The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)

ISBN: 0618346244
ISBN 13: 9780618346240
By: J.R.R. Tolkien

Check Price Now

Genres

Classic Classics Currently Reading Fantasy Favorites Favourites Fiction Sci Fi Fantasy To Read Tolkien

About this book

Classics in the genre, J.R.R. Tolkien's definitive three-book epic, the Lord of the Rings (encompassing The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), and its charming precursor, The Hobbit. That many (if not most) fantasy works are in some way derivative of Tolkien is understood, but the influence of the Lord of the Rings is so universal that everybody from George Lucas to Led Zeppelin has appropriated it for one purpose or another. Not just revolutionary because it was groundbreaking, the Lord of the Rings is timeless because it's the product of a truly top-shelf mind. Tolkien was a distinguished linguist and Oxford scholar of dead languages, with strong ideas about the importance of myth and story and a deep appreciation of nature. His epic, 10 years in the making, recounts the Great War of the Ring and the closing of Middle-Earth's Third Age, a time when magic begins to fade from the world and men rise to dominance. Tolkien carefully details this transition with tremendous skill and love, creating in the Lord of the Rings a universal and all-embracing tale, a justly celebrated classic. --Paul Hughes

Reader's Thoughts

Dolly

I read Lord of the Rings first when I was about eleven or so, and then stayed up all night at a hip boy/girl party in the bathroom with Nathan O. ... talking about ents and elves and whether Tom Bombadil was God. Yes, I was a geeky child. However, all these years later, the story has stuck with me. First a warning: Don't read Tolkien if you don't appreciate true-omnicient-narrator-style epics. Tolkien isn't a master character builder: he leaves all that to the reader's imagination. The agony in the Aragorn/Arwen romance -- so blatant and operatic in the movies -- was a longing look on Strider's face at Rivendell, an odd comment from Bilbo, and a short no-nonsense Appendix. As with many of the themes in this work, the romance and deep character relationships must be picked from between the lines.And there is so much between the lines here. The world of Middle-earth lives, utterly lives. Instead of tugging on what-ifs, this fantasy forces readers to imagine. Tolkien's work is the fullest realization of literary world building ever penned.It is also sophisticated writing, drawing on older forms (epic, romance, tragedy). Tolkien doesn't waste time writing snappy dialogue: the story is too epic to dwindle to individual persons. However, voice shifts subtly depending on point of view: chapters dealing with hobbits contain much more dialogue and detail; chapters dealing with Rohirrim have a poetic rhythm reminiscent of extant Middle English works; chapters dealing with elves are magic and blurry and hard to wrap a mind around. These shifts in style, far from being a novice writer's oops, are intentional and serve as mass characterisation of races and groups. So, what Tolkien foregoes in terms of dialogue he replaces with style and action: a classic example of show not tell.Having just spouted all that praise, I have to admit that all the criticisms are true: the story does resound with Luddite anti-industrial metaphors, overt Christian themes of salvation and spirit, a structural decision to include songs that doesn't quite work, and fantasy tropes that are now cliche ... now that everyone else has copied them, that is. The thing to remember is that this book started the genre: everything fantasy, from Philip Pullman to George RR Martin, exists in the shadow of this opus.So, no, it isn't a popcorn read. Get over it. If you invest the time and spirit to read this work, you will be glad you did.

