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10 Things I learned from J.R.R. Tolkien

Happy Birthday J.R.R Tolkien! Ah, Tolkien! How I've loved you these many years. He'd have been 119 today, a ripe old age for a hobbit, a mere pup for an elf, worm food for a human.

Doug introduced me to LOTR in 8th grade, I think. I'm pretty sure it was the first high fantasy I ever read. Like many of you, I used to read the cycle once a year. A bit of trivia: By my calculations, Frodo's flight at the ford happens on Oct. 20, my birthday. :-)

Was he an influence on my writing? Absolutely.

Here are 10 things I learned from Tolkien. There are lots more, of course, but 10 is a good round number.

1. Create complex and fully realized worlds
2. Let my characters talk like real people, not stilted actors
3. Appreciate the little guy's ability to contribute. Heroes don't have to be nobles
4. Pay attention to weather and time of year
5. Know my back history of a world
6. Mix humor and horror, history and action, etc.
7. Keep magic within boundaries so that it doesn't replace the actions of the heroes
8. Include food!
9. You can go a long way on foot.
10. The journey is as important as the destination.


( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
Very nicely said! My daughter, who also writes, is about to start a class this month on LOTR. I have to send her this.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Good luck to her! She should also check out "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland" by Diana Wynne Jones. It's funny as hell and priceless advice.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC)
A toast to the Professor! Wrote my dissertation and three books on him. His influence remains.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
Three books on Tolkien! Wow! Would you mind sharing titles?
Jan. 3rd, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
I used to have the whole "wastes of Mordor" passage memorized, I'd quoted it so much. >.<
By Anne C. Petty:
Tolkien's Mythology: One Ring to Bind Them All, 2nd ed.
Tolkien in the Land of Heroes
Dragons of Fantasy, 2nd ed. (big section on Tolkien)
Tolkien Studies, Vol. 1 (includes my chapter on Tolkien & Kalevala)
Good Dragons Are Hard to Find (includes my chapter on Smaug)
Tolkien and Shakespeare (includes my chapter on Tolkien & Catharsis)
There's other smaller stuff, but won't bore you with it.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 11:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I"ll look for those.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC)
Nice tribute! Tolkien was indeed important to many of us.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
(saw this on the SFNovelists list this morning)

My daughter (age 15) is reading this for the first time right now and loving it. Such a thrill for me...

Happy birthday, JRRT!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)

I taught a class on Tolkien once (just saw comment, above) at the U of Iowa. Incredibly fun.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
I know you were limiting yourself to ten, Lynn, but you left out an important one:

* being a geek is a positive advantage to a career in fantasy

Tolkien was such a linguistics geek!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! I'm a history geek, I guess.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
Me too! Well, that and linguistics. I blame Tolkien for the latter.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
I love this list, and may have to print it out for reference. Especially #8!

Thank you. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
I read my first Tolkien book when I was like 11 years old and now, when I'm about to turning 20, he's still my favorite writer ever. I can't even say how much I learned from him, how much he helped me on my worst nights, but the thing is that I never stop being so grateful with the life for give us such an incredible present like this man. Oh, I wish my english were way better to say all I want to, but just thanks, Lynn, for write this and remembering him.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
I still re-read the whole cycle once a year. ^__^ Though I didn't discover the books until I was 15 or so, I've loved them faithfully ever since.

I especially like No. 8! ^___^ How right you are! :)
Jan. 3rd, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
My memory of The Hobbit et al
When I was very young the mirror was my companion, my friend and my escape. I found JRR Tolkien, Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, etc after that and they because my vehicles of escape. And I can now add my bestest friend Lynn to that list of Escape Artists! Thank you for your wonderful world and allowing us to share in it!
Jan. 3rd, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
Re: My memory of The Hobbit et al
Awwwww!~ Hugs.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
If it hadn't been for Tolkien, I would have never gotten interested in Anglo-Saxon poetry and aced my master's degree in English Literature. Dear Tolkien, you've changed so many lives and you continue to do so.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
I can find those 10 things in your writing! :D
Jan. 3rd, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
Good to hear! I do try.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
Cheers to Tolkien! I hope he's resting in the lands he imagined.

