The long-expected re-read is done! I am not honestly sure if that was my third full time through, or fourth, or what. But it definitely had been over ten years since the last one, so a lot of the details were practically new to me again, and it was a delight to rediscover them.
I feel like I can't give it less than 5 stars, given the huge importance this trilogy had for a section of my life. But this time through, in honesty I'd go for 4 or 4.5 stars. My attention flagged on occasion. I kept wishing Tolkien would give even half as much attention to characters' feelings, and romance in particular, as he does to descriptions of roads and landscapes. (Wow, does he like describing roads. They go ever on and on, apparently.) I couldn't face all the appendices or even all the long songs; those sometimes got skimmed. I was sometimes uncomfortable at Sam's slavish if not-totally-requited devotion to Frodo, which we can either view (happily) as a subtextual gay love story, or (unhappily) as the way servants "ought" to behave to their masters. I wished that from an author talented and smart enough to give us Éowyn and Galadriel, we could have had MORE female characters doing more things. While I approved of Tolkien's love of peace and gardens, and appreciated that he showed the nasty side of war, I didn't fully believe he was utterly un-enamored of war, since those descriptions of sunlight flashing off shiny armor and swords, and horses and riders charging to glory, and axes triumphantly hewing Orc-necks, are all rather orgasmically written. In comparison, moments of tenderness between characters are understated and matter-of-fact--which is fine, but really, "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend," as Faramir says? I didn't entirely believe that in Tolkien himself, given how the battle-glory was written.
Still: the mythology, the magic, the world-building! I honestly felt Tolkien knew every inch of Middle-earth, whether it was touched upon in the story or not, and every character's lineage going back several generations, even the minor characters'. (The appendices bear me out on that point.) His astoundingly detailed creation, and his unabashed treatment of it as if it were perfectly real, makes it FEEL perfectly real, even when we're subjected to stilted old-fashioned dialogue. (Maybe more so because of said dialogue?) The Fellowship's meander through Middle-earth not only encounters a hundred beautiful and terrible wonders, but overturns a thousand little stones, under each of which is an age-old story. It's easy to see how countless readers, including myself, have fallen into this rabbit-hole of a world and wanted to dwell there forever.