There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Lord of the Rings, from a writing point of view, but I would argue that the writing-style doesn’t really hold up anymore. Readers have changed, and so the writing styles have adapted to the reader’s preference. People aren’t reaching for this story because, let’s be honest, it’s a TOME.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a brilliant writer. It’s important to know that – he was a linguistic genius and the worlds he built are astoundingly big and intricate. He created not only maps of Middle Earth, but whole races with their own poetry and food and every tiny little detail carefully sketched out in beautiful tomes information. The reason why Middle Earth is so alive is because of the care and passion Tolkien poured into his world.
Tolkien’s artistry is why we can’t get enough of hobbits and the tale of the One Ring. So how dare I say that Lord of the Rings doesn’t hold up?
How many people do you know who have read any of the Lord of the Rings books?
It takes a certain sort of person, someone patient and diligent, to get through these novels. I read them first when I was in seventh grade, while the movies were coming out. I remember getting stuck for months in the Council of Elrond. The way Tolkien writes – you have no choice but to acknowledge every middling detail. When I tried to read the trilogy again in high school, I got caught again at – yes! – the Council of Elrond, and put the books down.
J.R.R. Tolkien pioneered the genre of epic fantasy, and any fantasy fan will have tried this series. Those who I’ve spoken with have a similar experience to me: it wasn’t that the books aren’t good. It’s that… they’re a chore. Anyone daring to undertake this trilogy must be prepared to go to battle.
The pacing is slow, so slow, so painstakingly slow. The descriptions are thorough and specific, so you have no doubt about the way an elf carves his bow, right down the tree it comes from. There’s such an emphasis on world building that you end up on an aside about dwarven songs while you’re waiting to hear how the fellowship will escape the Mines of Moria.
Modern readers don’t have time for these tomes, but in the age of social media, they also don’t have the attention span. In some ways, it’s sad. But in many other ways, I understand it. My generation has spent so much time trying to fulfill our societal expectations that the only way most of up can dream of reading a book over 350 pages is to listen to the audiobook while we’re doing our mundane daily work, like commuting or cooking. These slow burn books are now a labor of love.
So why, when there are pretty good adaptations of classic novels like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, do we even bother with the books?
Why, because of Tom Bombadil.
Fantasy fans still flock to Tolkien’s omnibus because there is so much detail in the books that there’s no way a film or television series could possibly do them justice. The depth of detail that pushes away modern readers also draws in the fans.
I have to admit that for all I love fantasy – for all I love epic fantasy – I struggle with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A couple of years ago, I decided I was going to re-read the trilogy. I have all three books on Audible, and I even managed to read the first one. The narrator even isn’t bad (audiobooks are made or broken by the narrator). But after I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, I needed a break. It’s heavy.
But I regret nothing. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is absolutely worth reading, even though they’re very long and a bit monotonous. There’s so much to the story that doesn’t make it into movies, side stories and fascinating tidbits that you miss if you don’t take the plunge.
When the The Fellowship of the Ring premiered back in 2001, it was well received by general audiences, but got some backlash from Tolkien fans. Because where was Tom Bombadil? Where was Goldberry? These minor characters really don’t have a lot of overall importance to the story, but they’re a lot of fun. My personal favorite part of Fellowship doesn’t make it to the film, either. Again, the Barrow King is not essential to the overall story, but it’s interesting. These are little treasures only readers of the books will see.
So while I will fully admit that the Lord of the Rings series is, frankly, a chore… I still encourage people to read the trilogy. Tolkien’s imagination is worth taking a stroll through; he invented the subgenre and to this day is one of its strongest inhabitants. The stories are incredible, filled with meticulous detail and thrilling side quests.
If you love the story, but don’t read the books… then you’re missing out on half the story.
So give it a try. Buddy read them, if it will help. Force yourself through the eternal Council of Elrond. It’s well worth the journey.