One does not simply "finish" Lord of the Rings.
I'm going to say this and for some, perhaps many here, they will understand what I am saying. Practically every word Tolkien used had purpose. The depth of that purpose has been and continues to be studied at the highest academic levels. Unbeknownst to most, there are academic websites dedicated to the dissection of his works which have produced an incredibly large body of research.
Enjoy the books. However, understand that should you so choose, there is a rabbit hole you can enter that could lead to a lifetime of study on the subject matter.
Warning: this is gonna be a long one. But this topic is really fascinating to me.
If you're used to modern fiction, LOTR definitely requires a different kind of mental engagement. It's like if all you ever listen to is pop music, and then someone asks you to sit and listen to a classical symphony. Are you going to enjoy it as much as someone who mostly listens to classical music? Not at first. No chance. But the more symphonies you listen to, the more you start to understand and appreciate them as art, and they will become incredibly meaningful and enjoyable to you.
There's actually an important distinction between entertainment and art, and it's one modern society has really failed on. We love entertainment, and if it happens to be art, so much the better. We, as a group, don't really get art that isn't intended to be entertainment, but instead is intended to be intellectual and emotional stimulus. We don't see the value in that the way past societies did. If we aren't having fun, most of the time we aren't interested. Art takes knowledge and experience in order to fully appreciate it- it absolutely takes work. It's supposed to. The benefit to all this work is, at the end, you should have a fuller connection to and more fulfilling experience with the art in question. For a symphony, part of the knowledge you need in order to appreciate it is an understanding of typical harmonic progressions, so that you can understand what the composer of the symphony you're listening to has done to deviate from the norm. You don't necessarily need to read a book about this and have concrete knowledge of it (although it helps): you can gain this understanding just by listening to a bunch of symphonies, and your subconscious will eventually pick up on a lot. In the case of Tolkien, you have to be able to pick out the prevalence of symbolism in his writing and also have a bit of knowledge about the cultures and folk heritage from which he drew inspiration for his work, if you are going to fully appreciate LOTR. Without those elements, LOTR becomes a confusing slog of, "Why isn't this more entertaining and page-turning?"
Obviously I'm a person who highly values art for reasons that have almost nothing to do with entertainment. Does that mean I don't enjoy modern, less "artistic" books? Hell no. In fact, I read more books like that than I read books like Tolkien's. I don't consider wonderful modern authors like Butcher or Sanderson to be "artists" in the way I've been discussing, but they are freaking fantastic and engaging storytellers, first rate entertainers, and clearly masters of their craft. Their work certainly has value, and I wouldn't want to live in a world without it.
This is a difficult thing to talk about because we lack the vocabulary to discuss it in a good way. The word "art" is a terrible word because it has come to mean a million different things. We use the word "artist" to describe Pablo Picasso, Mozart, Kanye West, David Lynch, and Flavor Flav. Clearly these people do not all do the same thing. A lot of the terms are loaded with connotation that depicts art for entertainment as lesser than art for intellectual stimulation: "low brow" vs "high brow." I've tried my best not to talk in those terms: these things are all different, and they all come with positives and negatives. There is a place for all of them, and I don't think one has more intrinsic value than another. However, I do think it's incredibly sad we live at a time when most people refuse to invest in art and instead only consume media that allows them to turn their brains off and simply be entertained. It's something we all need to work on- myself included. It's like all we eat are cheeseburgers. They're delicious, and just writing the word "cheeseburger" makes me salivate, but if I never have days where I eat quinoa and salad, my body is going to get less and less fit, and my ability to appreciate life, and even cheeseburgers, will be diminished.
I think if people referred to the maps more often and really followed along with the companies travels, more people would be able to finish the books. Tolkien didn't include the maps for flavor, he actually used them in writing so that the timelines would make sense--looking at you recent season of GoT!
I always find it enjoyable to see them emerge from the other side of carhadras after Moria, or to see Gandalf racing against time on shadowfax. What's more it adds so much to scenes because you can look at the maps and fill out Tolkiens descriptions of areas--highlighting again how accurate they are. For many scenes Tolkien drew the map or sketched a drawing (tower of orthanc) and then literally wrote his chapter referring to these pictures.
Good for you!
It's not a personal failing, the books just use very non-user-friendly language and take a while to really get going, and the fact that you're making the effort is pretty cool! :) I hope you do get the satisfaction of finishing them for yourself :)
I slogged through LotR as a kid, for the bragging rights (haha). What I didn't tell anyone was that I didn't get a lot of it, or enjoy it much. But I read it a few years ago and realized it is not really a book for kids. Not much of a revelation, I admit. Obviously some kids have read and enjoyed it, but I bet quite a few didn't really.
I have read the Hobbit and the first book 3 times but every time I try to get further another series I've already read all of publishes another book and I feel obliged to read it instead
Out of curiosity, do you enjoy them? I read them every few years and love reading them, but if you've had such difficulty getting through them perhaps they simply aren't for you? Rather than seeing stopping as a personal failure, I would try to a more liberating mindset, that rather than waste your time slogging through a book you aren't enjoying , needing to finish and taking time you could devote to other activities or other books. Having said that you're far enough that even so you can make it to the end, and will feel accomplished.
I tried four times when I was a kid, but I never got to the 3rd book. I'll try again some day, but that is not this day.
I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Cliff's Notes for Lord of the Rings and read it at the same time. I think it really adds to the experience and helps you get more out of the book.
Top tip for anyone who's struggling to get through LotR - listen to the film soundtrack. I love the Silmarillion and the Hobbit (They are my two favourite books) but LotR was just tough to get into. I started listening to the soundtrack and it helped me slip right into the world.
I'm probably in the minority having read the series on the first go, but I can sympathize with the struggle. You really don't need pages worth of tangents to the description of the sky as part of the main story, but reading all of it really does add a wonderful feel to the story.
Now see the true victory here is that you will finally be able to weigh in on your official feeling re: The Scouring of the Shire - truly one of the most important talking points for any LOTR book reader.
I'm working on these too (a very deliberate choice of verb). I've just finished the Mount Doom chapter in the third book. They are amazing, I can't deny that, but I find them hard work, and I've also felt like it's a personal failure not being able to get into them. Six chapters to go, and I can finally say that I've finished them.
Anyone who can't get through them should try the unabridged audiobooks.
From the start of Fellowship to Elrond's council is a graveyard of bookmarks. If you can break through that slog you generally finish the series.