I’ve read The Lord of the Rings now to all three of my kids, one after the other. Or I should say, I’ve started to read the book to them, but with all three, the reading got stalled at the same chapter.
I want to say that I love reading Tolkien’s work out loud. I enjoy giving each character a particular vocal style or accent. I like the way that reading out loud makes me slow down and appreciate the careful, loving craft and thought that went into this story. And I love declaiming Tolkien’s beautifully-crafted, powerful sentences. Many of which can be found in the particular chapter in question, where I get to do many different voices.
Yes, I'm talking about “The Council of Elrond.” A very long chapter that describes a meeting. That’s right, the thing that most people hate more than just about anything at their jobs: meetings. Tolkien has a lot of backstory to get through, and a lot of characters to introduce. And he has to do it in a scene where a bunch of noble, long-winded adults sit around and talk. And talk. And talk.
To Tolkien’s credit I think this chapter is magnificent. The language is eloquent, ringing, rousing. The chapter is structured, too, in such a way as to only reveal a little bit at a time, keeping a reader engaged and wanting to know more, and also building slowly and inexorably to the fundamental problem that this meeting is meant to address: what to do with the ring, and who is going to do it?
If Middle Earth was like our world, before long the central purpose of the meeting would have been diverted into unhelpful channels by those insisting on having their own agenda heard, no matter how unrelated it is to the matter at hand. People would get restless, annoyed, bored. Eventually Elrond would have to call for a subcommittee or focus group to look into the problem of what to do about the ring. Then there would be a motion to continue the discussion on another day and everyone would flee back to their cubicles to scarf down a compensatory donut.
Anyhow, the challenge with reading this book to my kids was always to get them past “The Council of Elrond.” Children have no use for a bunch of adults, especially serious, noble, long-winded adults, sitting around talking about important stuff. My two older kids didn’t make it past this chapter. It reduced them to a state of catatonia. The reading ground to a halt somewhere around Gandalf’s long story of how he escaped from Saruman, and we never continued.
My third and youngest (hmm, just like in the fairy tales?) made it all the way through “The Council of Elrond” with me. I was surprised. I was thrilled. Then he announced he didn’t want to read the book anymore. Disappointed, I didn’t say much. I’d learned to bide my time with this one and not insist on my own agenda. Sure enough, a little later he told me that we could keep reading the book, if I really wanted to. You know, as a favour to me.
So we’ll carry on. And we should be good. Until we get to Treebeard…