Brad

Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. I came to Tolkien's masterpiece on my own, and that meant much to me at twelve. The only books that had been reached by me alone were books on mythology and horror. Everything else I read, from DH Lawrence to Hemingway to Dickens to Shakespeare (and this also included Dracula and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde because they were "true" classics), was suggested and sanctioned by my mother (for which I will always owe her deeply).But The Lord of the Rings was mine and mine alone. It is easy to forget that The Lord of the Rings was not a pop culture phenomenon in the seventies and early eighties. It was a fringe book (at least in North America), something that was not yet considered a part of the canon, something that was not a name on every boy's lips (even if they were just getting to know D&D) let alone every child's lips. Sure it was respected and loved by those who knew it, but knowing it was not a foregone conclusion as it is today, and its audience was almost completely genre oriented. In my little community (my school and the blocks surrounding my home), I was the first kid to read it.And that first reading was a revelation. Sure I'd read The Hobbit, but that didn't prepare me for the breadth and depth of The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth in its grandest incarnation. To create a fantasy world is one thing, but to breathe life into ages of that world, to keep all the pieces together with such magnificent detail and rigour, to create character after believable character and make us care about most of them, even poor Smeagol/Gollum, that is a literary labour of Hercules. And by pulling it off, Tolkien created the single most important manifestation of Fantasy that has ever and will ever be written. The Lord of the Rings has rightly been named a classic. It is part of the canon, and it deserves its place. It is entertaining, it is weighty, and it is loved by nearly all.Aye...and there's the rub.Its indisputable greatness has made it indisputable. It has become dogma among fanboys and fangirls that the bastions of The Lord of the Rings are unassailable. Criticize Tolkien's work -- academically or otherwise -- and you put yourself in almost as much danger as a chatty atheist trying to engage in a theological discussion in a coliseum full of Jehovah's Witnesses (how many of those folks will make it into the afterlife? Isn't there a limit?).Feminist critics point out the lack of women in The Lord of the Rings, and that those women who are present fulfill only the narrowest stereotypes. Éowyn's strength is dependent upon adopting male gender qualities, a typical stereotype of "powerful women in fantasy," and she is alone amongst the Rohirrim as a woman who can and will fight. All other women in her culture are present as a reason to fight rather than as integral parts of the struggle. Arwen's place (in the books, at least) as a maiden waiting for the hand of her king takes the "reason to fight" to even greater heights. And the only powerful female, Galadriel as the terrible, beautiful elven Queen, is too far removed from mortality and reality to be anything more than a mid-tale deus ex machina, thereby removing her from the realm of women and men and making her a pseudo-god whose power is allowed only because it is arcane and mysterious. Post-Colonial critics have latched onto the racism inherent in The Lord of the Rings, pointing out the hierarchies between the races: from the "superiority" of the elves, to the "chosen" role of "European" Men of the West under the leadership of Aragorn, to the lesser races of Dwarves and Hobbits (the former are "lesser" because they are "too greedy" and the latter are "lesser" because they are children). Post-Colonialists look to the "orientalization" of Sauron's forces and the configuration of evil as an inherent quality of Orcs and "the dark folk." They point out Tolkien's family's history as a cog in the mechanism of English Imperialism, and his own birth in one of the most blatantly racist colonies of all, South Africa (while he did leave at three years old, his family's presence there at all suggests that some of the classic colonial opinions about the colonized "dark races" helped form the man who wrote these books), as possible reasons for this racism. These criticisms further suggest, at least to me, that the archetypal source of all fantasy's entrenched racism -- even those books being written today -- is The Lord of the Rings. Those fantasy authors who have followed Tolkien consistently and inescapably embrace his configuration of the races (yes, even those like R.A. Salvatore who try and fail to derail this configuration) and the concepts of good and evil that go along with them, which leads to the stagnation and diminishment of their genre.The fact is that these flaws do exist in The Lord of the Rings. They are present. They are easy to find. But few of Tolkien's rabid fans want to hear about them. And even when the criticism is not necessarily suggesting a flaw in Tolkien's work but merely the presence of some subtext, the dogmatists react with rage and condemnation. A fine example of this is when Queer and Gender theorists point to the overwhelming relationships between men, and how the relationship between Frodo and Sam is homosocial, at least, and possibly even homosexual. The only true intimacy in the book occurs between the men, after all, and to ignore that fact is to ignore one of key components of why The Lord of the Rings is so emotionally satisfying, especially to young men. Even faced with these ideas supported by convincing arguments, however, many fans either strive for ignorance or attack the messenger. This may have much to do with the worry -- unreasonable though it is -- that to admit that a flaw or something uncomfortable exists in any of these books, which so many people love so deeply, is to accept that The Lord of the Rings is neither great nor worthy of love.But this is not the case. I love The Lord of the Rings even though I subscribe completely to the post-colonial criticism, and see the merits in both the feminine and queer criticisms, not to mention the countless other criticisms and subtexts that are floating around.The books are racist; they are sexist. They are not perfect. And I must criticize the elements of The Lord of the Rings that make me uncomfortable and deserve no praise. But my complaints and the complaints of critics make Tolkien's achievement no less great. Tolkien created the most magnificent imaginary world ever conceived, and, for good or ill, Fantasy would be nothing today were it not for him. The Lord of the Rings is a triumph on countless levels, but it is not the word of God, nor should it be elevated to such heights.I love The Lord of the Rings, but I love it with reservations. I love it because of its place in my personal mythology, its genuine originality, its creativity, its power, but I love it with my mind open to its flaws, and I refuse to make excuses for Tolkien or his work.Twenty-five years ago I'd have given The Lord of the Rings my highest possible praise. Not today. But I am still willing to admit my love.

