The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time. I don’t think there’s any argument to the contrary, and only more so now with the success of the films. It’s always so amazing to me to see works endure so long after their creation. Tolkien created an entire world, filled with different peoples, cultures, and languages, that our world has found comfort in ever since. More than the impressive worldbuilding, Tolkien populated it with characters that stole our hearts and that spoke to something inside of ourselves. I believe that these are the reasons that Tolkien and his works have lived on throughout the years, or at least they are for me.
My Unexpected Journey
I can remember the first time I ever heard of Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. I was about 10 at the time and obsessed with Harry Potter. The Two Towers had come out just a month or so after Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and I remember there being a lot of articles comparing the two. I would read anything that even mentioned Harry Potter, and so those magazine and newspaper articles were voraciously consumed. I was not always pleased with what I found. With all of my 10 year old righteous fury I hated that anyone would dare to compare anything to Harry Potter and deem it better. I was loyal to my fandom damn it. I refused to have anything to do with The Lord of the Rings, despite my dad’s many attempts to get me to watch them with him. I refused to betray my precious wizarding world.
Reader I caved.
I can’t remember what finally wore me down, but finally my dad won out and I sat down to watch The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers after the latter had its home release.
Needless to say that after months of rejection I was hooked. Which goes to show that 10 year olds know nothing and have no taste, or maybe that was just me. The stubborn nerd rage was strong in my youthful self.
Anyway, I couldn’t get enough. Unlike Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien was a book series that was already complete which of course meant that before long I was begging for them. My dad ended buying me the Del Rey movie box set from a Scholastic Book Order from school, and I spent the first couple of months of sixth grade reading The Lord of the Rings. I actually still own that box set despite having re-bought the books in newer editions. There are just certain books you hold onto, the ones that made you into a reader. They sit alongside my original, beat up paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and my Great Illustrated Classics edition of Little Women. I can remember exactly where and when I got each of these books and you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands.
Looking back, I can’t pinpoint exactly what about the series enchanted me and as cliche as it sounds, I think it really was just everything. I was charmed by the Hobbits, in awe of the Elves, emboldened by the Men, delighted by the Dwarves, and inspired by the Wizard. Not to mention the scenery and aesthetic that only breathed more life into every moment. When I finally started to read the books, the movies only helped to inspire my imagination and watch it all play out in my head.
The books, of course, are very different to the movies if only due to medium. The movies had to be able to tell the story in a set amount of time whereas Tolkien had only himself to impose any such limits in his writing. the events and descriptions found in the books are told in long and vivid detail, and I will say are not for everyone. Which is why the movies are so fantastic, because they show the detail Tolkien describes faithfully and in less time.
Yet even with the movies, the books have continued to stay in print with new editions coming out every few years. Some might say it is because of the movies that the books have endured, but I don’t believe that’s the case. After all they’d been in print for almost 50 years by the time the first movie came out. I enjoy the books because of everything that didn’t make it into the films. It might just be the academic in me, but I love having the extra knowledge. For me it only heightens my enjoyment of the films having all of that in the back of my head. You’ll see what I mean.
The scope of Middle-Earth, the land where Tolkien’s stories take place, is breathtaking. As a writer, even the thought of trying to create something with the level of detail Tolkien has makes me want to lay down and take a nap. Honestly, I feel that way whenever I read anything with any level of worldbuilding, and give a round of applause at those who succeed in it. The Lord of the Rings was my first real exposure to this kind of all encompassing kind of world building, and I believe that’s part of why I was so captivated. That all of that came out of the mind of one person was just so astonishing to me, and it really kicked into gear my love for epic fantasies. Since then I’ve chased the feeling that The Lord of the Rings evoked from me, and while I’ve enjoyed several amazing epic fantasies since then (A Song of Ice and Fire, The Poppy War trilogy, The Books of Pellinor), nostalgia I think has made it so that that feeling will forever elude me.
The landscape of Middle-Earth is ever changing depending on the Age you’re reading about as Kingdoms rise and fall with the passage of time. The fact that Tolkien created a history for his world that spans millenia, complete with creation stories, is truly remarkable. When I’m reading the histories of Middle-Earth it really is as if I’m learning about somewhere real. Giving his audience this level of detail, and having them readily consume it, is what allows them to form such a deep connection to his work. When you love something to this degree, you share it with others who share it in turn.
Connecting and Coming Together
Wanting to connect with others and come together is arguably what The Lord of the Rings is about. All of the races of Middle-Earth must set aside their differences for the greater good, and in doing so they realize that their differences were only a barrier to greater relationships. This is perhaps most notably exemplified by Legolas and Gimli. The former an Elf and the latter a Dwarf, their races held a strong animosity toward each other for grievances long past yet still passed into the present. Neither are particularly thrilled to be working together to destroy the Ring, but begrudgingly do so. As the end of their journey they find themselves close and unlikely friends that go off on to explore the homelands of the other together. The camaraderie, the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that form between all of these different characters are genuine without being sickeningly sweet or preachy. They simply are because they matter to each other, nothing more nothing less. The honest and vulnerability displayed by them reaches into the reader’s heart and stays there long after the book is shut. Legolas and Gimli are equally devoted to Aragorn, remaining in Middle-Earth at his side until his death before they sail together into the West to the Elves resting place in Valinor. The bonds that link these characters together are the kind that one hopes to forge in their own life, and that’s part of how The Lord of the Rings endures. We may not being going on a quest with our loved ones to destroy a magical ring in real life, but we can have movie marathons and book clubs about them to bond over instead.
They Lived Happily Ever After, To The End of Their Days
Coming full circle, just as my dad once begged me to watch the movies with him, I begged him to read the books. He ended up being more stubborn than me, holding out a good 17 years to my one. Throughout that time the movies have been a staple of our household, playing at least once a month and with all of us trickling into the room it’s on in at some point. When he finally did read the books he would update me every day on something new he’d learned and where he was at. His amazement was so reminiscent of my own from so many years ago, and I wonder if the smug, affectionate indulgence I felt listening to his exclamations are how he felt when I first watched the movies with him. Perhaps that’s really why The Lord of the Rings has endured in the collective imagination for so long, because there is always something new to learn and someone to share it with.
Why do you think Tolkien’s works have remained popular? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image via Pinterest
I'm a writer based in California. I received my Bachelor's and Master's in Literature from San Francisco State University. I dream of one day writing books of my own and maybe even being part of a writer's room for a show! I love to talk about pop culture, books, and travel to anyone willing to listen. Some of my favorite topics in those categories are "Avatar the Last Airbender", "Gilmore Girls", the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mexico, and Paris. My favorite thing in the world though is my dog, he's just the cutest!