Doc Opp's Reviews > The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Apr 29, 2007

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bookshelves: classics, fantasy

Tolkein's masterpiece is notable primarily for its historical significance. He basically invented the fantasy genre, and because of that all fantasy readers owe him a debt of gratitude. Many things in his books will seem somewhat cliche nowadays, but that's because they have been used so often since he wrote this book - almost all of them were original when this book was written.

That said, Tolkein is not a terribly good writer. He tends to go on in excruciating detail about trivial concepts. Parts of the book, such as Ent poetry, are downright painful to read. And his leaf by leaf descriptions of forests can get fairly trivial. Since he wrote this series, several other fantasy writers have basically stolen the story and rewritten it with higher quality prose. Terry Brooks Shannara series, for example, is more or less identical in plot and characters, but Brooks is a notably better writer. So depending on whether you prefer the authentic text, or the better written text, you should choose accordingly.

The notion of heroism in Tolkein is particularly worth noting. It is, so far as I can tell, the first set of novels that defines heroism entirely by internal features. The protagonist has no ability to fight, or to use magic, or basically do anything except to doing his best to do the right thing. This conception of heroism, which is what is what most people think of nowadays, is quite different than it was historically conceived (where heroism was synonymous with strength or ability, sometimes in conjunction with morality, but sometimes not). So, in this way, like so many others, Tolkein has had tremendous effect on popular culture.
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01/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by Sara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:09AM) (new)

Sara Why does being a hero HAVE to be about one's ability to fight and such? It takes true determination and courage for Frodo to leave everything he knows behind and travel to Mordor. Anyone could fight-I could, though I'd not be very good at it. It's also more of a good read when it is not all so easy for the character to get it over with, when one of the main characters actually is mortal and has no 'extraordinary' gifts.
How many books would you estimate you have read? I have read a very, very lot for my young age, and so far none have measured up to Tolkien.


message 2: by Doc Opp (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Doc Opp The definition of hero has changed throughout history. Classically, heroism was defined nearly exclusively by physical prowess (although Odysseus was heroic for his mental abilities too). Arthurian legend introduced the notion that heroism was more than strength and also included a moral component. Then Tolkien got rid of the notion that strength (aside from strength of character) was relevant at all. Outside of the literary domain, it appears that again the definition of hero is changing to be synonymous with fame. Hence, singers and actors are viewed as heroes by many kids these days.

If you're really interested in the topic of heroism, I recommend Irina Eremia Bragin's "Subterranean Towers" which is an excellent book in its own right, and at the end has a nice set of essays that are thought provoking on the topic.

I have read hundreds of epic fantasy novels. In terms of ideas and creativity, Tolkien is in the top 20%. In terms of quality writing I would put him in the bottom third. If you want to read some good fantasy writing, where the main characters are mortal and have no special gifts, check out George RR Martin's "A song of ice and fire" series. One of the best out there right now.


message 3: by Cassie (new)

Cassie Deitz Oh, I'm so glad to hear someone else say what I've thought every time I've picked this up and TRIED to wade through it. I mention my distaste for Tolkien's writing style and you'd have thought I'd said I eat puppies for breakfast.


Caroline Okay, Doc Opp, you love The Speaker for the Dead, but you hate The Lord of the Rings? Your review made me want to gouge my eyes out!

Okay, Tolkien does get trivial occasionally, but that's the point isn't it? There are thousands of years of background history. This makes the book deep and beautiful, and how can that be written without a little bit of triviality? If I could read it at age seven without getting bored, you can too. Somethings take patience.

I agree with the first comment. If people thought heroism was about strength, we'd all be bowing down to pro athletes.

Also, I am a kid, you are not. How do YOU know how kids view the word? Most celebrates are viewed as unmoral, but talented. Some people see them as heroes, but don't make too many assumptions.

It may be true that people see celebrates that way, but it's really Tolkien's doing? You think that the reason kids think actors are cool is because some one wrote a book that most of them haven't read? REALLY? I know that your sure that his writing of the books set off a chain of events, but I don't think he can be blamed for the mess in society today. People have always had some to call a hero. At least it's not a king anymore.

Also, this book was written in the nineteen-fifties. I've read plenty of books from this time period that go to far into details. Go criticize them.

The last thing I'm going to say is READ MY REVIEW AND THEN READ THE BOOK AGAIN AND LIKE IT OR I WILL EXPLODE!


Doc Opp Caroline, I think you're reading too much into my review, and misreading my responses to comments. I never said I hate LOTR - note that I gave it three stars. I also never blamed Tolkein for heroism as strength, in fact, I said exactly the opposite - Tolkein was one of the first to think of heroes as more than just strength. I think that Tolkein's definition of heroism is an admirable one, and one of the main strengths of the book.

As for detail, I don't mind detail, so long as its well written. I don't believe Tolkein fits that description. You, of course, are entitled to your opinion about what makes good writing. Some people like Hemmingway, others like Dickens; there's room in the world for different taste. Hopefully without you gouging out your eyes or exploding.


Virag When you said that Brooks is a better author I laughed out loud. I looked into one of her books - it's okay, but honestly, it cannot be compared to Tolkien. Not everybody likes him, and I can understand that his detail sometimes bores you. I find it interesting, although I do have to say that all those songs in the books made me roll my eyes.


Julie I think that many people forget that Aragorn, Eomer, or Gandalf are not the main narrative voices of this story. The Hobbits are.

The whole story of the Lord of the Rings is told from the perspective of the Hobbits, and though they are not Epic Heroes, they are certainly not boring. Their culture is richly brought to life, especially in the first chapter, and right through the various adventures they are involved in. Hobbits love food and nature (hence the extensive descriptions of these) and they also love family histories, songs and poetry.

