Bored of the Rings

I’m going to annoy a lot of people by saying this, but I can’t see why Lord of the Rings is held in such high esteem. I bought the book for the rainy season and took comfort from fact that no gorillas had to endure life in Middle Earth. The whole place seemed to be full of intensely solemn characters, living in the shadow of unspecified doom, and speaking in the portentous tones of one of those old biblical films by Cecil B DeMille. I should imagine that Professor Tolkien was fulfilling an ambition to write a tale of mythic grandeur, like the Illiad or the Odyssey. What he forgot is that those fables are so old that no one can be certain they didn’t actually happen. You can’t just pluck a legend out of thin air – it has to do the rounds in countless campfires before someone puts it on the page.

The moment of high farce occurs when the surly dwarf falls in love with the elf queen and starts boasting about her beauty to some other nitwit. Bow-legged ass! If you’re going to compliment a lady, either say it to her face or send her a love note. Praising females is a waste of breath if they never get to hear it. Mind you, it doesn’t always produce results if they are within earshot. If you’re ever in a position to chat up a lady gorilla, telling her what beautiful eyes she has won’t get you to first base. Commenting on the firmness of her rump is the sort of remark that might earn you a nibble on the neck. “You’ve got the kind of butt cheeks I could crack nuts between” is one that normally goes down well.

It is wrong to judge an author by one book, so I had a look at The Hobbit and was far more impressed – an altogether snappier tale, I feel. What holds the narrative together is the ever-present danger of someone getting eaten. Will the trolls eat the dwarves? Will Gollum eat Bilbo? Will Gandalf eat his wand? This is very true to life. As any wild animal knows, there’s nothing like the fear of a ravenous predator to sharpen your wits and perfect your comic timing. You choose your next wisecrack carefully when it might be your last.

Inspired by this work, I moved onto a slender volume called Farmer Giles of Ham – a novella that can be read from start to finish in a single sitting. The secret of this utterly charming story is its fine cast of characters: a shrewd rustic; a stupid giant; a cheeky dog; a dry dragon; a cynical blacksmith; a pompous king. Any Tolkien fan who hasn’t read it is like a wine-buff who’s never tasted champagne.

Why would a writer capable of something as wonderful as Farmer Giles pen a grim and tedious tome like Lord of the Rings? And why do so many people think that yawnsome yarn is one of the greatest stories ever told? It’s all very mysterious to a gorilla. I suspect that humans have some kind of faux nostalgia for a mythical age of chivalry, when valiant warriors defeated the bad guys without fluffing their lines or causing collateral damage. It’s all complete bunk of course. If anything like Middle Earth ever existed, most modern humans would have found the smell of shit unbearable.

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