To be honest I pondered this post. Is LOTR one book or three (or possibly 6 since each volume is divided into 2 books)?
So what are the highlights of the first volume?
One is the idea of fate/doom/destiny. Gandalf says the Bilbo was meant to find the ring. When Frodo offers to take the ring to Mount Doom Elrond it is suggested that this is how it was meant to be. When the company opts to go through Moria Aragorn foretells the fall of Gandalf. What is Tolkien saying about fate? What is he saying about foretelling?
Another is the idea of the epic. Not only the epic being told now but how that epic ties in with what has gone before. This story may stand alone, but the characters in it are clearly linking to the epics that have gone before. This is a wonderful sense and understanding of how we relate with history.
AS I mentioned previously, I first started reading LOTR when I was in Grade 4. Over the next decade I read it almost once a year. What fascinates me is that I was always finding new things, making new connections in each of those readings. Which of course is part of why I can continue to read it. Earlier today I saw a CS Lewis quote on Twitter:
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Lord of the Rings certainly meets that description. (As does Lewis' Narnia series for that matter)
And as it happens, I have used LOTR for two papers. One was my final/major paper for English 30 in Grade 12, where I explored some of the thematic elements in the novel (I know I gave particular emphasis on the ideas of light and dark). The other was in my first year of seminary, where I wrote a paper on Christology as found in the book.
And now I should relly finish one of the non-Tolkien books I have going.....