mark monday

not a review and there probably won't be one any time soon. i also won't be climbing Mount Everest in the near future. but here are some cool illustrations that i found and want to share. World of the Ring by Jian Guo

Wes

It's nice to have favorites. When you have a favorite -- a favorite menu item, a favorite car, a favorite shirt -- you can enter at least one corner of the maelstrom of subjective choices that life presents to you and evaluate the choices in that corner not with respect to some external criteria, but rather with respect to one specific thing. For example, when asking oneself what the greatest book of all time is, one might first have to ask, "what makes a book great?" -- which is a question that one could spend a lifetime only attempting to answer.Instead, after reading a book, I am able to ask myself, "Which is better -- this book, or The Lord of The Rings?"The Lord of the Rings is the best story I've ever read.(Naturally, your mileage may vary -- possibly even dramatically.)A British writer posted something about The Lord of the Rings on his now-defunct website, oh, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Paraphrasing, he said: "As a creative work, The Lord of the Rings is the work of a second-rate novelist. But if the creative work is Middle-Earth, then Tolkien is one of the very greatest artists who has ever lived." I think that's basically true. (Plus, since I'm not terribly widely- or well-read, it gives me a comforting measure of self-satisfaction.)I caught wind of the movies before filming began -- it was the sort of thing that would have cropped up in the fractions of the internet I frequented. I've come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the movies. (stinking academy award winning...) I am thankful Jackson was able to bring them to the masses. I am saddened that in repackaging for the masses, much of what I love about the story was left behind.Why do I like The Lord of the Rings? I like Tolkien's crochety introduction. I like the depth of the invented world -- it has its own stories, its own poetry (of different meters and rhyme-schemes, even), its own languages, its own geography, it's own history. I like the narrator's tone. I like the moments of understated humor. I like the medieval fantasy: swords and monsters and magic. Most of all, I like the characters and the ways in which their actions reflect such primitive things as courage, compassion, honor, and love.Some may hold this genre to be childish, or inherently imperfect. Some time ago I began to speculate that the more straight-up fiction of the mainstream variety may be fraught with more danger, and that there is something objectively worthy even in the fanciful and simplistic. One could scan the New York Times bestseller list and/or book reviews in literary journals and pick out a work that seems well respected, taking place in an essentially real time and place -- say, Chicago, in 1998 -- with, say, a protagonist named Joe, and a Holly-Golightly-esque object of his conflicted affections. Joe and Holly-esque wander and banter and ponder; lather, rinse, repeat. Throw in some other characters. Joe and Holly-esque hit it off! or, they don't. Finis.What lesson is a reader to draw from this? Perhaps Joe and Holly-esque's drama will enter the reader's subconscious (or some such) and, over the course of the reader's life, will impact or inform the way the reader interacts with the world. The reader may come to behave toward the world based on an understanding of the world that derives in part from what the reader observed in the interaction between Joe and Holly-esque.Which, recall, is fiction.So the reader's model of what men and women are, what men and women say and think, what men and women should do, may at some level owe provenance to what some author imagined human nature to be; and this model may in turn have a real impact on real people.What happens if a reader has read The Lord of the Rings? The work might resonate with the reader, and the reader might feel it altogether right and proper to deal with the world with courage, compassion, honor, and love.I know which danger I prefer.

