Story Study: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

This next Story Study features the fantasy tale that impacted me the most as a writer and will forever be my favorite fictional story.


My first encounter: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien has the distinction of my favorite book of all time, and is perhaps the work that, above all others, cinched my identity as a (predominantly) fantasy writer. My exposure to Tolkien’s masterpiece began on December 26th of my 13th year when my parents showed my brother and I the Lord of the Rings movies for the first time. At first I dismissed it in favor of writing on my new laptop (a Christmas gift) since I didn’t think I’d be that fascinated by it, but not too long into The Fellowship of the Ring, I turned off my computer and remained hooked on the television screen until the final credits rolled. A little less than a year later, I read the whole saga for the first time. I’ve read the whole thing three times now, as well as many of Tolkien’s other works, including most of The History of Middle-earth series, where Christopher Tolkien (J. R. R.’s son) provides commentary on the progression of his father’s work. It’s quite interesting to read as an author, and I’m looking forward to reading the final volumes in the near future.


What I love: I love the Hobbits. I want to be a Hobbit and live in the Shire. Tolkien excellently created a world that I would want to step into, with characters I’ve come to cherish.

I love the themes too. Love. Honor. Sacrifice. Humility. Pride. Greed. They’re classics of fantasy literature and always strike a chord with me. Though simple, they’re truly timeless.

The book is very quotable as well. I love drawing inspirational (or humorous) quotes from literature, and Tolkien’s work is full of them. And they don’t just speak to the world of Middle-earth, either—many of them can speak truth and perspective into our own day-to-day lives.

Also, I appreciate the fact that the work serves as a bridge between the fantasy poems and epics of old into the modern era. I wrote a paper on it for a class once, mostly using Sam and Frodo as respective examples of the old and the new eras of heroes.

While there are many more things that I love about the book, I’ll leave this as a final highlight: I love the ending. It makes me cry every time, yet fills me with hope and joy. I always have such a strange sense of peace and melancholy when I finish reading the book (or watching the movies). Bittersweet endings are truly the best.


What critiques I have: It’s difficult for me to offer notes for improvement on this piece, perhaps mostly because of bias, but also because it is a great work.

I do wish that some small inconsistencies had been fixed. Most of these were pointed out to me by reading Christopher Tolkien’s commentary in The History of Middle-earth series and deal mostly with time and place. It prompts me to be attentive to my own edits across the spectrum of a work, as changing a small detail in one place and not adjusting in others could sometimes make a big difference.  (Or, at the very least, bother hardcore Type A nerds like myself.)

Another thing of note is that the book’s references to the larger Middle-earth mythology make it complex—maybe too much so. I personally love the depth of Tolkien’s world, but I could see all of his allusions to his larger mythos driving away people unfamiliar with Tolkien’s other Middle-earth tales. Once I read The Silmarillion I understood the references in The Lord of the Rings, but most will not read the former since it’s much denser and a trickier read. However, this second note definitely is a matter of preference and not something that I have a problem with.


My greatest takeaways: I mentioned earlier that this is the work that probably cinched my identity as a fantasy writer. It wasn’t long after I was introduced to Tolkien’s masterpiece that I began crafting my own fantasy creations (aided and encouraged by other stories, too, but mostly by The Lord of the Rings). A current work-in-progress of mine, The Myth-Keepers, is a direct result of my early fantasy experiments, and much of its world development for the Elves and Dwarves are influenced by Middle-earth lore. Without Tolkien, I probably wouldn’t be writing fantasy today.

Learning of Tolkien’s personal journey of writing The Lord of the Rings taught me that it’s okay to take my time and enjoy the world I’m creating. Tolkien may have been a procrastinator and somewhat of a perfectionist, but when he did sit down to work he put in the effort to write a superb story within a rich context. He also listened to his critique partners (namely C. S. Lewis), which ultimately improved elements of his epic work.  This encourages me to be open to sharing my work with fellow writers, even when it’s not perfect, as they may be able to help me fix a problem better than I could on my own.


In the end, The Lord of the Rings stands at the top of both my favorite books list and the most influential stories in my life. Tolkien is an author I truly admire, and I am forever grateful for his Middle-earth tales. The Lord of the Rings will continue to be a classic I return to again and again as I grow older.

Have you read The Lord of the Rings or seen the movie? What are your thoughts on this classic fantasy epic?