Tolkien’s Style of Writing and Reader Experience

Elijah Frost

Mrs. Jank

English 4

22, November 2016

Tolkien’s Style of Writing and Reader Experience

The Lord of the Rings is an epic trilogy written by an even more epic author: J.R.R. Tolkien. The first book of this three-part series is The Fellowship of the Ring. When reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the author’s writing style affects the reader’s experience in many ways. Tolkien’s extensive description of characters, settings and many different plots within the main plot allow the reader to delve into the story. Tolkien’s use of imagery throughout the book allows the reader to feel a part of the fellowship, and the massive amount of information Tolkien reveals to the reader allows for a new experience on each and every page. When reading The Fellowship of the Ring, analyzing Tolkien’s writing style is something that is critical for full enjoyment of the novel. Understanding why Tolkien is describing each character in such detail, and every setting with so much imagery is important. This understanding allows each reader to dive into the story, and fully experience what the author “brings to the table”.  Understanding his writing style is vital for complete enjoyment of a story that deserves complete enjoyment.

Tolkien’s writing includes many different aspects that reveal the style of writing he so often uses. This style is not just evident in The Fellowship of the Ring, but is also evident through all of his works. This story that Tolkien wrote is not just a simple story with a few settings and a group of characters throughout the series. He creates an entire world, Middle Earth, along with many different races, and countries. He even creates languages for these stories. When first reading through these books appreciation of his extensive description is required. Tolkien wrote this not for his personal gain, he believes that it’s critical for the full appreciation of the story he creates. Each individual race speaks languages such as, “Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!” (Tolkien 390). An example of one of the many languages he creates is the language of the Elves. He also creates a language for the dwarves, the language of Mordor, etc.… This is just a single example that reinforces how detailed J.R.R. Tolkien’s story is.

Some examples of Tolkien’s extensive description in few instances don’t create many effects on the entire plot. For the reader, this description is important to understand the main ideas and the plot of the book. But sometimes Tolkien in certain terms, the author describes too much. Many instances of this occur when Tolkien is using history within the plot to add to the story and is most evident in his use of backstory. The author uses this most often when describing familial lines of “Mr. Drogo, he married poor Miss Primula Brandybuck. She was our Mr. Bilbo’s first cousin on the mother’s side” (Tolkien 45). A group of hobbits, including Samwise’s father “The Gaffer” (Tolkien 45) discuss Bilbo and his nephew Frodo. Though, no reader needs to know Frodo’s father’s backstory to completely understand the plot. Knowing who Drogo married makes no difference for Frodo’s journey, or the plot.

When considering these points, Tolkien uses this tactic throughout the story to add to the depth. He uses these details to complicate the story and make sure that the reader is constantly discovering new insights on the plot. This adds to the overall reader experience that is important when trying to completely enjoy a book. Tolkien adds so much detail so the reader is forced to dive deep into the story. Readers cannot fully appreciate the story without diving deep. Tolkien uses extensive description of characters, settings, plot, and intense imagery to add to the reader experience. Without his unique writing style, The Fellowship of the Ring provides the reader with a “under par” story. The Fellowship of the Ring, due to his writing style, is the opposite.

First and foremost, Tolkien’s style of introducing characters specifically makes for a much better reader experience. The way Tolkien introduces characters to the reader allows the reader to imagine the physical appearance of the character, but also the description allows the reader to make connections. Connections between characters, between separate plots throughout the story such as history Tolkien refers to. This also allows readers to connect the character to someone they know. The reader analyzes a character Tolkien describes as “a strange-looking weather-beaten man, sitting in the shadows near the wall…” (Tolkien 214). Tolkien is describing the, at first very elusive character, Strider who “wore a hood that overshadowed his face;” (Tolkien 214). As the reader continues on through the next few pages they meet a character who is important throughout the entire trilogy. His description allows the reader to familiarize with each character, enough that the reader is able to connect with those characters throughout all of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the rest of the trilogy.

This first introduction is described with such detail that the reader gains an idea of the character, but it isn’t overwhelming. This is yet another aspect of Tolkien’s style. He describes in great detail, but does not overwhelm the reader. This is especially evident with Tolkien’s description of Aragorn. He is using the way he describes the character to add to the experience for the reader. The character is mysterious and suspicious for Frodo, so he introduces the character in a way that the reader does not know everything about him. Readers begin to wonder about him just as much as Frodo while he stayed at “The Inn of The Prancing Pony” (Tolkien 209).