Kristin Little

Save time... watch the movies. This book can appeal only to a linguist. The underlying story is great, but it is buried under an avalance of horribly annoying songs and poems that do nothing to advance the story. They just take up space. I diligently read every last one, hoping that they held some deep meaning in relation to the story, but if there is one, it is so obscure that it serves no purpose. Also, the book is all about walking. Yes, I know they are on an epic quest, and there has to be soul-searching, etc., but the amount of detail regarding the walking is a snoozer! 45 pages of walking and 3 pages for a huge battle. AUGH! I know that this is a masterpiece, and I agree that the plot line is a beautiful tale of good and evil and power and corruption. However, reading this series was a drudgery. The only really good part that you miss in the movies is when the hobits return to the Shire in the last three chapters of The Return of the King. If you want a Tolkien fix, I'd reccommend The Hobbit.

William

** spoiler alert ** This book changed my life. Before it I was a spotty 14 year old hooked on my science studies. Then I read LOTR, and, at the same time, discovered women existed and.....but thats enough of that. You want to hear about the book. By now there are few people who haven't at least heard of LOTR, and most of them have an opinion. There are the fans, almost fanatics, and there are the people who have read fifty pages or so, sometimes five or six times, but just can't get it, and don't understand what the fuss is about. I might have been one of them, if it hadn't been for an accident. I asked my local librarian to recommend a book for me as I had read all the Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov works they had. She pointed me at LOTR, and handed me what she said was book 1 of 3. It was only when I got home I found I had book 2: The Two Towers. I arrived in the story just at the point where the first film ends - The Fellowship is broken and Frodo and Sam are heading for Mordor. I think that is what made me keep reading -I had started at a point of crisis and I needed to know what happened next. Of course I had a lot of blanks to fill in, but I managed to pick up most of them as I went along , and I caught up with the first book as soon as I'd finished the third. (I bought the big all-in-one paperback, the one with the yellow cover. If you were a student in the seventies it was obligatory to have one lying about, all battered and torn to show that it had been read several times. You used to see backpackers in their hundreds on the trains going south through Europe, all with this version of LOTR falling apart in their hands.) As for starting at the begining, I believe the reason a lot of people give up is that they are expecting heroes, wizards and high magic. What they get is, in great detail, the rural goings-on of a bunch of small hairy creatures who eat and drink a lot and seem to live in an idealised version of the Home Counties. Anyone who has read "The Hobbit" will know that there is more to the Hobbits than that, but newcomers often feel cheated and give up. They don't know what they're missing. The story only picks up AFTER Bilbo's birthday party, and after the passing of his ring of invisibility to Frodo. Gandalf, a wizard, discovers the true nature of the ring. It is a magic item of great power, belonging to Sauron himself, a dark god intent on taking dominion over the world. Gandalf tells Frodo that the ring must be taken to a place of safety, to Rivendell, where the high-elves hold out against Sauron. And so the great journey starts, with Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry and Pippin, taking the road to Rivendell. On the way they have many adventures, and the mood begins to darken with the appearance of the dark riders, servants of Sauron intent on finding the ring. The travelling band is befriended by Strider, a ranger of the north, and he helps them get to Rivendell, but not before Frodo is wounded by the dark riders, and starts to understand the power of the ring. At Rivendell, many things are revealed; the history of the ring is told, Strider is shown to be Aragon, the rightful heir to the kingdom of Middle-Earth, and a fellowship is forged, of wizards, elves, dwarves, men and hobbits. They form a band of nine who will try to take the ring to Mount Doom, a volcano where the ring was forged, and which is the only place where it can be destroyed. And so the adventure truly begins. From here on we have battles in deep mountain mines, the loss of one of the Fellowship, encounters with elves in enchanted forests, treachery and betrayal leading to the breaking of the fellowship - and we're still in Book 1! Books 2 and 3 deal with the fight for middle-Earth, with Aragon and his allies taking the battle to Sauron and his minions and Frodo and Sam trying to reach Mount Doom to destroy the ring. There are huge, stirring, battle scenes, moments of humour (especially when the younger hobbits meet the Ents), spectacular feats of high magic when the White Rider enters the battle scenes, and moments of great friendship and tenderness - I defy anyone to have a dry eye when Sam and Frodo are parted at Shelob's lair. It all builds up to a terrific climax, and the story comes full circle back at Hobbitton where we see the effect the war has had on the rural life of the Hobbits. And that is why the beginning is important - you might not see it till right at the end, but it is teaching us a lesson about the value of the simpler things in life - respect them or lose them. Tolkein's genius lies in melding these simple aspects with world-shattering events, showing how even the "little people" have their part to play in the fight against the darkness. And he also knows that the best villain is a mysterious one....Sauron hardly appears at all in the books, but his dark presence stretches over everything, and he's always there, his evil eye seeing everything. I used to have nightmares about that large, red-rimmed eye, but that was before I discovered women, grew my hair, developed a liking for Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin, and started to write fantasy fiction. I've never been the same since...... but that's another long story.

