Tolkien's Masterpiece: The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings
Authors Share Tolkien's Influence
Author of The Kingkiller Chronicles
It's probably impossible to underestimate how much Tolkien has influenced me. When I was a kid, my mother bought me the read-along record of the old Rankin and Bass animated Hobbit. I listened to it incessantly, and to this day I can pretty much recite the whole movie from memory. I memorized the runes, found the audio recordings of Tolkien and his son reading sections of the books, and used to read the books at least once a year. Tolkien showed us all the beauty of a world that was larger than the story being told. The joy of digression. It's a lesson I try to take with me into everything I write.
For me, J.R.R. Tolkien has always been first and greatest of our fantasy writers. His world building skills, the languages, the songs, the complexity of the back stories – everything gives his work a depth and richness few writers can equal. I remember reading The Hobbit and then acquiring a copy of Lord of the Rings (by dubious means we needn’t go into here) and reading morning, noon and night until I’d finished it. And then turning straight back to the beginning and starting again.
I read Lord of the Rings to my own son – one hour every evening for three months if anyone wants to do the same – and even today, many many years later, it’s always as if I’m picking up the book for the first time. I would dearly love to think my own work could inspire the same deep thrill of anticipation as the reader turns to the first page.
As the Elves were proud to stand alongside men at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, I am very proud to stand alongside – well, very close to – J.R.R. Tolkien on the bookshelves.
I owe Tolkien numerous debts. When I was young, adults encouraged reading the same way they prodded me to clean my room and do my homework—I resisted each equally. And yet, on a dreary January day in the early 1970’s I stumbled through a secret door to a magical place in the form of a tattered paperback book with a curious cover. I spent that winter reading The Lord of the Rings. Then I read everything Tolkien wrote. Then I started reading other books and writing stories of my own. Sharing my love of Tolkien fostered bonds with people I’m still friends with forty years later. Tolkien taught me to read, gave me friends, and then a career. He was my first literary love and has stayed with me my entire life. I still think of Tolkien when I see a gnarled tree’s roots, fog on a field, or when walking a winding road. Happy birthday, John, and thanks for everything.
I remember the very day I first discovered Tolkien, in the form of the newly-published Ballantine edition. I was a freshman in high school and I had spent, quite literally, all my money on the three book set. This was a lot of money for me, I could have bought six slender Ace new science fiction books, or a dozen used at the used book store for what I paid for those three. It was early in the fall semester, and I brought them to school with me; I fell into them and I didn't want to come out again. And when I was done, I started again. And again. And the after the third reading I knew that this was what I wanted to do, if I could. To make worlds and adventures like this. And when I came to start writing, one thing stuck in my mind...often the most memorable parts are not the great battles and great sacrifices, the casts of thousands and the high kings. The most memorable are the ordinary people forced by circumstances to do extraordinary things.
I first read the Hobbit at the age of 10. I didn't care for it. Too many dwarves. I went on to The Lord of the Rings when I was in high school. I loved it, though it didn't impact me the way it hit others. As a gift, (long before I started writing professionally) I got the boxed set of the trilogy, and I read it again as an adult.
And it hit me. The scope, the majesty, the vision. All of what made it so special for so many people, and immediately, I knew I wanted to tell a story that had people half as interesting in it, that shared a wonderful bond like the characters in The Lord of the Rings. I don't think I'll ever manage to tell a story about friendship that's as meaningful as the one Tolkien did, but little by little, I'll travel far.
My favorite Tolkien quote is all about the friendship between Samwise and Frodo. In my opinion, Sam is the hero of the story.
Tolkien was my gateway to fantasy. I can remember there being a magic about my grandparents’ old green hardback of The Hobbit even before I was old enough to read it. The map on the flyleaf. The runes on the spine. I loved it so much I tried to tape my own audiobook of it so I could listen to it endlessly. As I got older, the Lord of the Rings gripped my imagination even more firmly. For a while I used to read it every year, around Christmas time, sitting by the fire. So much great language, so many wonderful moments. Gandalf faces the Balrog in the darkness of Moria. The battle of Helm’s Deep. The last ride of Theoden. The hairs still stand up on my arms thinking about it. It was the sheer depth of Middle-Earth that was unique. It had its own languages, its own history, its own cultures, its own myths and songs, wonderful ideas and arresting detail leaped of every page. But never, before or since, has an invented world felt so real. For me that was the start of a lifelong fascination with fantasy, which led me via the worlds of Ursula Le Guin, and Michael Moorcock, and George R.R. Martin, and many others, to draw maps and make worlds of my own, and eventually to become a writer of fantasy myself. To pick a favorite quote is hard to do but, for me, nothing gets across Tolkien’s mastery of language and atmosphere like the Lament for the Rohirrim.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings opened my eyes to the possibilities of storytelling. Here was an immersive world with no discernible end; you could keep exploring as long as you wanted and still not reach its limits. Reading it the first time, you couldn’t get all of it at once and you weren’t meant to. Its power lay in the fact that beyond the narrative you were reading lay a universe populated by creatures from separate races with their own languages and cultures and thousands of years of history. The stories of Bilbo and Frodo were richer than anything else I had ever read because they were situated within this world seemingly as deep and real as the world around me.
