The road to Mount Doom is long, winding, and (a fair amount of the time) pretty boring—it can’t all be outrunning orcs and fending off temptation. Perhaps the Fellowship should’ve packed a bit of light reading to help them pass the time—what else are 10 guys to do while sitting by the fireside every night? Whether we think they need to be entertained, consoled, or just educated, here are the books we think Frodo and company should be reading.
Frodo: The Odyssey
Frodo clearly has a long journey ahead of him, one filled with dangerous creatures, loss of companions, and a relentless longing for home. While away from the Shire, he could draw inspiration from the greatest adventure story in history: Homer’s The Odyssey. Using Odysseus as a model, Frodo could learn how to use his own wits and strength rather than completely relying on Sam to solve every problem. A giant spider traps the only exit to a labyrinth cave? Why not do as Odysseus did with Polyphemus, and poke it in the eye? Plus, being a long and complicated epic, The Odysseymay also help distract Frodo from that weighty thing around his neck. Speaking of which…
The parallels between Gollum’s possessive love for his “precious,” and Humbert Humbert’s pedophiliac worship for Dolores Haze are both striking and unsettling. Both gain and lose control of their desire: Humbert, when the sly Clare Quilty steals (the already kidnapped) Dolores; and Gollum, when Bilbo Baggins takes the ring in The Hobbit. Maybe it would help them both to meet, get to know each other, and talk things out. You know, you lean on my shoulder and I’ll lean on yours—that kind of thing.
Smeagol: Life of Pi
When Smeagol is not busy being his twisted alter ego, he may find pleasure and guidance reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. This 2003 novel ( adapted to film in 2012) chronicles the story of a child trapped on a boat in the Indian Ocean with a 450-pound Bengal Tiger. How does he survive? That would be a good question for Smeagol to ask himself since he must also learn how to live side-by-side with a dangerous, life-consuming force. Not to mention, Smeagol might enjoy that most of the book takes place on a boat—the same kind in which he first appears in The Hobbit—plus all the parts where Pi, ravished with starvation, must catch and eat raw fish to survive.
Nearly every time Gimli speaks in both the books and the movies, he is usually asking for more beer, salted pork, or bad guys to axe. And that is why he would love Beowulf. The 10th-century Old English poem, of which Tolkien was a scholar, is packed with things Gimli would enjoy: mead hall parties, smiting mighty foe in the name of honor, and hoarding treasure to advance personal renown. In particular, Gimli would roar for the final battle between King Beowulf and the Dragon. (Dragons, according to Gandalf, destroyed three magic rings owned by the Dwarves, and are notorious for stealing Dwarven property.) When choosing a translation, Gimli might be interested in Tolkien’s, which was recently announced for publication this May.
Bilbo: Big Fish
With all the pleasantries of life in the Shire, Bilbo might feel guilty about wanting to leave. But, truth be told, some people just grow out of their hometowns. They thirst for adventure more so than comfort, and they know life’s true answers are found closer to danger than safety. That’s why Uncle Baggins would enjoy Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish. Not only would he benefit from knowing he’s not the only one victim of cabin fever, but he would also be happy to learn stories “of mythical proportions,” have the power to live through generations.
Treebeard: The Lorax
If anyone can relate to the story of an ancient, magical forest that gets exploited for industrial growth, it’s Treebeard. The poor, ageless Ent found so many of his beloved tree-friends destroyed by Saurmon’s orc army in The Two Towers. So what does he do? He speaks for the trees! Well, sort of. He invades Isengard, smashes the Uruk-hai army to bits, and floods the environment by dissembling a dam. It’s not quite the same response The Lorax uses in Dr. Seuss’ classic, but the similarities in theme would probably make it a pleasurable read for him nonetheless.
Arwen: The Year of Magical Thinking
Love hurts. But for Arwen, it hurts for a long time. As an elf she is immortal, but at the end of The Return of the King, she marries King Aragorn, a mortal. That means for the rest of… forever, she’s going to be alone. Fortunately, whenever the heart aches, ice cream and a good book can help; for the latter, she should pick up The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion’s memoir, which won the 2005 National Book Award for nonfiction, accounts the year after Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, passed away. Compelling and filled with grief, it may be the only book Arwen can endure at this point in time (which for her, has no relativity anymore).
Eowyn: The Hunger Games
Last time readers saw Eowyn, some pretty heavy stuff was happening: Her father died in the battle for Gondor; she killed the witch king; and the object of her affection, Aragorn, got married to Arwen. To help cope with the torrent of anger, resentment, and jealousy that she must be feeling, we recommend Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Of all Tolkien characters, Eowyn would most enjoy Katniss Everdeen’s kickass, rebellious attitude. She might also find the plight against the Capitol in Catching Fire and Mockingjay to be cathartic, since her political landscape will be led by Aragorn—the one who got away—and his elven wife.
As for us, we’ll just keep reading and rereading our favorite Tolkien classics.