Geoff

This buch was wreckomeaned HIGHLY to me by MJ NICHOLLS. He is an writer to who wrote a buch called The Postmortem Blech which I havenot read bycause I haven’t solved the maize puzzle on the coover yet. (Spoiler it’s hard!) But I sure likked this Ring trilogism. There was short people with big feet and weird people who lived in the woods and I knew who all the evil people were because they looked the least like beautiful Caucasians. What else to say? MJ Nicholls has opened my reading lifes up to so many things, like Donnald Tart’s The Goldfinch, which one book of theyear on Goodreads and is feminist I think. MJ wrote a review of that that people yelled at. Okay bye.

Kanova

I was forced to read this book. Each member of my first book club had an opportunity to choose the book we read. When one of the members chose The Lord of the Rings I was not happy. Fantasy is not my genre! But I was a good book club member and read it anyway.I loved it! There were times when I did not want to sleep because I wanted to finish just one more page or chapter. Tolkien creates whole worlds, languages, species, and histories. It is epic in its scope. Somehow he manages to entertain, make you think, and visualize the world he describes. It taught me a lesson about being open to new things, because sometimes by being open you can be richly rewarded.

David

Anyway, all my nerdy friends love this book and still talk about it- 25 years later. I certainly loved the Hobbit; but my goodness, what a bore LOTR is. I felt guilty, surely I had missed something. I read again (how eager to please I am); well at least join in their animated discourse. On my second read I think i nearly got to the top of Mount Doom with Frodo when I figured: 'Enough! Be gone with you wretched book. I will not be one of many and succumb to the clutches of peer pressure.' I returned to my chamber and lived happily ever after. So I thought. Jackson appeared with clever and powerful propoganda. My friends once again rubbed their hands and chirped in excited chorus. Again, against my will, I was drawn to the power of the book that would unite us all. I did watch the 3 films. I did fall alsleep in the 2 Tower ordeal. I perservered 'the Return'. Jackson did well. He maintained the detailed boredom of the book.

