Why You Should Read Lord of the Rings (Even Though it’s a Bit of a Chore)

Posted February 1, 2019 by Amber in Bookish Things / 20 Comments

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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.

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Have you read any of Tolkien’s work?

What stories do you love, but the books are a chore?

Do you ever recommend books you struggle with?
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20 responses to “Why You Should Read Lord of the Rings (Even Though it’s a Bit of a Chore)

  1. “How many people do you know who have /read/ any of the Lord of the Rings books?”

    The vast majority of my friends, actually. I even took an entire class on Tolkien in college, where we started off reading the “backstories,” like Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo, Beowulf, and others. We then started Hobbit, Fellowship, Towers, King, and Silmarillion, one book each week. It was fast paced, but also a lot of fun.

    I keep telling myself I’m going to try and re-read them at least once a year, but I haven’t been able to since 2016, before I started graduate school. Now that I’m done, I’ve got it on my shelf to start once I finish two of the other books I’m working through. I read them for the first time freshman year of college, and don’t remember getting bogged down at all.

    • Amber

      I love that you’ve read them! I know two people who are in love with the series and have read them the way you do. I have a deep respect for Tolkien’s work and it’s so cool that you read all that in a semester!

  2. Great post! I read LotR when I was 14-ish years old and it was definitely a chore back then (despite the fact that I did like it!), but on my second reading a few years ago I appreciated the slow pacing and the detailed world much better. I’ve also read The Hobbit and The Silmarillion (which can still be a bit difficult to get through), but I’m a bit hesitant to get to works like The Children of Hurin (that I have had unread on my shelf for years) and Beren and Luthien (that I decided against getting for the time being).

    • Amber

      Twitching to do a full reread myself because I think I’ll appreciate it a lot more now as well. It’s great how time deepens the experience.

  3. I tried to read Lord of the Rings a few years ago, but I just couldn’t get into it. I read up to the council of Elrond, and then I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I put it down and forgot about it.

    However I finally caved and allowed my cousins to convince me to watch the movies over Christmas, and I fell so completely in love that now I’m going to need to read the books. And even though they’re a chore, I do think I’m going to be glad I read them! I just… need to stop procrastinating first.

    • Amber

      Ugh the Council of Elrond is my nemesis.

      I hope when you dive back in you like them a little better than last time! The stories are sososo good, but the writing is kinda rough.

  4. Ever since I was little I’ve been quite a fan of The Lord of the Rings movies and, after the three installments for The Hobbit prequel came out and a couple of years ago and reminded me of my love and interest in this vast world Tolkien created, I decided to give the books a try! I started reading The Hobbit and I found it to be quite a easy and fun read and I LOVED IT! But after finishing it I’ve just been hesitating and just waiting to get the actual physical copies of TLOTR books to actually get into them so here I am! Still haven’t tried them but I’m hoping I’m able to make it through!

    Also, not one person I know has read them, but I’ve heard people talk about how tedious they are and how they’ve started them but failed them but that won’t keep me from eventually giving them a try! Anyway, thanks for this post! It really served me as a reminder of how I should get reading these books ASAP! BUT FIRST, I must finish the Witcher series—which I’m loving so far and so close to finishing!

    ~L.

    Lilivette recently posted: [Bookish] 2019 TBR! – Part I
    • Amber

      They’re so good, but yes, don’t start them if you’re already in the middle of something that you’re loving! Finish the Witcher first for sure. 🙂 Like I said in the post, LotR is really a slow burn series that requires a LOT of patience, but if very rewarding if you’re able to put the time into it. I totally understand why so many people skip them these days, but they’re so good.

  5. I read The Fellowship a few years ago, took me about a month and then decided I needed to take a break before I continued. Except that break is now still going on 😅😂 I did like it, but ever since I’ve been too busy and/or tired to read something like LOTR. I can easily read big books and I did like The Fellowship, but it was hard to read, which makes it so hard to pick them up again (and I definitely have to reread The Fellowship again now haha) I’m not giving up though! One day I will try again 🙂

    • Amber

      Getting through the series *does* seem exhausting. Beyond just Lord of the Rings, any long book can be tiring. I’m glad you’re not giving up! I hope you enjoy the rest of the series when/if 😉 you decide to keep going.

    • Amber

      I really hope you enjoy them! I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say they’re bad, but definitely that they’re a chore. Then of course there’s an Amazon series coming up about Aragorn’s past based on Tolkien’s other appendices and novels… so we have that to look forward to!

  6. I really want to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like it’s a bookish bucket list type of thing for me. I started reading The Hobbit twice – once when I was 9 and then again a decade later and I got stuck about a third of the way through but I never attempted the actual main trilogy. I think the old literature student in me would love to read the seminal fantasy book series just to see where it all came from, you know? Anyway, great post, I love that you acknowledge that it’s slow going but still has value!

    • Amber

      Actually, I *have* heard that the trilogy is a bit easier to get through than The Hobbit. While it has its merits, I’ve actually never read The Hobbit so I can’t speak to it personally. I know my husband tried it and couldn’t get through it, but he is enjoying the trilogy so far. 🙂

      • I’ve heard that too – I think it’s just because it has a smaller plot and isn’t epic fantasy but still has all the marks of a Tolkein text with pages dedicated to description and therefore is somehow slower than the LotR!

  7. Yeah I definitely agree that it’s a bit of a chore, but so worth the read! You don’t get nearly as much detail or complex world building in other books. And couldn’t agree more that it’s worth taking a stroll in Tolkien’s imagination. Lovely post!

    • Amber

      Thank you so much! 🙂 The complexity of Tolkien’s world building is positively genius – any fan of fantasy *must* read these, in my opinion.