Would you rate Tolkien as a writer?

Discussion in 'J R R Tolkien' started by Trimac20, Mar 29, 2006.

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    Trimac20

    Trimac20 Trimac20

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    Ok, I base this mainly from Lord of the Rings (the only works I've really properly read), but I find Tolkien was a pretty average fantasy writer. Especially at the beginning of the 'Fellowship.' He often starts sentences with, 'he did that', 'he did that' i.e. excessively, the descriptions are pretty similar, 'the cold sky' and over-describes the damn sky.
    Sure he was a talented story-teller, world-builder.etc, but he can hardly be compared to many of the fantasy greats out there...
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    Marky Lazer

    Marky Lazer New Member

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    That's what I keep saying. I love the Arda world, but you can't say he's the best writer ever.
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    polymath

    polymath The Reimkennar

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    I wouldn't say he was the best writer ever. I would say he's the best fantasy writer ever, though. This is such a subjective topic but in terms of the world he created and the literary depth that informs his work (as rightly mentioned) he is almost peerless. IMHO.
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    Tea is my copilot

    Tea is my copilot New Member

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    I think he was good at describing the atmosphere, customs, conversations etc. Maybe the beginning was a bit rough, but all in all, he most certainly wasn't average.
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    direghost

    direghost New Member

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    Personally, his descriptions blow me away. In terms of sheer prose, I don't feel there's another sci-fi or fantasy author who can even compare, and very, very few authors even in his league. The man understood language. I especially love the evocitive imagry when Sam and Frodo first leave the Fellowship and are exploring on their own. It's prose you can savour, it's nourishing and wholesome.
    There are plenty of valid critiques of Tolkien, but his writing style I think has be considered a strength.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    Whatever your opinions of JRRT as a writer, no-one who has read his sons account of the writing of the books could fail to be impressed with the amount of editing, re-writing, plot-changes, character alterations, etc ,etc, that went into them. Yes, you could argue that he is sometimes a little stylistically flat, but for sheer thoroughness and detail, IMHO he just can't be beaten.
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    orionsixwings

    orionsixwings Demosthenes

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    I second the motion.

    Challenging the father of modern fantasy - writing style or whatever it may be - just because there are other writers out there, who evidently were inspired and some ultimately copied him (some actually are big, I mean HUGE, fans of the professor) is to me almost blasphemus. :mad:

    Ok, maybe not really :p -- that's overacting.

    However, I agree with the above. One of his trademarks would have been his writing style. And no, I haven't seen anyone who can even hold a candle with him --- although, as a matter of personal opinion, Philip Pullman comes in a very close second. ;)
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    Beowulf

    Beowulf New Member

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    Having read his wonderful essays I would give him eight out of ten. I would like to point out that for his time his writing was not unusual and he has a lot of skill at making languages and translating pieces (e.g. 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and 'Beowulf').
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    JWREmmett

    JWREmmett Science fiction fantasy

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    If that's your opinion, I would say you haven't properly read it.
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    Sinak-Rune

    Sinak-Rune Lord of the Valheru

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    Tolkien was the founder of fantasy novels, closely followed by Lewis.
    Tolkien created not just a world, but created a whole civilization, from the beginning of time, to the time it was free (ROTHK). No author in my knowledge has done that, to the extent of what Tolkien did. He created so many societies in his world, you need to read his novels over and over to understand each thing clearly.
    Tolkien is the father of Fanasty novels. But like all fathers they can be replaced my someone better. But Tolkien's books will live on forever where, Lewis, Brooks, Feist etc wont be able to.
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    Parsimony

    Parsimony Bobsnox

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    For the first bold section, it's interesting to note that Tolkien, Lewis, and maybe Wells or some other prominent author of the day were friends. They were actually members of some close Christian circle. Therefore, it's easy to see how both wrote fantastical stories in relatively the same time, and how both are revered for those stories. I wonder just how much idea bouncing took place between them...

    The second bold section - how can you argue that Lewis' won't live on? I understand Brooks (and have never read Feist), but Lewis' is not a contemporary kind of writer as is Brooks. Lewis' Narnia series are world renowned, and have up to this point, continued to be well-known, not to mention he has written tons of books specifically focusing on Christianity that will live on, if not for all people, at least for Christians. Lewis is definitely an author as revered by a large number of people as is Tolkien, albiet maybe a smaller and more concentrated group.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (pub. 1950) has already lasted longer than LotR ( FotR pub.1954) :D

    But why compare them at all? You may as well say that Cheddar cheese is better than Camembert, or elephants are better than giraffes. I agree that a lot of todays SF/F authors will not be remembered in a hundred years time, but how many best selling Victorian writers are still read today?
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    Arch-Indar

    Arch-Indar Queen of the Valheru

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    Tolkien once quoted Lewis's Naria as rubbish, because Lewis didnt go into detail, as Tolkien did. LotR has sold more than naria
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    alexhurry

    alexhurry New Member

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    The thing is though, that most people don't mind the simplicity of his work. It's the pure pleasure of reading something by a man who basically revolutionised the genre, that for me keeps me reading his books.
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    Kettricken

    Kettricken Dodo Ffan

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    Tolkien is not the best writer ever, in the sense of 'writing'. Nowadays, I don't think an editor would approve of LOTR. For example, the slow start (with all the descriptions about hobbit culture), the long time we lose Frodo and Sam in TTT (the first half describes the adventures of Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas...), the long epilogue after the ring is destroyed.
    No modern author would be able to get away with things like this.

