This might be sacrilege but The Lord of the Rings is not the best book in the world. Highly influential, yes. Important, yes. Groundbreaking, sure. But Pratchett was correct when he said that if you still think it is the best book in the world than you haven’t been reading enough.
Yet, despite its flaws, and there are many, people keep returning to the book (or books).
Despite the fact that with the possible exception of Sam, the males seem to be neutered and live a world where women are suitably quiet and seem to be little involved in the producing of children. Everyone, for instance, is a son of some guy. And if the evil is so big why doesn’t Elrond recruit the Eagles?
Yes, I know the answer to most of these questions, that Tolkien was drawing on the tradition of sagas and medieval writers. It explains the at times almost overly formal language and the heroic descriptions. But that doesn’t explain the popularity outside of literary circles.
In part, the popularity is the hobbits – not so much Frodo, but Sam, Merry, and Pippin. The trio succeeds because it that sense of brotherhood. Sam, at least, shows some interest outside of the four brothers, but he appears to be the only one. In part, the popularity is because in some ways Tolkien does break tradition – the character of Eowyn, in particular her comments to Argorn about being left in the hall to be burned when there is no more use for her stand out. There is also Sam’s daughter, and Galadriel, whose roles are minor but important. Despite the few female roles, and those largely traditional, the women also don’t spend time crying on male shoulders. Even when Faramir woos Eowyn, he presents understanding which is somewhat different than comfort – Gandalf is the only other one who presents understanding. So, there is that.
There is also a surprising amount of emotion in the book for such formal language. So, there is not too. And unlike Lewis’ heavy handed Narnia, Middle Earth is more about story than about religion. The lessons and themes are regardless of religion, even if Tom seems totally out place.
Reading the series in one volume, in one digital volume was different. And it wasn’t just the easy links to the material in the appendix. In some ways, the digital version was less kind to the appendix, making it harder to skim or dip in and out of them. Still, it is LOTR, and it is like pulling on a pair of worn and happy slippers, holes and all.