Today is J.R.R. Tolkien’s 128th birthday. So, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate one of my all-time favorite authors.
But, what could I say about him, that hasn’t already been said by many other people? Some of them were writers much better qualified than me to talk Tolkien. There’s even such a thing as a Tolkien scholar, which I think says a lot about the success of the man’s work.
I think I’ll try to focus on how J.R.R. Tolkien’s books have affected me personally.
Tolkien inspired me to become a writer. The depth of the world he created, with the hundreds of years of history, really opened my eyes to how fun being a writer could be.
My mother read the Lord of the Rings to me when I was a wee lad. After I got through the usual running around with Spot, learning to read, I dove into Middle Earth. Since then, I’ve reread Lord of the Rings at least once a year. Each time I do, I find something new to appreciate. Every time I read it, it’s like visiting old friends.
The tale of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom showed me how to build worlds.
The sheer number of works by J.R.R. Tolkien, including those assembled and edited by his son Christopher, is staggering. I’ll admit to reading only a fraction of it. O tend to focus mainly on the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. But, what’s amazing about Tolkien’s work is that the vast majority of it set in the same world, and each book reveals a new facet of it.
I’ve learned a lot from Tolkien. For example, at it’s core, the Lord of the Rings is a simple quest story. Frodo and party have to destroy a Macguffin, before the evil overlord gets his hands on it. But, the sheer amount of depth in the world makes it an epic tale.
From the idyllic gardens and pastures of the Shire, to the plains of Rohan, to the mighty city of Minas Tirith, to the dreaded wastes of Mordor, Middle Earth feels like a living world. Reading it the first time for myself, I felt like I could step out my door, and if I could find the right road, I could walk there.
I could compare his work to another of my favorite writers, Jules Verne. I’ve read the unabridged version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne wrote long descriptions, and many of which were just seemingly endless lists of fish. I would skip ahead, trying to find where he went back to the story. Reading the unabridged 20,000 felt like a chore. He managed to bury an interesting story beneath heaps of boring text.
In The Lord of the Rings, however, Tolkien’s descriptions felt like he was talking about the history of an interesting and real place. Reading about Rivendell, for example, made me want to pack up and move there. I never felt bored reading the book, despite it being over 1,000 pages long. I felt like I was right there, with Frodo as he faced the Nazgul on Weathertop.
A world isn’t much without characters to inhabit it, and Middle Earth is no exception. Tolkien populated it with a variety of interesting characters, and not just those in the Fellowship. Take Butterbur, the innkeeper of the Prancing Pony. At first, he seems like a silly, unimportant throw away character. But, it turns out that he’s instrumental in keeping the Hobbits safe, and the continuation of their quest. He also introduces Aragorn, my favorite Lord of the Rings character. To paraphrase, “Oh, that’s Strider, scary guy, you don’t want to talk to him.” But, Strider turns out to be a good guy, a lesson in not judging a book by the cover. “All that is gold does not glitter.”
Tolkien was one of the rare few writers whose work still has an impact long after they’re gone. It’s a shame he didn’t get to finish all he wanted to write about Middle Earth. Thanks to Christopher Tolkien, we have books built from his notes, and unfinished works, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t quite as polished as he would have liked. But, I admire Christopher’s efforts in keeping his father’s works alive. Thanks to the Lord of the Rings movies directed by Peter Jackson, and games like Lord of the Rings Online, we get to see and explore Middle Earth. One can only hope that Tolkien would appreciate their interpretations of his world.
Thank you, Mr. Tolkien, for all the adventures.