(One of the joys of the new era is getting to discover writers who have been around a while but flying under the radar. William Meikle is a Scottish native who falls into the esteemed category of "campfire storyteller." Whether you like pulp fiction, horror, science fiction, mystery, dark fantasy or plain old weird fiction, chances are Meikle has written it and written it well. Now he's not so secret, as his B-movie sci-fi novel The Invasion is currently ranked #244 on the Kindle bestseller list and #1 in a couple of categories. I am unabashedly trying to ride his coattails with my own alien-invasion release, Forever Never Ends, a revised edition of my 2003 paperback The Harvest. Welcome, William and his revisiting of favored lore. William is also giving away a free PDF of Crustaceans to the best horror joke posted in the comments. His choice, winner picked in seven days. You''ll want Crustaceans. Billed as "Giant Crabs Take Manhattan." Period.)
Lord of the Rings
By William Meikle
This book changed my life. Before it I was a spotty 14-year-old hooked on my science studies. Then I read LOTR, and, at the same time, discovered women existed and...but that's enough of that. You want to hear about the book.
By now there are few people who haven't at least heard of LOTR, and most of them have an opinion. There are the fans, almost fanatics, and there are the people who have read fifty pages or so, sometimes five or six times, but just can't get it, and don't understand what the fuss is about. I might have been one of them, if it hadn't been for an accident.
I asked my local librarian to recommend a book for me as I had read all the Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov works they had. She pointed me at LOTR, and handed me what she said was book 1 of 3. It was only when I got home I found I had book 2: The Two Towers. I arrived in the story just at the point where the first film ends - The Fellowship is broken and Frodo and Sam are heading for Mordor.
I think that is what made me keep reading -I had started at a point of crisis and I needed to know what happened next. Of course I had a lot of blanks to fill in, but I managed to pick up most of them as I went along , and I caught up with the first book as soon as I'd finished the third. (I bought the big all-in-one paperback, the one with the yellow cover. If you were a student in the seventies, it was obligatory to have one lying about, all battered and torn to show that it had been read several times. You used to see backpackers in their hundreds on the trains going south through Europe, all with this version of LOTR falling apart in their hands.)
As for starting at the beginning, I believe the reason a lot of people give up is that they are expecting heroes, wizards, and high magic. What they get is, in great detail, the rural goings-on of a bunch of small hairy creatures who eat and drink a lot and seem to live in an idealised version of the Home Counties. Anyone who has read "The Hobbit" will know that there is more to the Hobbits than that, but newcomers often feel cheated and give up.
They don't know what they're missing.
The story only picks up AFTER Bilbo's birthday party, and after the passing of his ring of invisibility to Frodo. Gandalf, a wizard, discovers the true nature of the ring. It is a magic item of great power, belonging to Sauron himself, a dark god intent on taking dominion over the world.
Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring must be taken to a place of safety, to Rivendell, where the high-elves hold out against Sauron.
And so the great journey starts, with Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry and Pippin, taking the road to Rivendell. On the way they have many adventures, and the mood begins to darken with the appearance of the dark riders, servants of Sauron intent on finding the ring.
The traveling band is befriended by Strider, a ranger of the north, and he helps them get to Rivendell, but not before Frodo is wounded by the dark riders, and starts to understand the power of the ring.
At Rivendell, many things are revealed; the history of the ring is told, Strider is shown to be Aragon, the rightful heir to the kingdom of Middle-Earth, and a fellowship is forged, of wizards, elves, dwarves, men and hobbits. They form a band of nine who will try to take the ring to Mount Doom, a volcano where the ring was forged, and which is the only place where it can be destroyed.
And so the adventure truly begins. From here on we have battles in deep mountain mines, the loss of one of the Fellowship, encounters with elves in enchanted forests, treachery and betrayal leading to the breaking of the fellowship - and we're still in Book 1!
Books 2 and 3 deal with the fight for middle-Earth, with Aragon and his allies taking the battle to Sauron and his minions and Frodo and Sam trying to reach Mount Doom to destroy the ring. There are huge, stirring, battle scenes, moments of humour (especially when the younger hobbits meet the Ents), spectacular feats of high magic when the White Rider enters the battle scenes, and moments of great friendship and tenderness - I defy anyone to have a dry eye when Sam and Frodo are parted at Shelob's lair.
It all builds up to a terrific climax, and the story comes full circle back at Hobbitton where we see the effect the war has had on the rural life of the Hobbits.
And that is why the beginning is important--you might not see it till right at the end, but it is teaching us a lesson about the value of the simpler things in life--respect them and fight for them... or lose them.
Tolkein's genius lies in melding these simple aspects with world-shattering events, showing how even the "little people" have their part to play in the fight against the darkness.
And he also knows that the best villain is a mysterious one....Sauron hardly appears at all in the books, but his dark presence stretches over everything, and he's always there, his evil eye seeing everything.
I used to have nightmares about that large, red-rimmed eye, but that was before I discovered women, grew my hair, developed a liking for Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin, and started to write fantasy fiction. I've never been the same since... but that's another long story.
William Meikle has published 10 novels and more than 130 stories, appearing in 12 countries and eight different languages. Other e-books include Crustaceans, The Valley, Road Hole Bunker Mystery, Island Life, and more.