Tolkien Reading Day 2021: 3 Writing Tips From Novelist JRR Tolkien
Born 1892 in South Africa, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, better known as JRR Tolkien, was an English writer and scholar most famously recognised for his epic fantasy series The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. His works have also been adapted to a Hollywood movie franchise which has garnered its own global fanbase.
To celebrate this literary legend, here a few writing tips gleaned from reading his famous novels:
Show Not Tell
Anyone who's read, or even at least seen the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings can attest to the incredible detail made accessible for the reader/viewer. Tolkien's linguistic approach has been the stuff of criticism and debate over the years. Some find his use of language haughty and too "poetic" rather than prosaic.
Yet, despite which end of the conversation you fall on, there's no doubting the efficacy of Tolkien's works—otherwise, we wouldn't have the epic blockbusters we've come to know and love today (and may I add, a dazzling sight of Orlando Bloom as Legolas).
Tokien's language may be reflective of the Modernist writing of the time as he obviously leaned towards aestheticism. For any aspiring writer, one of the most famous tips to remember is to 'show, and not tell'. Or in other words, use descriptive rather than imperative language. This way, the reading experience becomes richer and more involved; the imagination able to run amock.
Tolkien's works remind me of this aphorism; a master at 'showing' rather than telling, his 'poetic speak' extended a certain difficulty—if not creativity—to his works, easily observed in this excerpt:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
—The Fellowship of the Ring
Be Immersed In Your 'Worlding'
In a 2019 article by Nasrullah Mambrol, he recounts how Tolkien was always immersed in building Middle-Earth. Despite being a full-time professor at Oxford, he was always creating his LOTR mythology. Mambrol quotes Tolkien, "Looking back around 1951 upon his Middle-Earth, [he] commented, 'I do not remember a time when I was not building it'".
Perhaps for any fictionists out there, what can be observed from Tolkien himself is the art of determination and dedication to your craft. Successful stories are built on equally enthralling world-building and literary structure.
Although the world where Frodo and Sam struggle to defeat an all-seeing eye glowing above a monolithic tower miles away from The Shire is not at all relatable (to say the least)... it's still so easy to fall in love with the two misfit Hobbit characters. Tolkien leaves room for universal themes like friendship, love (shoutout to poor Éowyn), and triumph. Although the fictional world can be difficult to follow and takes a while to fully understand, Tolkien's skilful writing allows readers to understand each character through their elementary desires.
So, whether you're writing fiction, poetry, or even an essay—it never hurts to be relatable and accessible.