Author SPLOTlight: JRR Tolkien
I’m not really sure how to approach this. Trying to do a blog-post feature about J.R.R. Tolkien is like trying to do a freehand sketch of the Mona Lisa in 30 seconds. The man wrote dozens of books, invented new languages, created a whole world for Pete’s sake. How do you cover that in a blog post?
The great thing about Tolkien is that despite the enormous scope of his world, his work is incredibly intimate and personal. And I don’t just mean that the characters are great (they are, though) – I mean that his work creates connections between people. I’m sure many of you had your parents read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings to you when you were younger, and if you’re like me, that memory has stuck with you. I’ve bonded with a lot of people over my love for those books, and I bet you have too. Even though they’re incredibly fun and exciting to read, they’re very serious, and when you’ve finished them you feel like you’ve accomplished something or been through An Experience. I’ve never met anyone who read LOTR and said “yeah, it was OK.” Either you didn’t make it through, or you did, loved it, and want to talk to people about it.
With that out of the way, I guess it’s time I introduced those of you who haven’t tried Tolkien yet to Middle-Earth. Middle-Earth is the land he invented, in which all of his stories take place. The reason that a lot of readers are so passionate about Tolkien is that he thought up everything about this fictional world – the creation myth, the languages, the pantheon of deities, the heroes and villains, the geography, the political borders. You could probably spend years studying Middle-Earth as if it were a real place and still not know everything about it. The books that most people read (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) describe very brief chapters in Middle-Earth’s history; some would say they don’t even describe the most exciting ones.
But that’s definitely his best written work, and if you’re going to start, you should start there.
Read The Hobbit first. It’s a fun, light-hearted adventure that just happens to set up the much more serious business of Lord of the Rings. If you like that – if you don’t mind the wizards and the goblins and all that (some people do) – you’ll love LOTR.
If you feel intrigued, you can check out Wikipedia’s entry on Middle-Earth. It does a pretty good job of covering the basics. If you’re REALLY intrigued, you can check out the much more extensive (and nerdy!) (but in a good way!) GlyphWeb site.
I know this wasn’t the most coherent blog post… but it’s hard for me to get all of my feelings about Tolkien down on paper. I hope that gives you an idea of how passionate people can get about this stuff, and convinces you to check it out.
Or, put another way: Gandalf was smiting Balrogs when Dumbledore was in diapers.
-Jack L., STACKS staffer