Friday, April 1, 2016
5 Reasons Why I Love J.R.R. Tolkien
A while back I did a post on Why I Love Charles Dickens. While reading Return of the King (interestingly, concurrently with studying Revelation) I've been in another geeky Tolkien phase. Try drawing similarities between the Millenium and the land of the Valar, and it's really cool.
But not everyone feels comfortable with Tolkien. For some he's weird...unbiblical...magical...and I very much respect and understand. You might wonder why I approve of reading him. While this topic has been handled so much better than I'm about to do here, I wanted to share some simple and easy-to-grasp reasons today on why I think he's an author worth reading. So if you're wary of Tolkien, or just love him too, this article is for you.
He draws inspiration from old masters.
This sounds kind of weird, and it's not the best way to word it, but the real point is this: Tolkien didn't write primarily based off inspiration from his contemporaries. I think that's a good thing. Vintage literature is a bit like vintage wine: it's been tested, improved, and proven over time. (Or so I hear.) And while you can follow your contemporaries and should keep in touch with them, they, like you, are stuck in the 2000s mindset and the 2000s trends. If you look at famous musicians or artists, they often looked to an older musician or artist for the "master standard"--not someone who's figuring it out just like them. Some people gather inspiration from classic authors, but there's even more ancient inspiration than that. Tolkien gathered inspiration from old, old myths and legends and languages and many other things. These legends are not "safe literature". They are big, bold things that must be grappled with and mulled over. They are the fifty pound plates instead of the ten pound dumbbells. They bring his writing to a richer style of character and plot, and also, which brings me to my next point, his wording itself.
His writing style is rich.
Tolkien is a good writer. And not just a good writer. He's a fine writer, with every sense of the word fineness that we've lost in modern word usage. He grasps that higher quality of putting words together and striking the right emotion. I read a lot of excellent writing, but fine writing is a step above--something greater, like Sutcliff and A.A. Milne, who were able to choose words in the best way to evoke the right imagery. If you want your palate to appreciate good quality cuisine, you eat fine food, not processed junk. The same is true with words--if you want your mental palate tuned to a high-quality pitch, read fine writing. Tolkien is one of these wonderful authors who can accomplish that for you.
He's actually pretty straightforward.
It's easy to look at Tolkien and get overwhelmed by the size and scope of his books. In spite of his legendary style, I was actually pretty shocked in reading Return of the King a second time to find how bluntly and simply he writes. True, he has a lot of long names, but his storytelling style is to stick with the facts. He doesn't string it out or linger in nostalgia. He simply gets 'er done and moves on to the next thing. There's deep nostalgia and pain and glory in the story itself, but not because he's forcing it in his prose. It's at the heart of the story, and it can't help but come out. He has a beautiful economy of words.
He'll give you an appetite for real history.
Real history is not the stuff of historical romances. They include real history, but they're not real history, and you need to be able to read history. It's a skill and an acquired taste. While several of Tolkien's books are straight story (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Children of Hurin) as you delve into more of his works, they read a lot like a historical text of Middle Earth. The appendices at the back of Return of the King contain genealogies and brief historical accounts of people groups. The Silmarillion reads like a good history book. So do Lost Tales. I think honestly, Tolkien's history which many people read for the sake of the characters can pique your interest in moving on to the real stuff. As you go on, you can delve into the real historical texts and events which inspired him and become interested in them for their own sake. We need to get our history not just from historical fiction, but from big, fat biographies and nonfiction. So much of it is engagingly and beautifully written, and Tolkien can help to open up that world.
He makes you appreciate the Bible more.
I was reading the defeat of Satan in our Revelation Bible study last week, and chills ran down my spine. I've read that lots of times before--but somehow reading it after having been on a long dose of Tolkien's writing made it come that much more alive. Here's the thing: Tolkien isn't greater or more impressive than the Bible. However, pulling apart legends like Tolkien and Finn Mac Cool helped me see a much more epic level of the Bible than I had found on my own. You see reflections from God's story in these stories. You think about how Morgoth and Sauron hold such an evil grip over Middle Earth, and they're breaking hearts and killing, and someday Morgoth is going to get conquered. Then you think wait a minute, there's a real force of evil bringing real heartbreak on millions of people for thousands of years, and one day it's going to culminate in this epic battle and Christ will conquer it for good. Studying Tolkien and saying "This is so cool" and then flipping over to the Bible and seeing "Wait, this cool is real, and it's even more serious and epic and possible than Tolkien and Finn Mac Cool" leaves you stunned at the majesty of God. Tolkien helps me get the Bible out of my white girl box into the grand scale of true legend, and that's a good thing. Because there's a lot of big, bold, divine events in the Bible that we shouldn't try to put in a box we feel safe with.
Again, I respect and highly encourage readers to stay faithful to individual conscience on reading Tolkien. There are many good authors to be enjoyed, and he doesn't have to be one of them. But these are some reasons that have given me food for thought and opened up just a tiny bit of Tolkien's fantastic novels in a new way.
What you think? Do you like Tolkien? Disagree with him? I'd love to discuss with you in the comments.