What Makes Tolkien’s Stories Timeless?

by | 22 September 2017 | Books | 26 comments

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort…

 

Today—on the twenty-second day of the ninth month of the year—it is someone’s birthday. Two someones’ birthdays, in fact. And those someones are none other than dear old Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

*cue epic music*

 

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

 

Tolkien’s stories of dragons, hobbits and adventure have been around since 1937. That’s eighty years ago—for those of you who don’t want to do the maths yourself. 😛 And yet, even spanning those eighty years, The Hobbit (soon followed by Lord of the Rings) is still around and well-known today. It’s not one of those ‘old books’ that you have to read for school. It’s not one of those ‘old books’ that no one really knows or cares about. People even made a movie of The Hobbit a whole seventy-five years after the book was released.

I don’t see that happening with many other books that old. (But then again, maybe I’m just not very knowledgeable on the topic of old books?)

What makes Tolkien’s writing so timeless? What is it that makes it stand out from the jumble of ‘old books’?

I haven’t put nearly enough thought into this topic to do it justice, but the amount of thought that I have put into it has given me this tiny list of three things.

1: World Building

Anyone who has read (or even watched) The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings will know that Middle Earth is no ordinary fantasy realm. The amount of depth in this land is absolutely stunning. There are epic maps, there’s the history, the completely original races, the languages, the locations, the plants and animals and trees (and Ents). One only has to see a tiny glimpse to be absolutely awestruck. Tolkien didn’t just whip this up. He spent time. So much time. And it was absolutely worth it because now his world is right there for us to live in, even if it’s just for a short time.

I’m also indebted to Tolkien because he was the first to spell plural ‘elf’ and ‘dwarf’ as elves/dwarves instead of elfs/dwarfs. I cringe every time I see them spelled the non-Tolkien way, honestly. Thank you, Tolkien, for sparing me from this horror. xD

 

2: Characters

From Bilbo, to Sméagol, to Gimli, to Aragorn. There are so many characters, and they’re all unique individuals. They have such deep backstory and history and character. Pippin isn’t just a carefree youngster; he’s a loyal and courageous hobbit. Legolas isn’t just an elf; he’s a friend, a wise and noble character. Tree Beard isn’t just a talking tree/Ent; he’s…well…a talking tree.

I could probably go on about the characters for years, but I’ll restrain from doing that because that may be slightly over the recommended blog post length. I will say though that Pippin is one of my most favourites of them all. I love his energy and fresh outlook and how cheerful he is at the beginning and the end, though the dark times in between may cause a shadow.

I also happen to get Pippin every single time I do any LotR character quiz, so that’s interesting. I connect with his yearning for second breakfast. And elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper too. 😛

“What about breakfast?”
“You’ve already had it.”
“We’ve had one, yes, but what about second breakfast?”

 

3: Theme

Here I go about theme again. *cue all my readers rolling their eyes* “Can’t you talk about anything else, Jane??” Well, yes, but…but theme, guys. It’s the reason why books are powerful. It’s the way you can affect people’s lives. It’s the thing that sticks with your readers and keeps the story alive even eighty years after it was first published and forty-four years after the author died.

There are many themes in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Choice, friendship, loss and sacrifice, power, humility, the small vs the mighty. They’re woven into the story and resound through the tale—like shinning mirrors we can look in and see a reflection of truth.

That’s only just scraping the surface of what makes Tolkien’s two most renowned works as well written as they are. The style may not be for everyone. Some people might be bored by the long descriptions or the long travel scenes, but there’s so much to learn from. I’m an avid Tolkien fan myself, but the lengthy descriptions almost fry my brain. Do I get bored? Yes. Do I still love the overall story? YES.

Even if you’ve tried to read Lord of the Rings but it was too brain-frying for you, I’d like to say: give it another chance. You don’t have to read every word. I skim, I’ll admit it. I know it’s a big, fat book, but if it’s still around after this long, there’s got to be something in it, right?

 

Today, I’d like to say a thank you to Tolkien for Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Their stories have inspired me, and will continue to for many years to come. Thank you to the two brave hobbits that stood up (even though they weren’t very tall) and did the right thing. Though orcs, goblins, dragons and darkest powers stood in the way, you didn’t give up.

Thank you for the adventure.

Happy birthday Bilbo and Frodo!

“If ever you are passing my way,” said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!”

Tonight I’m going to be watching The Fellowship of the Ring with my family as a celebration of this wonderful tale, and these wonderful characters. May Tolkien’s words live on for many years hence!

 

Your turn! Have you read Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit? If so—what parts of Bilbo and Frodo’s stories have stuck with you? Have you watched the movies?

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Adventurer—exploring the endless wonders of God’s beautiful creation. She started writing by accident, but since the very beginning has loved the enchantment of words on paper. If you say anything about pizza, superheroes, books, or any of her many, many fandoms, she’ll come at the double. Aside from crafting worlds using only twenty-six letters, she is a passionate Jesus-lover, freelance editor, self-trained martial artist, songwriter, and musician. In her spare time, she's often off on random adventures in the name of story research. She seeks to inspire her readers to step out and become the heroes of hope this world needs.

26 Comments

  1. Ralraymee

    I loved this post! I didn’t know it was Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday! *Gives them cake and confetti* *They both stare at me in confusion* *Pats their heads*
    Also, I’m not Tired of theme.. This was actually the first I’ve heard of it XD

    (Also, First! 😀 *Totally didn’t leave this open all day so I could read it*)

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Well now you know. 😛
      Ayy well that’s good. What?? You haven’t heard me going on about theme? THAT SETTLES IT. I’ll have to do a post or two on theme. xD

      (Woot. xP *gives you reward pizza*)

      Reply
  2. Catherine Hawthorn

    To all said: so true. Great post Jane!

