I ordered these books from a publisher in Stuttgart in the spring of 1986, as I was planning on going back to school to get my doctorate. I figured I'd need to pass a foreign language proficiency exam, and I would brush up my German by reading The Lord of the Rings in the target language. Well, I passed my exam (I translated some dull article on Team-Teaching), but I didn't get very far in my reading.
Life was busy, and reading long works in a foreign language is hard. Now and then, whenever I would get bored, or have nothing else to read, I would go back to my German LOTR and read a few more pages. I often read aloud, because pronouncing the German made it easier to understand the syntax. But last winter, when I returned to my reading, I found that in all those years of dinking around at it, I was barely halfway through Book III -- somewhere around the Battle of the Hornburg.
I settled down to read in earnest, and though interrupted by various summer trips, have kept at it. There are still the appendices to browse, but the story is completed. The Lord of the Rings is about half a million words long, not counting the appendices and The Hobbit and what-all. A half a million words is a significant barrier to completion, even in English, but to read half a million words in a foreign language is a major accomplishment.
I would still stumble if I had to stand on a street corner in Germany and make conversation, but I can read German newspapers and websites pretty well. I took 14 hours of German in college, and though it's been 37 years since I last took a course in it, my fluency level now is about the same as then. Which may not be much, but it's something.