I read this classic epic every couple of years. In that way I emulate Christopher Lee (who plays Saruman in the movies) who has said that he reads it once a year. Also, I got the illustrated editions for my birthday a couple of years ago.
Alan Lee, the illustrator, does a masterful job of capturing key and whimsical moments of Middle Earth adventures. Lee also had a big role in the artwork in the movies.
My favorite character is Sam. Solid, stable Samwise Gamgee. Sam does not change throughout the adventures of LOTR. He is always faithful to Frodo. He does not ever trust Gollum. He calls Aragorn, Strider, even though he becomes the king. He reveres the elves. He never gives up assisting Frodo in the quest. He's so down to earth to the point of being gullible. And he gets the girl in the end! Sam makes me cry at times.
The Lord of the Rings isn't all quests and battles. There's plenty of comedy too. One way to create mirth is to put two different races together and make them work. The good natured competition between Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf is a good example. At the battle of Helm's Deep, these two keep a running of tally of orcs that they slay in battle. Another example is Gimli and Eomer arguing the fairness of Galadriel. Then there's the constant childish banter between Merry and Pippin.
Since the last time I read the series, I'd read some "light reading" in The Silmarillion. So this time around, the story was deeper and more meaningful. Tolkien's Middle Earth is an enormously rich mixture of cultures, landscapes, histories and characters. It is the standard to which all fantasies are compared.
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