    Still, it is my favourite book. It's the book I will probably reread the most. It's the book which got me into fantasy. And I know I'm not the only one who feels like this. So, there must be something really good in these books! ;)
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm afraid I beg to differ with much of what's been said here. On this one, I have to say that I think Tolkien's prose is one of the strong points of his writing. Like Lovecraft, Eddison, Dunsany, Machen, and several of the writers who had a distinctive style -- and who, note, have been frequently, usually disastrously, copied -- they ignored the conventions and went their own way. The old-fashioned approach Tolkien used is precisely why these books hold together. They are carefully crafted personal visions, intended to convey something deep within the author himself. The fact that a modern editor wouldn't stand for the slow approach -- or the abandoning of Frodo and Sam for several hundred pages to concentrate on other parts of the story -- simply says that they're too limited in their approach. This was a commonplace in much of 18th and 19th century literature, and people certainly had no problem with it for two hundred years. The problem, I feel, is that we've all grown up in a world with motion pictures, television, and disposable reading matter that often goes for the lowest common denominator, where the intent is to sell books, not to say anything meaningful or to share one's insights or to put on paper something which moves you deeply in a way that will also touch others. That's what these writers did, and that's why, whatever their faults, THEY WORK! To try to tell the stories in any other way would mangle the very vision they were trying to convey. Each of these writers worked, reworked, and re-reworked looking for the precise term that would convey the subtlest nuances of feeling and association they were trying to pin down. Whether one likes their style or not is very much a personal choice; but I'd challenge anyone to try writing these stories in a different way, and see just how badly such an attempt fares -- no matter how talented the writer. The message and the medium (or style) are very much the same here; and I'd say we're all the richer for the fact they DIDN'T follow what was expected of them. Look at the huge number of writers who began well, showed great talent and incredible vision, and then tried to please editors and readers more than to say what was in them waiting to be said, in their own way. With very few exceptions, they're completely forgotten today, because they lost that inner light, and began to simply sound generic. (This happened with the Gothic writers, as well.)

    Incidentally, I believe Tolkien's complaint was that Lewis' stories were simply too explicitly allegorical, a type of writing he frankly despised. He felt it was like hitting the reader over the head with a large mallet, rather than giving them freedom to ponder.
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    Brys

    Brys New Member

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    Tolkien's prose IMO is not spectacular, but competent and it suits the type of novels he's writing. Sometimes he goes overboard with excessive descriptions which not just slow the pace down but do so unnecessarily without significant contributions to atmosphere. Dunsany has better flow in his language, Peake has atmospheric, eccentric, ludicrously good prose and descriptions - but Tolkien's is simply functional, though it may not seem such due to it being archaic in style. Tolkien's prose did need more editing than it recieved, and more editing than those others you mention, because with Tolkien, occasionally the descriptions come at the expense of the pace and the plot, rather than complementing it.

    I think Mieville's comment on Tolkien is an excellent perspective on Tolkien's dislike of allegory:
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Bravo, Brys! (And I'm definitely going to have to make time to check Mieville out!) To clarify something I may not have said very well earlier, which also takes issue to some degree with your contention: No, Tolkien's prose was not particularly colorful or memorable in and of itself; it was nonetheless carefully thought out. And as for slowing the plot down -- perhaps this is simply a difference in preference, but it seems to me that many of the passages people complain about most with that are his dealings with the natural environment around, giving it such a texture that it can be smelt, tasted, and you can almost see the cells on the different plants. While I used to find that rather slow going, I later came to appreciate it for a part of Tolkien's view of the world, and his attention to each of these as living things; therefore his projection of what was to him an intensely real place; it came to help me appreciate a different level with the books, and therefore I can't see that as a fault but rather a strength; I'm not sure it could be done any other way without jarring too much with the main body of his prose.
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    CarlottaVonUberwald

    CarlottaVonUberwald Just Julie

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    i've always felt that the impression a book leaves you with is a far better judgement of a writer ( as an author) than anything else. However i can see the point from a writing perspective but i also see so many pieces of so called excellent writing thatis strained so that the author does not repeat themselves.
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    Brys

    Brys New Member

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    I generally don't have a problem with writing being slow paced or descriptive - I mean, Peake's Gormenghast is my favourite fantasy series, after all. There are some who take it to extremes when they aren't competent enough as writers (as happens in a certain multi-volume popular epic fantasy). I last read Tolkien when I was 13 though, so I might appreciate the prose more. Tolkien's strength is in the worldbuilding more than anything else. What he did was unprecedented in that, and it's still the most complete, most ambitious worldbuilding attempt in fantasy - so his description is important. Yet I think it works much better in the Silmarillion, where the pace is absolutely appropriate, reflecting the mythological style and where the clear focus is worldbuilding, while in a more traditional novel structure, such as the Lord of the Rings, the worldbuilding and story should complement each other, so that there is no need for an excessive slowing of pace as happens on occassion with Tolkien. That said, I didn't think that either The Two Towers or The Return of the King were particularly slow-paced at all - they were just competently written traditional epic fantasy. That's what marks Tolkien's prose - competence rather than brilliance.

    Mieville's a great writer. He's a pretty big critic of Tolkien, but he does offer what he describes as a "grudging defence of Tolkien" and acknowledges his skills (much more convincingly IMO than many of Tolkien's fans). In terms of creating an atmosphere through description, Mieville's at least Tolkien's equal, though the atmosphere created is of a different type entirely (Tolkien's rural, idyllic Middle-Earth compared to Mieville's decaying filthy industrialising city of New Crobuzon).
    Last edited: May 13, 2006

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