Audrey *Ebook and Romance Lover*

January 11th, 2014Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien better surprise me :)Loved the movies and also the two hobbit ones that were recently made :)Its 1,178 pages...so wish me luck my friends! I know this will be a five star for me. It might take me a month at least.

Mike (the Paladin)

The epic fantasy against which all other epic fantasies are measured. And there is reason. Beautiful, lyrical, depth, enthralling. I love these books. I've read them many many times. Really they are not to be missed. Highly, highly, highly recommended.'Nuff said!

Paul

J.R.R. Tolkien has received so much attention over the last several years that it is becoming a popular sport to claim a dislike for his works. The title of "Father" of modern fantasy fits him well and anyone who has such unmitigated success is bound to attract a significant number of naysayers. For my own taste I find Tolkien to be charming and delightful, the stereotypical English county gentleman. His work is well crafted, the storyline is one that easily suspends disbelief. That is provided that you are willing to believe in magic rings and elves. However, I find real genius in the work of Tolkien, the savant father amongst lesser offspring.Reading LOTR again and again I find the genius of Tolkien is in the details. Like a finely crafted antique chest, the story is dovetailed to fit the cultures of so many diverse creatures. Tolkien was a linguist which explains his fascintion for the languages of the elves, orcs, ents, and various tribes of men. Beyond the languages though are the stories. One gets the feeling that if you were to follow the fellowship forever that the goldmine of endless stories of the realm might never run out. Everywhere that Tolkien took us in Middle Earth there were stories. Many of these stories were old, some ancient, but everyone and everything had a story. The true magic is in the interconnection of all those stories, each one weaving into the next. In the realm of great storytellers Tolkien may be the one that rules over all.

Sakura87

Concedetemi un po' di autobiografismo, perché Tolkien non può essere recensito.Era il gennaio del 2002 quando gli amici del liceo mi invitarono a vedere un film d'avventura. Il Signore degli anelli, questo il titolo della pellicola, e per le mie conoscenze letterarie d'allora poteva benissimo essere la biografia di un gioielliere. Andai tuttavia a vederlo con loro, entrando in sala senza alcuna idea di ciò che avrei dovuto aspettarmi.Due ore e mezza dopo, uscii dalla sala con la bocca ancora aperta.Diciotto ore dopo tornai a vederlo da sola.Avevo finalmente ricondotto il titolo del film a un volume ingiallito e dalla rilegatura scassata che vagava periodicamente in giro per casa (la storica edizione Rusconi), continuamente prestato e restituito reciprocamente tra mio padre, mio nonno, mia zia e mio zio -di chi fosse quella copia, poi, mai si è saputo con certezza- da vent'anni a quella parte. La lettura, però, dovette attendere la trasposizione cinematografica de Le due torri, quando cioè compresi che non avrei mai potuto aspettare un anno per conoscere la fine della trilogia.Sono trascorsi quasi dieci anni dall'uscita del primo film, rivisto innumerevoli volte insieme ai suoi seguiti; un'altra volta ho letto il libro dopo la prima; una copia l'ho regalata a una persona per me importantissima, riuscendo a invogliarla al mondo della letteratura e del fantastico, e quella persona importantissima a sua volta mi ha fatto dono dell'edizione illustrata che ho appena finito di leggere. Adesso la copia ingiallita la sta leggendo mio fratello minore, e dopo essere passata tra le mani di mio nonno, mio zio, mia zia, mio padre, mie, credo sia giunto il momento che vada a lui.

