Classic Book of the Month

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

It’s time now for our Classic Book of the Month feature with Emily Whitten. Emily joins us from her home in Nashville to talk about our book selection for June. Good morning!


I believe we’re talking beach reads today. Is that right?

WHITTEN: Yes. To me, a great beach read is just any tale that really sweeps you away. And our book today does that as well or better than any work of fiction I know. See if you recognize today’s author as he reads from our book’s opening chapter:

TOLKIEN: Three rings for the elven kings in the sky, seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone, nine for mortal men doomed to die, one for the dark lord on his dark throne in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

And of course, that’s J.R.R. Tolkien, reading from The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

WHITTEN: Yep, that’s the one. I know a lot of us are familiar with the basic plot, but here’s the summary: a hobbit named Frodo inherits an evil ring, and he teams up with eight companions to destroy it. And they can’t just melt the ring down in Frodo’s fire pit out back…he has to take it to the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor, where the enemy lives.

Ah, yes, “the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”

WHITTEN: That’s the one. And Mary, I don’t know if you heard already, but last year, purchased the rights to make a new TV series based on this story. I actually read in The Atlantic that it may cost more than half a billion dollars—that’s billion with a B—before the first minute of the show airs. That’s a mind-blowing figure to me, but it definitely shows how much people love this story.

Wow. Half a billion dollars. I am guessing Tolkien would be amazed to see his story still having such an impact. Wasn’t it first published in the 1950s?

WHITTEN: Yeah…and it’s amazing to think it was almost never published. Wheaton College President Philip Ryken points this out in his new book, “Messiah Comes to Middle Earth.” Let me just read you a short passage,which I’ve slightly edited for time:

RYKEN: Tolkien acknowledges… in one of his letters… ‘But for the encouragement of C.S. [Lewis] I do not think that I should have ever completed or offered for publication “The Lord of the Rings.”’ George Sayer also appears to have had an important role in bringing “The Lord of the Rings” to life. On a 1952 visit to Sayer’s house in Malvern, Tolkien reluctantly agreed to read some of his poems and stories into a tape recorder. At the time, he had all but given up hope of publication… hearing his work out loud encouraged Tolkien enough to send his manuscript to a former pupil… and the rest is history.”

That’s surprising. I would think with his background as an Oxford don—he might have been more sure of his storytelling ability.

WHITTEN: That’s a good point. It just shows how critical Christian fellowship can be. Tolkien needed the help of fellow believers to “complete his life’s work” as Ryken puts it. For that reason, it’s so fitting that the first book in this trilogy is entitled “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The theme of fellowship is right in your face from the beginning. Here’s a short clip from the movie—where the wizard Gandalf catches Frodo’s friend, Samwise Gamgee, overhearing something he shouldn’t have:

AUDIO: Confound it all, Samwise Gamgee. Have you been eavesdropping? I haven’t been dropping no eaves, honest. I was just cutting the grass under the window there, if you follow. A little late for trimming the verge, don’t you think? I heard raised voices. What did you hear? Speak! Nothing important. That is, I heard a good deal about a ring and a dark lord and something about the end of the world. But please, Mr Gandalf, sir, don’t hurt me. Don’t turn me into anything unnatural. No, perhaps not.  I’ve thought of a better use for you. Come along Sam, keep up!

So that’s really the moment when the fellowship of this story begins. When Sam is bound to Frodo, to help him bear the ring and they set off on their journey. But of course, that’s only the beginning of a much larger fellowship that eventually surrounds Frodo.  A few chapters later, at the Council of Elrond—kind of like a war council—dwarves, men, elves- and of course hobbits -they meet up and decide to accompany Frodo.

Yes, quite the fellowship. I think that’s what makes this feel like such an epic quest—it involves so many characters!

WHITTEN: Exactly! The whole trilogy tracks whether this fellowship, this ring of friends, can withstand every evil thrown at them. There are plenty of horrible external foes, but the most interesting threats are internal. For instance, each one of the fellowship must give up his own desire to use the ring—to claim for himself the power and glory the ring offers. Without that continual death to self, the fellowship will fail. Listen to Philip Ryken tease out some of this.

RYKEN: As faithful friends, Frodo, Sam and the other hobbits are models of Christian virtue and exemplars of the priesthood of all believers. They nobly bear one another’s burdens even unto death and accomplish more for the kingdom together than they ever could alone. We too have a priestly calling to the world… And thus The Lord of the Rings has what Tolkien called ‘applicability’ for everyone. What burden has God called you to carry? Who needs your faithful presence as they walk down a difficult road?

Those are good questions. Thanks for the recommendation today, Emily.

WHITTEN: You’re very welcome, Mary.

Today’s Classic Book of the Month selection is The Fellowship of the Ring, part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by British author J.R.R. Tolkien. She also mentioned Philip Ryken’s new book, Messiah Comes to Middle Earth.

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One comment on “Classic Book of the Month

  1. Kurt Calloway says:

    Excellent pick for book of the month! Funny, I was planning to “read” it via audiobook this summer, too.

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