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.

18 comments:

  1. Excellent thoughts, Schuyler. You summarized a lot of my own sentiments. I especially appreciated your first point and I think Tolkien and Lewis would as well since I know they were both adamant about aspiring authors being familiar with the classics and by classics they didn't mean Dickens. I also love your final point. I think that's a good gauge for entertainment in general--does it make us appreciate and love God more? Does it make us desire and love His Word more? Or does it alienate us from it? Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    Dani xoxo
    a vapor in the wind

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    1. Thank-you, Dani! Something definitely challenging to me, because it's easy to stop before going back to really ancient authors. Something I need to delve in more!

      And yes--the ultimate reason for reading any book--to know God and love him better. Amen!

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  2. I do like Tolkien from the scattered bits I've read. I can't say he's my favorite, but I do like his writing style. It's beautiful. I can relate well with your last point. There have been many fiction books that have helped me appreciate the Bible more. The first that came to mind were The Laird's Inheritance by George MacDonald, the Chuck Black series, the two Alicia Willis books that I have, Rachel Thomson's Oneness series, Douglas Bond's books, and Counted Worthy by Leah Good. I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. The books that point me to Christ are the ones I most definitely consider re-reading. Really good post. A timely one, too--may family just finished watching the Hobbit movies. :)

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    1. I will forever mourn that you do not love him as much as I do. No, in all seriousness, I'm glad you enjoy him. :P

      I didn't know you had read George MacDonald! Those are good books. I like your list very much, it sounds just like you. <3

      TELL ME YOU CRIED AT BOTFA. TELL ME YOU CRIED.

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  3. Those are great reasons. I heartily concur with all five, but especially the last two. One of Tolkien's greatest strengths is training readers to see and appreciate beauty (and wonder, and terror, and glory) in other places. I often feel more alive and attuned to the world, both physical and spiritual, after reading Tolkien.

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    1. T'was you who helped me see the last two in many of our discussions. I am indebted to you and the Lord's grace for that. <3

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  4. Mhm, I love this post. I really need to get more into Tolkien, especially the LotR books. I think the only time I've gotten through all of them in one form or another was when they were a read-aloud in our home. When I've attempted them on my own I've found it hard to concentrate and keep up. However I have enjoyed The Children of Hurin and The Hobbit on my own, and Roverandom, for one of Tolkien's lighter works. I really want to get into The Silmarillion as well, but it's really hard. I have trouble remembering who's who in books, and that trouble starts in the first couple of pages in of my attempts to read it. xD

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    1. Lord willing, Victoria, the three of you should schedule a read-aloud session of your favorite Tolkien passages (if SA 2016 were to work out??). CG would have to read one first. :P I volunteer to take photos!

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    2. The Sil is a huge challenge, Victoria, so no blame there at all! I suggest getting an edition with a map and writing the names of elf leaders on sticky notes to put over their appropriate regions. I did that, and it helped me keep track of story lines so much better. Geography is a big part of understanding that story.

      If you can get past the forest and Tom Bombadil in Fellowship, you can get through the rest of the series. That's the sticker for everyone. XD

      Hope that helps a little, it would be so fun to do a read-through together!

      ~Schuyler

      PS. to MrsSM--GREAT idea.

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  5. I love Tolkien, too. For all these reasons and more. Lovely post :)

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  6. I love EVERYTHING you highlighted. I just finished reading RotK for the first time, thus finishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I am a forever fan. I loved all the points you made, but especially the last one. It's so true! Tolkien's writing has given me a deeper appreciation of the Bible and the epic stories it tells of-and of what is yet to come! I think he would be very happy to hear that his stories do that for us, don't you think? :)

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    1. Way to go, Natalie!! That's an amazing accomplishment to get through all of them. *geeks out with you*

      I think Tolkien would be thrilled that his books are having such an impact. So glad to hear you are having the same impressions!

      ~Schuyler

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  7. Everything about this post is gold, Schuyler. Just wonderful each one of them, and really helpful in pointing out some of the wonderful things about Tolkien. I think I'll add this post to a list of recommendations when I'm discussing Tolkien and magic and fairy-tales with others in the future.

    I think my favourite though was the last one - the one about Tolkien making you appreciate the Bible more. Yes, oh yes!! I love this particular bit:

    "[Tolkien] 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.

    <3

    In every way, Tolkien has been such a huge and inspiring influence in my writing, reading and own life. He's one of those top authors out there for me, with all his flaws - that man is a bit of a legend in himself, for me :).

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    1. He does write in such a legendary way! In some ways, I think Rosemary Sutcliff has a more beautiful narrative style, but for fantasy and good worldview, Tolkien can't be beaten. I loved reading the Appendices in ROTK! Going to be talking about that next week, so get ready for some more good Tolkien fangirling!

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  8. I love your passion for Tolkien Schuyler! It mirrors mine. I will never tire of reading his lyrical prose (especially out loud) and sounding his philosophical/theological depths...

    My first published book is a book of reflections on The Lord of the Rings. I also share your love for Dickens, especially A Christmas Carol.

    Great post!

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    1. Always wonderful to meet a fellow Tolkien fan! Thanks for stopping by, Brent. I'll have to look up your book! :)

      ~Schuyler

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