Keely

Authors who inspire a movement are usually misunderstood, especially by those they have inspired, and Tolkien is no exception, but one of the biggest misconceptions about Tolkien is the idea that he is somehow an 'innovator of fantasy'. He did add a number of techniques to the repertoire of epic fantasy writers, and these have been dutifully followed by his many imitators, but for the most part, these techniques are little more than bad habits.Many have called Tolkien by such epithets as 'The Father of Fantasy', but anyone who makes this claim simply does not know of the depth and history of the fantasy genre. For those who are familiar with the great and influential fantastical authors, from Ovid and Ariosto to Eddison and Dunsany to R.E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, it is clear that, long before Tolkien, fantasy was already a complex, well-established, and even a respected literary genre.Eddison's work contains an invented world, a carefully-constructed (and well-researched) archaic language, a powerful and unearthly queen, and a central character who is conflicted and lost between the forces of nobility and darkness. Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword , which came out the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring, has distant, haughty elves, deep-delving dwarves, a broken sword which must be reforged, an epic war between the armies of light and darkness, another central character trapped between those extremes, and an interweaving of Christian and Pagan worldviews.So, if these aspects are not unique to Tolkien, then what does set him apart? Though Dunsany, Eddison, and Anderson all present worlds where light and dark come into conflict, they present these conflicts with a subtle and often ironic touch, recognizing that morality is a dangerous thing to present in absolutes. Tolkien (or C.S. Lewis), on the other hand, has no problem in depicting evil as evil, good as good, and the only place they meet is in the temptation of an honest heart, as in Gollum's case--and even then, he is not like Eddison's Lord Gro or Anderson's Scafloc, characters who live under an alternative view of the world, but instead fluctuates between the highs and lows of Tolkien's dualistic morality.It is a dangerous message to make evil an external, irrational thing, to define it as 'the unknown that opposes us', because it invites the reader to overlay their own morality upon the world, which is precisely what most modern fantasy authors tend to do, following Tolkien's example. Whether it's Goodkind's Libertarianism or John Norman's sex slave fetish, its very easy to simply create a magical allegory to make one side 'right' and the other side 'wrong', and you never have to develop a dramatic narrative that actually explores the soundness of those ideas. Make the good guys dress in bright robes or silvery maile and the bad guys in black, spiky armor, and a lot of people will never notice that all the 'good guys' are White, upper class men, while all the 'bad guys' are 'brutish foreigners', and that both sides are killing each other and trying to rule their little corner of the world.In Tolkien's case, his moral view was a very specific evocation of the ideal of 'Merrie England', which is an attempt by certain stodgy old Tories (like Tolkien) to rewrite history so that the nobility were all good and righteous leaders, the farmers were all happy in their 'proper place' (working a simple patch of dirt), while both industrialized cultures and the 'primitives' who resided to the South and East were 'the enemy' bent on despoiling the 'natural beauty of England' (despite the fact that the isles had been flattened, deforested, and partitioned a thousand years before).Though Tom Bombadil remains as a strangely incoherent reminder of the moral and social complexity of the fantasy tradition upon which Tolkien draws, he did his best to scrub the rest clean, spending years of his life trying to fit Catholic philosophy more wholly into his Pagan adventure realm. But then, that's often how we think of Tolkien: bent over his desk, spending long hours researching, note-taking, compiling, and playing with language. Even those who admit that Tolkien demonstrates certain racist, sexist, and classicist leanings (as, indeed, do many great authors) still praise the complexity of his 'world building'.And any student of the great Epics, like the Norse Eddas, the Bible, or the Shahnameh can see what Tolkien is trying to achieve with his worldbuilding: those books presented grand stories, but were also about depicting a vast world of philosophy, history, myth, geography, morality and culture. They were encyclopedic texts, intended to instruct their people on everything important in life, and they are extraordinarily valuable to students of anthropology and history, because even the smallest detail can reveal something about the world which the book describes.So, Tolkien fills his books with troop movements, dull songs, lines of lineage, and references to his own made-up history, mythology, and language. He has numerous briefly-mentioned side characters and events because organic texts like the epics, which were formed slowly, over time and compiled from many sources