5 Good Things About J.R.R. Tolkien's Books

5 Good Things About J.R.R. Tolkien’s Books

In this post, we look at five good things about J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

‘I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.’

There has been quite a ruckus over Tolkien in the wake of The Rings of Power. And, people seem intent on fighting about one thing or another. And, well, I feel the good professor would have disapproved of all this hullabaloo.

So, rather than an attack or defend something of that nature, here are five of the best things about Tolkien’s writing.

5 Good Things About J.R.R. Tolkien’s Books

  1. It’s Written Beautifully

People have said that The Lord of the Rings is slow and poorly paced. That it takes forever to get to the point. I might have even said that.

Still, I have read it about 30 times so it can’t be that bad.

The Elves are sad and melancholy. They know that their time on earth is nearing its end and that they are at best fighting for what they loved and for the future of their younger siblings, humans.

On the road to Lothlorien Haldir says:  ‘Some there are among us who sing that the Shadow will draw back and peace shall come again. Yet I do not believe that the world about us will ever again be as it was of old, or the light of the Sun as it was aforetime. For the Elves, I fear, it will prove at best a truce, in which they may pass to the Sea unhindered and leave the Middle-earth for ever.’

It my favourite passage and I feel his sadness for being in a world that clearly isn’t his anymore.

There is famously this passage as Frodo and Gandalf sail the straight road to Valinor:

‘And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.’

Valinor is sort of Tolkien’s version of heaven and we never really get much more description of it then this, except in The Silmarillion.

And, well, it’s just such a pleasant description of death and dying.

One last one:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

Small things, and little people doing more than they should be able to, is a theme in The Lord of the Rings.

And, there is always the implication that the powers of the world, the Valar (gods), are always on the side of people doing good things no matter how unlikely those things are to succeed.

It’s very subtle, but throughout the books we see that almost all the Valar have lent a hand at crucial parts of the plot.

And, you won’t know who or when until you read all the supplementary material. Which gives Tolkien’s work almost infinite re-readability.

  1. It’s Not An Allegory

Unlike most fantasy, Tolkien’s work is not an allegory. By this I mean it is not at all about our real world. The ring is not an allegory of a nuclear bomb. The Hobbits aren’t allegorical of Englishmen. They are just what they are.

However, what Tolkien has are themes. Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Nature vs Industry.

He uses the imagery of light, growing things, and natural beasts to promote right and good.

The Kingdom of Gondor uses a white tree as there symbol. Galadriel gives magical starlight to the Hobbits to help them though dark places. Help comes at the dawn for the defenders of helms deep. The giant eagles are messengers of the god Manwe and the Ents are from the god Yavanna.

And, all these themes are universal. Which makes them mostly timeless.

Granted you quite often feel that strong Catholic streak in Tolkien, but it fits his setting because he made it from the ground up to be that way.

In other works, like Gulliver’s Travels, it is actually about what was going on politically in England hundreds of years ago. So, frankly we don’t really understand it anymore.

At most we can now make intellectual guesses at what Jonathan Swift was trying to say. But, it’s really quite unknowable. I mean what faction does the flying castle represent in the House of Commons and why should I care?

On the other hand I suspect that Tolkien’s work will be just as good and as easy to understand for the next few centuries.

  1. It’s Deep And Thoughtful

It has three layers.

  • Surface adventure

You can simply enjoy the quest to destroy the ring and be swept up in adventure. Peter Jackson’s movies even do this well.

  • Philosophical undercurrent

There is a moral order to the books. You will learn a good deal about ‘natural’ philosophical leanings here. But, also about loss grief and the benefits of a simple life free from complications.

  • History and Language

For those that love learning you will continue to be amazed at the depth of Tolkien’s knowledge.

For example, did you know all the Dwarfs have names from the Poetic Eda?

All the place names in his books can be rooted in Old English or Nordic languages.

Tolkien even worked out how far people could walk in a day over a long period of time so that the distance that the Hobbits travel would make sense and hold up to scrutiny. He even made sure that the tides and cycles of the moon were accurate.

  1. It Continues To Inspire

Tolkien’s works have spawned hundreds of thousands of fantasy books. Several dozen are even quite good.

People say he invented the fantasy genre. Which is not true. But, his influence is everywhere.

You can see it in Discworld, you can see it in Game of Thrones, and you can feel it even in Final Fantasy (Lord ‘Gandof’ the Summoner one of five wizards…)

And, no doubt there are people reading Tolkien right now who will create their own fantasy worlds inspired by his wonderful vision.

  1. It Can Add Meaning To Your Life

It’s easy to struggle to find meaning in the modern world.

Tolkien felt that England needed a mythological history to anchor it to the past. But, it had been lost to history as the various invasions and their victors rewrote history.

So he made one.

It was his personal vision of the world and it suited him philosophically.

Old fashioned and quite Christian, but also very English and pastoral. It was a place he wanted to be real.

‘I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.’

Of course it is just made up. I’m not saying you have to imagine your trees moving at night or think of Manwe, Lord of the Winds watching over you when you see an eagle in the sky, but well it can be fun to make up your own stories about the world from time to time.

Last word

Tolkien, whatever you think of his writing, was a good man who spent his life teaching. And, his books continue to do so after his death.

I have met many people who have given up reading The Lord of the Rings but I have never met someone who didn’t learn anything good from reading it.

Let me know what you love about Tolkien in the comments.

By Christopher Luke Dean (Le nathlam hí)

Christopher Luke Dean writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean

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Posted on: 17th November 2022