Some examples of Tolkien’s character description throughout the book either portray under-description or perhaps portray over-description. For example, at the beginning of the chapter, The Council of Elrond, Tolkien is describing some of the characters that arrived at Rivendell for a meeting to discuss the fate of the ring. Gimli, one of the members of the future fellowship is described just as “a younger dwarf at Gloin’s side: his son Gimli” (Tolkien, pg. 315). However, a few paragraphs later, Tolkien describes another member of the future fellowship, Boromir. He holds the same significance as Gimli, yet Tolkien describes him in so much more detail. Boromir “was cloaked and booted as if for a journey on horseback;” (Tolkien, pg. 315). Tolkien did this not because Boromir holds more significance than Gimli, but intentionally for the reader to understand the story better. Most readers of The Fellowship of the Ring know the plot of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Within that book, dwarves hold the title of the main characters and Tolkien describes this race in great detail because the dwarves are unknown to readers. Tolkien most likely thought that re-describing the dwarves was unnecessary. But no reader knows the characteristics of a man from Gondor. When thinking about this, it is very interesting and is just another trait of Tolkien’s writing style that increases the complexity of this story even more, and the complexity directly affects the reader’s overall experience.

When writing this story and the prequel, The Hobbit, Tolkien wanted each race, and individual character described enough that the reader is able to imagine the character living within the story. But he made sure not to overwhelm the reader with character description. He evened it out with equal description of characters, settings, and separate plots within the “big plot.”  One example of this is his description of the Shire. The Shire is deeply described in The Hobbit, so Tolkien didn’t describe the Shire in great complexity because he expects the reader to already know the setting.

Furthermore, Tolkien’s description of specifically the setting adds to the reader’s experience and enjoyment of The Fellowship of the Ring. In the case of the setting, Tolkien describes each setting in such a way that the reader can perfectly imagine each fantastic place. He describes the Bridge of Khazad-dûm as “a hall, bright with daylight from its high windows in the east” and “its huge broken doors they passed, and suddenly…the Great Gates opened” (Tolkien 430) Tolkien describes settings with the reader’s curiosity in mind. He gives each reader a base of what he imagines each setting as. But then he leaves the rest to the readers own imagination. That is very important to consider when applying Tolkien’s writing of settings to reader experience. He isn’t only thoroughly describing each setting in a way that truly excites the readers mind. Tolkien is allowing each reader to envision this story in their own ways. Nobody knows exactly what “the Last Homely House east of the Sea” looks like (Tolkien’s description of the House of Elrond, Rivendell) (Tolkien 296).

Another example of Tolkien’s writing style that affects the reader’s experience when reading this novel is Tolkien’s integration of separate plots within the major plot. In the same way, Tolkien’s extensive use of imagery throughout the story increases the opportunity for the reader to dive into the story, and ultimately adds to a positive reader experience as they read The Fellowship of the Ring. As Tolkien is sharing this wonderful journey of dwarves, and elves, and Hobbits. He is also adding in “extra” plots within that create depth within the story. The multiple plots allow readers to make connections within the story, just as Frodo is making connections when Gandalf is explaining to him how “Sméagol returned alone; and he found that none of his family could see him, when he was wearing the ring” (Tolkien 85). Gandalf is informing Frodo of his travels, and the journey that lies ahead of him. But for an added measure of depth, Tolkien decides to inform the reader of the complete history of the Ring. Not only is Frodo learning this, but so is the reader. This adds to the reader experience in a way that the reader feels as if Frodo isn’t the only one learning about the ring. And Frodo isn’t the only one sitting “in silence…deep in thought” and “in the light of the morning” (Tolkien 76), awaiting Gandalf’s council.

Of course, when reading The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien’s use of imagery is fluent without the story. And adds to a positive reader experience. Imagery is yet another one of Tolkien’s tools he likes to use to help readers dive into the story. Tolkien uses the settings he creates and crams their descriptions full of imagery. Used to such an extent that the reader fully experiences the story using the five senses. The author uses imagery best when describing nature, “They stooped over the dark water…they saw the forms of the encircling mountains mirrored in a profound blue,” (Tolkien 433). When reading this, the reader is wisped into another world, a world that Tolkien thoroughly creates for everyone to enjoy. Each description Tolkien makes revolves around his imagery. And he makes it easy for the five senses to enhance the reader experience. Each reader enjoys “the rushing of the river over the rocks of the rapids” and “the twigs of the trees above them beginning to drip” (Tolkien 503).

It is important to consider Tolkien’s writing style when reading this novel and all of his fine works. His extensive description of characters, settings, and plot allows for a positive reader experience. And the author’s fluent use of imagery allows each reader to dive into Middle Earth. Through the analysis of Tolkien’s writing style and examples throughout The Fellowship of the Ring, reading this novel provides a wonderful experience every time the reader turns a page.



Works Cited

  • Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. Print.



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