When I was in fourth grade, I was obsessed with The Hobbit. I think I read it four or five times and reveled in the lush, verdant world of the Shire. One day, we were given a writing assignment, and not considering that my teacher would've ever read this book, especially not as many times as I did, I coyly copped a riddle from one of my favorite scenes: Bilbo in the caves with Gollum. I proudly stood in front of the class, and started with "Alive without breath, as cold as death....” My teacher shook her head sadly and said, "Tanya, did you copy this from somewhere?" J'Accuse! I caved quickly. Thank you, Mr. Tolkien, for teaching me the pitfalls of plagiarism early on!
Tolkien's stories are so beautiful and amazing because they take you to boundless worlds. The book is not only about stunningly exciting adventures, flavored here and there with a good humor. It's about love and friendship, losing and gaining, creation and destruction. It's about honesty and courage, greed and madness, generosity and wisdom, meanness and cruelty. It's about fighting with a fate and also resignation to destiny. Reading Lord of the Rings I laughed, I cried, I was touched by kindness of hobbits and wisdom of elves, by courage of dwarfs, by strength of people. And (of course) I admired Gandalf, for being not only the most wise and brave, but also an outstanding politician. Great book that leaves great memories.
Not only is The Lord of the Rings a great adventure story with tenuous alliances, perseverance, self-discovery, and a clear and evil enemy but the world in which it’s set provides a rich backdrop for the action to take place. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is so full of history, every detail carefully crafted and written with such command of language that it feels like a real place. Tolkien gave me an appreciation for world-building in stories that I carry with me. Because of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales I read fantasy and science fiction more critically, yearning for the deep history and backstory, the lore and legend like that created in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a forerunner of all modern fictional universes. His expansive work brought literature out of the confines of fiction, spilling into other mediums and exemplifying the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk: Total Artwork – an effort exploring not just storytelling but map-making, lore, poetry, music, and the drama of environment – writing “trees as trees”, not merely functions of plot or of character. For a creator absorbed in world-building, Tolkien offers an abundance of inspiration; for a reader absorbed in a story, Tolkien offers a lifetime of adventure.
My love affair with J.R.R. Tolkien and the LOTR series started when I was a sophomore in high-school. My older sister was dating a guy who was cooler-than-cool, and a generous soul. He lent us his copy of The Hobbit. At the time, our reading material was limited to horribly outdated copies of Nancy Drew mysteries, tattered Archie comics, and stolen copies of my mother’s Jacqueline Susann novels. Getting to travel (at least in our heads) to Middle-earth was mind-blowing. Before long, we’d renamed our family hamster Bilbo, started calling each other “my precioussssss,” and were racing each other through the trilogy. The experience prompted a life-long passion for the fantasy genre, and exposed me to a world of literature I had, up until that point, been missing. My favorite quote is from Eowyn. As a girl growing up in the mid '70s, who often felt denied many of the freedoms and activities my male peers enjoyed, Eowyn’s challenge of the Nazgul, while disguised as the male Dernhelm, was thrilling to the core.
I’m a big Tolkien nerd. I’m fascinated by the worlds he created, complete with rich and detailed history, hidden places, and interesting characters. The themes he wrote about still inspire me – how seemingly small things can have great importance; how it feels to have loyal friends at your back; how you do the right thing, regardless of personal risk; and that you should never give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds (or orcs). I love his writing style, mixing epic, sweeping storylines with tiny, personal ones. What’s more, Tolkien’s work is especially good in audio – his brilliant phrasing demands to be not just read, but performed. Listen for yourself and see if you can resist a fist-pump when those horns of Rohan blow!
My favorite book genre is by far fantasy and it would not exist the way it does today if not for Tolkien. Not only was he a gifted author, poet and conlanger, but he was also great at sprinkling messages throughout his works that are still relevant, such as this quote, which happens to be one of my favorites. I feel that in today’s world, with social media being so prevalent, that when someone does a good deed they need to let everyone know to receive praise for it. But if that’s your goal then you are not doing that deed for the right reason. In my opinion, the truest deeds are done when only the people that have to know know, even if no one thanks you for it.
Tolkien paints more than just a picture with his words; he creates an immersive world the sucks you in and makes you hungry for more. The action can progress slowly at times, but I relish the opportunity to feel a deeper connection to the characters, the events, and Middle-earth.
When I was in 3rd grade I read The Hobbit. I must have come across as a major nerd because nobody else seemed to read fantasy books in my class. The second I read about Bilbo walking through the circular door to his home I was hooked. Though I had some time explaining to my teacher what biter and beater were. Tolkien’s books really made me want to read more and showed me that reading can be more than just homework.