If The Hobbit LOTR and The Silmarillion had been published in Present era, how would they fare?

BAYLOR

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With readers and critics? Would they be as well received now as they would have when they originally came out ?

Thoughts?
 
If it were published as is? I think it would fail. The description is so overly detailed and long because people didn't have television. Today, we have internet, and have consumed a lot of pop culture, so everybody has the image of pretty much any environment. You get the images in your head just by reading the words "desert" or "Mars" or anything else.

The story and worldbuilding are pretty much flawless, but the writing would need some update.
 
You get the images in your head just by reading the words "desert" or "Mars" or anything else.

Tolkien himself made this point, though, in his essay "On Fairy Stories".

"If a story says, 'he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below', the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specifically out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word."

I don't think there is actually all that much description in Tolkien, certainly not as much as in GRR Martin or Tad Williams, who are more interested in being "illustrators" (possibly because they were writing after visual media had become so established). If LOTR had been written by Martin or Erikson, it would have been twice as long. A lot of Tolkien's natural description, for example, is more about placing a point in a landscape in relation to other parts of the landscape, as a kind of map, rather than painting a word-picture. (He is more descriptive of aspects of his invented cultures, but no more that modern epic fantasy writers.)
 
If it were published as is? I think it would fail. The description is so overly detailed and long . . . The story and worldbuilding are pretty much flawless, but the writing would need some update.

People say this sort of thing all the time, and then something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell comes along, and it is extremely wordy and long and slow in its pace and it is a huge hit. (I, personally, enjoyed it greatly, but nevertheless it was all those things.)

The truth is, we can't know. We can never know what is likely to come out of nowhere and though apparently in so many ways the opposite of what modern readers are looking for it nevertheless catches the public imagination.

In the case of The Lord of the Rings, it did well enough when it first came out—old-fashioned in many ways as the style was at the time, it was still much closer to the contemporary style than it was in the late sixties, when it became an international hit—but there were aspects of the story and the writing that satisfied a hunger that many people had no idea they even had. It just needed something to bring the book to their attention. For others of us it was, "Here it is! The kind of thing I could never find before but have longed for. At last! At last!"
 
Tolkien himself made this point, though, in his essay "On Fairy Stories".

"If a story says, 'he climbed a hill and saw a river in the valley below', the illustrator may catch, or nearly catch, his own vision of such a scene; but every hearer of the words will have his own picture, and it will be made out of all the hills and rivers and dales he has ever seen, but specifically out of The Hill, The River, The Valley which were for him the first embodiment of the word."

I don't think there is actually all that much description in Tolkien, certainly not as much as in GRR Martin or Tad Williams, who are more interested in being "illustrators" (possibly because they were writing after visual media had become so established). If LOTR had been written by Martin or Erikson, it would have been twice as long. A lot of Tolkien's natural description, for example, is more about placing a point in a landscape in relation to other parts of the landscape, as a kind of map, rather than painting a word-picture. (He is more descriptive of aspects of his invented cultures, but no more that modern epic fantasy writers.)


Good point. He tends to describe more geographically than of specific places. Although what information he does supply is sufficient to paint grand pictures in the mind. The beautifully crafted illustrations also help.

As for the question of how he would fare. I'm guessing that with how many authors and novels there are today, he would probably struggle to get published. To a large extent I suppose that it would depend on just how original his work was, because it has helped to create much of what we read today. Would there have been Game of Thrones without Tolkien?

But still , I'm guessing that his work would have been significantly edited before it had a chance of getting to print; the slow (but beautiful) narrative of Frodo's time in the Shire, his meeting with Bombadil, the three endings. I think that the final edit would have looked more like Jackson's movie trilogy than how it ended up. Personally I think that Tolkien would have refused to bow to pressure of altering his work and it would never have been published.
 
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I think The Hobbit and LOTR would be published - because "fantasy" is still a very popular genre. The Silmarillion, perhaps not as it is a bit dense compared to contemporary work.

And I think they would do very well. As well as they have done/do now? I'm not so sure; there is a lot of competition out there, and much of it has a film or tv series to back it up. I also think part of their popularity is because of err...their popularity - people read them because other people have read them.

Conversely, I think they would fare better over the next few decades; their reputation would grow and they would become classics of the 2020s.

I'm just glad they were published when they were and that I've been able to read and enjoy them so many times since I first picked them up as a kid in the early 80s.
 
I don't think that modern epic fantasy would exist without it. LOTR gave writers permission to build a really expansive world. It set reader expectations. There would be none of the fat mutli-volume epics that fill Fantasy sections in bookshops if Tolkien hadn't proved there was an audience for them. So, he would struggle to publish it now, because genre tropes would be very different.
 
I absolutely loved The Hobbit in primary school, and as others have noted, the fantasy genre wouldn't be what it is today if Lord of the Rings wasn't published. I feel like the Hobbit has so much originality that it would most likely become popular enough for people to demand the sequel.
 
I think it would fail. The description is so overly detailed and long
I think this is a common misconception - it's not overly detailed at all - it gives the impression that a lot of detail must have been written because the language is so rich and sense of place is conveyed so well.

... the writing would need some update.
What a sad state we're in if we think Tolkien's writing 'needs some update'. Dickens could be brisker too, perhaps James Patterson could rework Bleak House for the new century?
 
If it were published as is? I think it would fail. The description is so overly detailed and long because people didn't have television. Today, we have internet, and have consumed a lot of pop culture, so everybody has the image of pretty much any environment. You get the images in your head just by reading the words "desert" or "Mars" or anything else.

The story and worldbuilding are pretty much flawless, but the writing would need some update.

Heaven help us if they ever come out with a No Fears edition of LOTR ! :eek:
 
Good point. He tends to describe more geographically than of specific places. Although what information he does supply is sufficient to paint grand pictures in the mind. The beautifully crafted illustrations also help.

I think this is a common misconception - it's not overly detailed at all - it gives the impression that a lot of detail must have been written because the language is so rich and sense of place is conveyed so well.

I think this is spot on. I've reread The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and The Fellowship of the Ring this year (partway into Two Towers now) and compared to many of the famous names that followed him, Tolkien is BRISK. GRRM wrote 3 times as many pages of ASOIAF as the entire LOTR saga before you even saw your second white walker.

That said, another thing that stands out to me is exactly this. Tolkien was a naturalist and LOVES his descriptions of where they're walking. The Shire perfectly captures a certain rustic ideal, the barrows out Baskerville the Hound of the Baskervilles, and Moria is oppressive as can be. But huge chunks of the work are essentially descriptions of the scenery as they travel. He is, essentially, the world's best pastoral tour guide, walking thousands of miles with the Companions and sharing bits of history, poetry and song about everything along the way. But beyond that... the swords and clothing and meals that later authors tend to fetishize are comparatively lightly drawn. I think this makes the book feel like pretty dense reading despite the overall rapid pace of events.

As to how it would fare now, I think less well. In some sense, I think LOTR was the right time and place. After the carnage of WWI trenches and devastation of nuclear weapons, the old fairy tales Tolkien loved were beginning to look antiquated and not up to the real "monsters" of modernity. What is Grendel in the face of human nuclear power? In that sense, LOTR was perfect in preserving that ethos by removing it from Earth in a way literally nobody had ever really tried to do before (and arguably has been unable to do since). But I don't know how Tolkien's naturalist writing would register in an instagram world.

Also, I'm increasingly convinced LOTR is the weakest of his 3 major works. I think Silmarillion shows him at his most comfortable... writing what amounts to epic poetry of the battles of the gods and unfortunate mortals caught up in them and describing the sprawling, shifting borders and kingdoms rising and falling alongside them. The Hobbit, as a tiny slice of life out of that world, has an adventurous snappiness and a charismatic lead. LOTR, to me, never quite feels comfortable. His vision of "more hobbit stories" demanded by his publisher became essentially a prelude to the hobbits meeting Strider at the Prancing Pony, where he began to try melding the epic tone and sweep of his Silmaril saga with the happy-go-lucky hobbits. I'd say the results are mixed, most noticeably in pacing. It takes as many pages to reach the Prancing Pony as it takes Sam and Frodo to cross Mordor, and the scouring of the shire feels just as awkward at the end as some of the "long walk in the country" does early on.

Finally, there's no way this pitch would work:
"So they get trapped in a tree!"
"How do they get out?"
"This guy Tom, who lives forever and has total resistance to the ring and sings Raffi songs and is otherwise a mystery, rescues them by singing a song to the tree."
"Well... ok. Where do they go next?"
"Into the barrows where they get trapped in a barrow"
"I see... and how do they get out of this one?"
"Tom comes back and saves them again with another song."
"Thank you for your time Mr. Tolkien, we'll be in touch."
 
I second @Bick - Tolkien is not overly descriptive. But he does convey a "weight" behind places, people and (to a lesser extent) things. There is a often a (hi)story behind them. For me, it's this that gives his stories their richness.
 
Tolkien had such an influence on high fantasy that imagining him only getting those novels published today is hard. However, I'd assume that some GOT fans would find it a bit interesting. Spot on about the Shannara series @HareBrain
 
Tolkien had such an influence on high fantasy that imagining him only getting those novels published today is hard. However, I'd assume that some GOT fans would find it a bit interesting. Spot on about the Shannara series @HareBrain

I think he would still find an audience.
 
For all I care, I enjoy reading the descriptions. I would be as much of a hit as it was before, if not more.
 

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