often contained such digressions. He creates characters who have similar names--which is normally a stupid thing to do, as an author, because it is so confusing--but he’s trying to represent a hereditary tradition of prefixes and suffixes and shared names, which many great families of history had. So Tolkien certainly had a purpose in what he did, but was it a purpose that served the story he was trying to tell?Simply copying the form of reality is not what makes good art. Art is meaningful--it is directed. It is not just a list of details--everything within is carefully chosen by the author to make up a good story. The addition of detail is not the same as adding depth, especially since Tolkien’s world is not based on some outside system--it is whatever he says it is. It’s all arbitrary, which is why the only thing that grants a character, scene, or detail purpose is the meaning behind it. Without that meaning, then what Tolkien is doing is just a very elaborate thought exercise. Now, it’s certainly true that many people have been fascinated with studying it, but that’s equally true of many thought exercises, such as the rules and background of the Pokemon card game, or crossword puzzles.Ostensibly, Scrabble supposedly is a game for people who love words--and yet, top Scrabble players sit an memorize lists of words whose meaning they will never learn. Likewise, many literary fandom games become little more than word searches: find this reference, connect that name to this character--but which have no meaning or purpose outside of that. The point of literary criticism is always to lead us back to human thought and ideas, to looking at how we think and express ourselves. If a detail in a work cannot lead us back to ourselves, then it is no more than an arbitrary piece of chaff.The popularity of Tolkien’s work made it acceptable for other authors to do the same thing, to the point that whenever I hear a book lauded for the ‘depth of its world building’, I expect to find a mess of obsessive detailing, of piling on so many inconsequential facts and figures that the characters and stories get buried under the scree, as if the author secretly hopes that by spending most of the chapter describing the hero’s cuirass, we'll forget that he’s a bland archetype who only succeeds through happy coincidence and deus ex machina against an enemy with no internal structure or motivation.When Quiller-Couch said authors should ‘murder their darlings’, this is what he meant: just because you have hobbies and opinions does not mean you should fill your novel with them. Anything which does not materially contribute to the story, characters, and artistry of a work can safely be left out. Tolkien's embarrassment of detail also produced a huge inflation in the acceptable length of fantasy books, leading to the meandering, unending series that fill bookstore shelves today.Now, there are several notable critics who have lamented the unfortunate effect that Tolkien’s work has had on the genre, such as in Moorcock’s Epic Pooh and Mieville’s diatribe about every modern fantasy author being forced to come to terms with the old don's influence. I agree with their deconstructions, but for me, Tolkien isn’t some special author, some ‘fantasy granddad’ looming over all. He’s just a bump in the road, one author amongst many in a genre that stretches back thousands of years into our very ideas of myth and identity, and not one of the more interesting onesHis ideas weren’t unique, and while his approach may have been unusual, it was only because he spent a lifetime trying obsessively to make something artificial seem more natural, despite the fact that the point of fantasy (and fiction in general) is to explore the artificial, the human side of the equation, to look at the world through the biased lens of our eye and to represent some odd facet of the human condition. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s characters, structure, and morality are all too flat to suggest much, no matter how many faux-organic details he surrounds them with.My Fantasy Book Suggestions

Shawn

I first read The Hobbit and the three volumes of Lord of the Rings (earlier editions, obviously)in the late summer of 1969 after being given The Hobbit by a friend I'd worked with that summer on an archaeological dig on Washington Island, Wisconsin. I'd scoffed at the idea of college students reading these (as I described them) "children's books", but when she gave me the book I promised I'd read it and began late one night shortly after, while I was staying at my parents home before heading off to start my senior year. I was just finishing when my father got up to go to work. I napped for a couple of hours until the book store opened and went to purchase the trilogy. During the next three days, I read them all, stopping only for food and sleep. I was entranced, and my parents thought I had gone insane in the course of my summer on the island.I read all of the books twice more in the 80s and 90s, and even read The Hobbit in German. Today I suppose I'd give them 4 rather than 5 stars, but at the time there's no doubt that I found them absolutely amazing. Thanks, Anne, wherever you are!

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *