1. River Merivalo

    Thank you for the very insightful and well written analysis!

    I think Tolkien, really, never cared about what others were going to think of his legendarium; he wrote LotR just to create a world for the languages he constructed (Quenya, Sindarin, etc.). It was truly his own vision.

  2. Joanna

    Hey there! I commented on your Harry one too… anyway, thanks for this as well! And, again, I’m kind of just commenting in accordance with you lol (sorry for not providing stimulating and opposing feedback!)

    So… I was thirteen when I read the trilogy, but I never once looked at it as a good guy/bad guy plot. There is so obviously more to it than that. To remember everything I would need to re-read it lol… just going on how I felt about it at the time. And I absolutely adored the pain-staking exposition and the 80-page ending. (So points 3-5 I totally agree with.)

    And again, thanks for being an English major and alerting me to the controversy over the formulaic/simplistic accusations which are thrown its way lol. Don’t remember enough about the way the story was written to have an opinion on it though. Nor do I know enough about modernist/post-modernist literature in general, come to think of it. Derp.

  3. slw

    Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that LotR does not have a happy ending. This already should be enough of an indication that it is not a simple story.

  4. An excellent article, which lays out a number of things I sort of knew instinctively but hadn’t quite formulated. Jung commented somewhere that, if we look back through the history of ideas and arts, the people we see as being forward-thinking were often considered very old-fashioned by their contemporaries. I think you’ve just laid out an excellent example of this.

  5. Diana

    This is an interesting article.

    However, those who criticize Tolkien for excessive exposition haven’t correctly identified the reason they don’t like it. It’s not that there is too much of it, it’s that it doesn’t have any tension. There are no unanswered questions that need an answer to keep people reading. It reads like a history text book not a novel. They go here. They go there. This happens. That happens. etc.

    Compare the book to the movie and you will see what I mean. For example, Gondor calls for aid. In the movie, there is a lot of tension and doubt over whether Theoden will go to Gondor’s aid. In the book, there is no question or doubt that when the beacons are lit Rohan will saddle up and go to help. The same can be seen in the ents attacking Saroman or whether Aragorn is going to pick up the sword and take his rightful place as king. Look at the differences in the various story lines in almost every case, the movie has dramatic tension while the books do not.

    Dramatic tension is an unknown or a question which needs answering or discovering. It is: Will Theoden go to Gondor’s aid? Will the ents go to war against Saroman? Will someone stop Wormtongue? Will Aragorn take his place as King? Will Aragorn be able to recruit the ghost army? etc. etc.

    It is not the amount of exposition nor is it a demand for action, action, action. It is the lack of dramatic tension that makes the books difficult to read for some.

    Considering that the reason Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is that he wrote the kind of stories that he wanted to read and no one was writing, I don’t see how anyone can say he wasn’t an original.

    • cantar

      Of course there is dramatic tension regarding the ride of the Rohirrim to Gondor. We know that they will go there, but what we don’t know -and what is really essential to the story- is if they are going to arrive on time or if they will find a destroyed city and a victorious enemy.

  6. Nola Diorez

    Thanks for this wonderful column, I enjoyed every bit of it. I do have a question though…You say that “Gandalf somehow manages to morph into whatever these three types of heroes need him to be.” – But then you do not go into his own transformation. He is not just the wise wizard who is there for everyone, but even the counselor himself learns about trust, (entrusting) power and making choices. What is your opinion about that?

    • L.B. Gale

      I completely agree. I think that Gandalf is both a supporting character to Frodo, Sam and Aragorn even as he has his own transformation across the novels. I particularly love his Pippin arc!

  7. Thank you for a wonderful and eloquent article on this issue. I am a fan of Tolkien’s work and I find it irritating when others dismiss the man and his work without really understanding (or caring) about what he actually accomplished.

  8. […] Hypable picks the top ten best monsters from Doctor Who, L.B. Gale has a fantastic post about the five ways that Tolkien defies accusations of narrative simplicity, Wired reviews Carpathia, a novel which puts vampires on the Titanic, and io9′s George […]

  9. Thanks for the great article and insights, L.B. I’m also a creative writer, as well as a big fan of Tolkien, and took the liberty of citing you in my own blog:


    The post challenges the excessive influence of the ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ maxim in post modern literature, mentions the importance of double coding and calls for reader tolerance of the balanced use of exposition in literature as an antidote to the audio-visual sensory bias resulting from the increasing popularity of TV/cinematic entertainment.

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