—stemmed from the fact that I had recently imbibed a great deal of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.  The plays and novels of the latter undoubtedly pack their punch more with the force of character than with sheer plot and scenery.  But in the romance, the situation seems to be reversed.  So in my new attempt at picking up the threads of The Fellowship of the Ring, my perspective glass will be set primarily on plot.  I will try not to view Tolkien’s trilogy as a novel blemished by plot, but as a romance touched up with a bit of character.  For surely, despite some criticism to the contrary, Tolkien’s characters are more than stock characters; and the beings with which he peoples his plot come alive as fully as the confines of the genre allow them to do.