Anyway, and although the year is fairly advanced, I've started rereading the whole book once again, and this time without any particular agenda in mind. It's still an enjoyable experience.
And here's the thing: I've just finished the first book (the first half of Fellowship of the Ring). Now when I used to read it as a teenager, this was always my least favourite section. I hurried through on my way to what I then considered the book's first highlight, the Mines of Moria, and the shivers that sent up my spine. But I've now re-read it with a new appreciation. There's something very clever, novelistically speaking, about the way Tolkien beds-in his larger narrative. I like the slow pulse of the first book, with its day-night alternations of comfortable domiciles (the Shire, Crickhollow, Bree, heading for Rivendell) and dangerous or disorienting wild spaces inbetween. But above all I like the way the characters keep getting lost, and the way in turn this propensity for getting lost glosses one of the novel's central conceits -- invisibility. The hobbits set out with a clear aim in view, and they are neither excessively foolish nor inexperienced ramblers. Yet when they go into the Old Forest, or when they set out across the Barrow Downs, lost is what they get: because (in both cases) they cannot see properly. The trees in the former, and the fog in the latter, makes as it were the rest of the world invisible. It's a nice, photographic-negative of the way the ring can render one individual invisible.
The writing stands-up better than I remember, too. Not all of it, by any means ('"Lawks!" said Merry' ); but some of the descriptive passages about landscape are lovely:
As they journeyed the sun mounted, and grew hot. Each time they climbed a ridge the breeze seemed to have grown less. When they caught a glimpse of the country westward the distant forest seemed to be smoking, as if the fallen rain was steaming up again from leaf and root and mould. A shadow now lay upon the edge of sight, a dark haze above which the upper sky was like a blue cap, hot and heavy. [151-2]