I know I am not the first to say so--and of course, I will not be the last--but I think that Tolkien was a genius, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS a masterpiece, a work not bound merely to the Fantasy genre, but one that crosses over into the ranks of great literature--a story so rich and complete in its history, that explores such grand and timeless themes as honor and loyalty and bravery, that THE LORD OF THE RINGS will not be forgotten, I think, for some time.
Reading the trilogy for the third time (and for the first time since all three movies have been released), I was struck by what a wonderful job the movies did of capturing the scenery and characters, and translating them into film--I was also struck by how many aspects there are to LOTR that could not be carried over to film without being cheapened, or robbed of certain intricacies, so I am grateful to the filmmakers for leaving these things intact, and out of the movies completely. As much as I complained that Tom Bombadil was cut, I find now that I'm glad to have him still whole in my imagination, with all his oddities and ambiguity. He is a three-hour film unto himself.
Another thing I noticed, in re-reading the books, was that I was able to concentrate more on the history of Middle Earth, to read the songs and stories and folklore more closely, because I am now so familiar with the story that I was not as bogged down in the description and scenery (of which there is plenty) as I read.
Part of what makes these books so great is the feeling that this immense trilogy, full of end-times forboding and huge, fate-of-the-world actions, is but part of a much longer, more complicated history--I've not read The Silmarillion, but I hear that it is a "brief" history of Middle Earth, complete with the back-stories of characters barely touched on in LOTR [note: I have now read The Silmarillion. My review is linked below], and it is definately on my list of books to read. (I also need to re-read The Hobbit, so you may have a few more Tolkien reviews coming your way.)
Tolkien's trilogy is incredibly textured, rich with various cultures and languages and history, but through it all runs a sorrow, the sadness of an era ending, as the Elves leave for the Havens and all the free people are threatened by a Second Darkness--and Tolkien upholds this sense of decay, but he also sustains a sense of hope, through all three books so that they are consistent and do not lag or lose steam, ever. Although there is a lot of walking through various landscapes.
It is my opinion that The Return of the King (Book 3) is one of the best books ever written, and so I would recommend that, if at all possible, you find a few uninterrupted days in which to read it--the first time I read it, I was recovering from surgery, which was perfect, but this time, I stole a few pages between buses and on my lunch breaks, which was not good at all. If you cannot manage enough time for the whole book, then at least set aside an evening for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, because that is, I think, the best part of the whole trilogy--though my love for Eowyn and Theoden makes me a bit biased, I suppose.
If you've put off reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS because it looks too big or daunting, well, stop that right now and go read it.
Best book ever. I will say no more.