Now, in my late 20's I have read it probably more than I have read any other books and I am still in awe of how magically fabulous it is. This of course means that reviewing it has proved to be almost impossible because no matter what I write I can't possibly do Tolkien's masterpiece justice.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Lord of the Rings is one of the best examples of fantasy fiction that there is. In it, Tolkien has created a perfectly formed alternate history that is as enthralling as it is real. Everything about it; the characters, the setting, the history, the creatures and the language are inescapably real. The details that Tolkien includes in every element of this breathtaking book are mindblowing and Tolkien's skill as a writer renders the story and setting so perfectly that you might as well be in Middle Earth while you are reading it.
Sometimes I feel as though I have lived Frodo's journey over and over again. I can only imagine how he must have felt when Gandalf revealed the truth to him about the true nature of the ring that Bilbo bought back from his travels. In fact, it is this scene that is one of my favourites of the entire book (along with the flight to ford for those of you who are familiar with the book):
"… All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. And already Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. The enemy still lacks the one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring".I get shivers up my spine when I read this even now. It perfectly conveys a sense of ominous foreboding that is present throughout the entire book.
I think that what Tolkien did so effectively in order to create such a realistic fantasy world, is to blend elements of fantasy and reality to the point where they are almost indistinguishable. We know that Hobbits like songs and food, are courageous and courteous and enjoy those simple things in life. Dwarves on the other hand are more concerned with material wealth than anything else. Elves are mysterious and philosophical creatures.
We also know that Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves aren't real, but it is their incredibly human qualities that make this easy to see past and to bring them alive in our minds.
A lot of complaints about The Lord of the Rings centres on its pace, or lack thereof. I agree that the pace changes significantly throughout the book. There are incredibly tense parts of the book (the flight to the ford) and then there are longer more drawn out parts of the book (for example, when Frodo and Sam are on their final journey across the Morgul Plains to Orodruin to destroy the Ring).
This has never been a problem for me. The book has an epic length because it is an epic tale. Also, the variation in pace seems to accurately reflect what is occurring in the book at that time. The flight to ford goes at a cracking pace because it is perhaps the most dangerous moment in their entire journey. Frodo is about to be captured with the ring and has one chance to get across the river to save it, himself and the rest of Middle Earth. When they are crossing the Morgul Plains, however, they are all alone, tired, dehydrated and at the very end of their journey. These moments for them would have seemed long and drawn out and so the book is long and drawn out in these parts.
I only wish that I could do The Lord of the Rings more justice than what I have done here. Although I don't recommend it to people very often (because whether you enjoy this book is largely going to be a matter of personal taste I think), it is easily one of my favourites of all time.
I can't think of another book that displays such a sense of majesty and admirable human qualities as The Lord of the Rings.