I wish more people learned from his meticulous writing, it definitely gives any story another air. All these elements you mentioned and many more make a proper universe, a true world, like yours and Tolkien's, which is what keeps you interested in an entire series in my opinion. I've been unfortunate enough to books where magic pretty much saved the day and it just ended up being ridiculous! Same as with food or basic needs of characters lol.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
I read LOTR when I was around 14 or 15, almost 10 years ago... I doubt I could read it now, since the book tends to suit a certain age period. Nevertheless it made quite an impact on me, mostly on those poiny You had written here. I admire his ability to gather many characters in one setting and give everyone a voice! So that noone is forgotten - and I found in my reading journey that many authors tend to have problems with too many people on one place ;3 I was awed at how You dealt with it in Tamir books ♥

WHenever I think about LOTR, in whatever aspect (world, culture, language, significance of characters, signs, problems, encounters and so on) I find the book like a river - giving answers to questions, portraying behaviours, thoughts, changes... argh. I just love the books! I wouldn't be myself if I hadn't taken off with Frodo and his friends on this journey.
Jan. 3rd, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
A toast to Tolkien! I'm one of those insane people who wasn't able to get into his writing (I gave it a go, but I failed. I may try at the Hobbit again sometime.) but I'm still in admiration of what he was able to accomplish. A brilliant man whose works I'm sure millions of people have enjoyed. There's no denying he deserves respect as one of the greats. And those 10 lessons are must-learns for any writer, I think. =)
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
I wasn't able to get through the Hobbit when I first tried. I skipped it and started with The Fellowship of the Ring and found it much easier to get into. I keep meaning to get back to the Hobbit at some point...
Jan. 3rd, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
For me, your books are easier reading, than Tolkien's (only in russian translation, maybe), but you took the best from the Master. All those things can be found in your writings, and Nightrunners seem to me even more real, than members of the Fellowship. :)
Jan. 3rd, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
I'd say I definitely have a more contemporary style. Tolkien's prose can be very densely packed. And high praise indeed, if Seregil and Alec come close to being as real as Frodo and Sam are to me! (Yes, I'm a "pervy hobbit fancier." Well, not pervy, really, but I loved the hobbits the most of all.)
Jan. 4th, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
>> I loved the hobbits the most of all.
That's another thing you have in common with JRRT! :)
Jan. 4th, 2011 12:25 am (UTC)
I knew there was a reason I loved Nightrunner from the very beginning! Tolkien has been my favorite author for 47 years so that's not likely to change but I certainly put your work on my favorites shelf to be read again and again. With mushrooms.
Jan. 4th, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
An honor to be on that shelf!
Jan. 4th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Hail to the Master! Tolkien was one of the authors who changed my life, by opening me up to the infinite possibilities of fiction. It was JRRT for fantasy, Andre Norton for science fiction, and I went on from there. I agree with all ten of your points, and I would expand #1 a little to include "complex and fully realized characters." Of course Alec, Seregil, Micum, Thero, Tamir, etc., are wonderful examples of this.

There is an excellent book called "J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century" by Tom Shippey. I would also recommend the biography by Humphrey Carpenter. Detailed and fascinating reads.
Jan. 4th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
Ah Mr. Tolkien, how I've read my copies of your works all dog-eared and worn out with love. ♥

These are all fantastic points and a very nice tribute to him :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
Jan. 4th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
I first read Tolkien when I was 11. My sixth grade Language Arts anthology included "Riddles in the Dark" from The Hobbit, which of course ends with Bilbo dashing out of the mountain with Gollum shrieking in the background. I was wild to find out what happened next, checked out the book from the school library, and read it in two days.

I then checked LOTR out of the Older Readers section of the library and read that over Thanksgiving weekend. And read it again. And again. And again. And again. My parents started slipping me other fantasy (Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis), but every year or so I'd go back to Tolkien because his world was so very, very real.

To date I've shredded two complete paperback sets and one hardback, and am doing my best not to destroy the leather bound Easton Press set my aunt gave me for Christmas about fifteen years ago. I don't do that to many books,* but Tolkien and the complete Sherlock Holmes were the first.

Peerless writer, brilliant scholar, teller of tales, shaper of dreams...JRR Tolkien was all of those, and more. I only wish he'd lived long to see the extent of his influence on literature and scholarship.

*The first two Tamir books are so trashed I gave up and bought the e-versions of all three plus all five Nightrunner books. I learned my lesson this time.
Jan. 4th, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
E-books are harder to shred!
Jan. 4th, 2011 11:45 am (UTC)
The only problem is that I love to read in the bathtub...
Jan. 4th, 2011 05:51 am (UTC)
Very good things to remember, I'll have to keep those in mind :D

I also started reading Tolkien at an early age, I think I was in 7th grade. Read the whole LOTR Trilogy in under a week. Never ready anything like it before that.
Jan. 4th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
those are all very good points! *takes notes*

I read the LotR for the first time before the movies came out, so I'm sort of new to the whole thing. but damn, for an old guy he sure could write. ^_^
Mar. 2nd, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
Nice blog
It was rather interesting for me to read the article. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Katty Flouee
cell phone jammers (http://www.jammer-store.com/)
( 37 comments — Leave a comment )

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