    I’m still trying to figure out how to capture that timeless quality that Tolkien has, lol.

    P.S. Have you checked out Hamlette’s blog party yet?

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thanks! 🙂

      Ah yes, that’s something that all writers strive for, I believe. (Hmm, maybe I could do a blog post on my thoughts…)

      Ooh I have a little, but not very closely to be honest. xD I’ll have to do a bit more stalking.

      Reply
  3. Krystal

    YAAAAS LOTR

    *ahem* I’ve read the books twice (need to do a reread sometime here soon when my TBR pile is not so gargantuan o.o) and they’re my absolute favorite movie series (I’ve watched them…I’ve lost count, but it’s prolly close to thirty times…I think XP).

    Parts that have stuck with me: hmmm…idk, maybe persevering to the end/not giving up? AND THE FRIENDSHIPS…agh, the friendships, don’t even get me started on those. <333

    (okay good, I'm not the only one who cringes at the elfs/dwarfs spelling. XD)

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      O-O That’s a LOT of times. I’m in awe, Krystal. XD

      Ack yes the friendship are the. best. <3 <3 I really like friendships in books and movies so much.

      (And yesss, you're certainly not alone there. xP)

      Reply
    • Isabella Braga

      Yes! finally someone who has read the books as many times as me 🙂

      Reply
  4. J.A.Penrose

    Tolkien is epic.
    His books are epic.
    World building- epic.
    Linguistics- epic.
    Characters- epic.
    Theme- forever epic.
    Post- epic.

    Great post Jane!!! And happy birthday you two brave, hungry hobbits!
    Have some pizza to celebrate.

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      I concur with all that. So much epicness. 😛

      Thanks!! *sneaks a bite or two of the hobbits’ pizza*

      Reply
  5. MiddleEarthMusician

    HAPPY TOLKIEN DAY JANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! XD *screams* This was an AWESOME post! I totally agree with you. The theme is AMAZING!!! I’ve read the books and watched the movies several times, as well as read many of the histories. XD Great picture compilation too! XD *flails*

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Happy Tolkien Day to you too!! 😛 Thank you! The histories of Middle Earth are so intriguing.

      Reply
  6. Kate Flournoy

    Hello Jane… been stalking you for a while, but I am ready to break the silence.
    *dramatic pause*
    Great post.
    XD
    I actually have one thought to add… it seems to me that Tolkien is so timeless because he has woven a delightful fantasy… that teaches us to see reality more clearly.
    I know— how does a fantasy do that?
    Because even though Middle Earth is strange, the nature of truth is not. Even if Samwise Gamgee is three feet tall and has enormous hairy feet and pointed ears, his love and loyalty are beautifully human and beautifully true. If anything, they seem truer than true, because of the contrast between fantasy and the truth of all he embodies. The fantasy is a new setting; a different perspective. But the truth is the same, and they are all good, solid, timeless 🙂 truths that will never go out of style.
    Anyway. My two cents. 😉 Love your blog.

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Ay, hi Kate! I’m so happy to have you here. 😀

      Ooh yes, that is so very true. You have brilliantly said what I completely missed, so thank you. XD

      Reply
  7. GJE

    AHHHH!!!!! I LOVE LOTR AND THE HOBBIT!!!!! *squeals*
    Pippin and Merry are the bestest. And SAMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!
    AGH HE’S SO SWEET.
    I just love them all. lol
    😀
    (I love the way the Hobbit movies did Smaug. He’s awesome.)

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      YES! I love Merry and Pippin and Sam and they’re all just great. 🙂

      Reply
      • GJE

        I want to go to New Zealand SO BAD and visit HOBBITON!!!!

        Reply
        • Jane Maree

          My word yes, that would be so epic.

          Reply
  8. Quinley

    Awesome post, Jane!:) I love the collage at the end.
    -Quinley
    P.S happy Hobbit day!

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Thanks a heap, Quinley. 😀 I really enjoyed making it.
      You too. <3

      Reply
  9. MiddleEarthMusician

    Oh, I forgot; one of the reasons I like LoTR and the Hobbit so much is the companionship and fellowship of the characters. It’s so great. 🙂

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Ah yes, that is one of my favourite things too. I love the friendships that get developed so strongly and realistically over the story.

      Reply
  10. Kendra Lynne

    Wow, Jane. This post… you nailed it. You were able to express how amazing Tolkien’s story is (yes, I say story because really; its all one story with different parts and scenes and little tales in th big one- like our stories being part of the Big one that God is writing). These posts of yours are SO good; keep up the good work! 🙂

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      Awk thank you so much, you’re just too kind. <3 *hugs* That's honestly so encouraging to hear.

      Reply
  11. Brianna Henderson

    HAPPY SUPER BELATED BIRTHDAY FRODO AND BILBO!!! *sets off fireworks*

    Also a little belated, but the Silmarilion turned 40 on the 15th this year, too.

    Tolkien’s work is amazing. I’m in awe of you coming up with words to describe this, because I have none. I really need to re-read him.

    (I have to say, though, the graphics in this post were absolutely beautiful)

    Reply
    • Jane Maree

      *sets off a couple more fireworks* YES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR HOBBITS. 😛

      Ooh really? I didn’t even know that.

      Awh thanks, I honestly feel like I only scraped the very surface of the topic. And yess, you should reread. Always reread. xD

      Thanks!! My sister Clare took the photos, and I made the collage.

      Reply

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