Tolkien definitely got inside the head of Sam, who was really the main character or narrator of the whole story. If you want meaty details of the activities of Gandalf and Aragorn, you aren't going to get it from Sam. Sam was a gardner, so you are going to get more details than you need about the local grasses and trees. How is that not authentic?

Yes, some of the songs and poetry the Hobbits record are not to my taste either. I just skip over them. Just remember what styles Tolkien was emulating. Old and Middle English, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and other Germanic literatures. Beowulf and Sigurd. Characters and narrators were often letting rip with random poetry or song to reinforce the prowess of the heroes or let their audience know how the heroes were feeling.

I re-read LOTR about once a year, but because I know it so well, I usually skim over the bits I find a bit boring, and let myself get absorbed by the rest!


Virag Julie wrote: "I think that many people forget that Aragorn, Eomer, or Gandalf are not the main narrative voices of this story. The Hobbits are.

The whole story of the Lord of the Rings is told from the persp..."


Exactly - I didn't really like much of the songs, but it's apparent in all the cultures that Tolkien created, even Orc, that songs are a great part of each culture. It makes the book more realistic, and you do not have to read it if you prefer not to.


Michael I was taking you seriously until the Terry Brooks comment.


Emily I disagree with you, I think Lord of the Rings is an excellent series! Heroism as saved by grace stated is not your physiclly abilty. All in all I think LOTR is a fantasic story.


Kassi Have you tried The Hobbit? There are far fewer digressions and the descriptions and details are much tighter. I love The Lord of the Rings, but The Hobbit is a really nice break from LOTR's epic scope. It's completely charming–you should try it out if you haven't already.


message 12: by Kyle (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kyle Hartman The Hobbit in my opinion was way better. As for the heroism part, I think I prefer the heroism be about doing the right thing and trying your hardest, rather than the what you can do.


message 13: by David (new)

David I totally agree. I have tried to read this book . . . twice! I just can't seem to make it through it. The farthest I got was when the Hobbits met Tom Bombadil, and there I had to quit. Whenever I start a series, I like to finish it (if it is complete) before moving on to something else. I realized that I would spend the better part of a year reading this if I tried to continue. For my sanity's sake I had to give up.

I love the story and the whole concept behind it. And because the movies are among my top ten favorites of all time, I wanted to read the books to see how they compare since the books generally are better. But for now, my 50th anniversary edition paperback copy is going to sit on my shelf looking pretty.

I understand that Tolkien is considered the Grand Poobah of Fantasy, and that everyone who has written one sentence of fantasy fiction since has been compared to him and found lacking. But there are other authors out there who write epic/heroic fantasy as well and do it better. To those of you who love Tolkien, that's your opinion and you're entitled to it. But DON'T be a snob about it and say that people who don't like his works are wrong and misguided.

Doc, thank you for this review. I really enjoyed it and am glad that someone had the intestinal fortitude to say what a lot of us would like to.


Karina I find it hard to believe that avid readers are misreading your comment so greatly. lol ... i agree with your comment 100%

so much so that i declined to write my own. aha.


message 15: by Liam (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liam I agree with your review 100%. Tolkien was an amazing worldbuilder, but his writing is drab and colourless, and feels like crawling through wallpaper paste. It is all very impressive and amazing in its own right, but you cannot force pages of descriptions of rocks down the readers' throats and expect them to enjoy the experience. Clearly a lot of people have, or feel that they have to say they have, enjoyed it, and on a base level, I didn't dislike the LOTR series; it just felt like a chore, rather than a relaxing read.


message 16: by Meah (new)

Meah Jessup Well somebody doesn't appreciate good writing!


Divya Fraikin Found it hard to Keep going too.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

meah jessup! just cuz doc opp has a valid point and didnt like it as much as you doesnt mean he doesnt appreciate it.
hence the 3 stars.


Andrew I agree with this review. I liked the Hobbit, but I just can't stay interested in this book. It is so dull. I like the story. I get on the Lord of the Rings Wikia and read all about the plot and it is a great story, but the good story hidden behind pages of mindless drivel and songs/poems. I also find it hard to have any care about the hobbits. I wanted to see more Gandalf.


message 20: by Jamiebug (new)

Jamiebug I'm so thankful I'm not the only one who thinks Tolkien isn't that great of a writer. I've tried numerous times to read this book and each time it ends up back on the shelf. I just can't get through his tedious and clunky descriptions, among other things. That said, even though he isn't my favorite writer (I rank him with Nathaniel Hawthorne), I can appreciate (and acknowledge) his influence on the literary world.


William "That said, Tolkein is not a terribly good writer. He tends to go on in excruciating detail about trivial concepts. Parts of the book, such as Ent poetry, are downright painful to read. And his leaf by leaf descriptions of forests can get fairly trivial."
Well actually he wrote those parts really well, I have read the series twice and the second time I don't think I got bored that often. And maybe he made the Ents poems boring on purpose so you can see how Merry and Pippin felt? :)


Sarah Bushell Great review, you've summed up brilliantly how I've felt about the series. I'm reading it again (my third attempt to make it through the entire series) and I'm enjoying more this time, but the detail and heaviness of his prose can make it tricky.


Sarah Bushell Great review, you've summed up brilliantly how I've felt about the series. I'm reading it again (my third attempt to make it through the entire series) and I'm enjoying more this time, but the detail and heaviness of his prose can make it tricky.


Sarah Bushell Great review, you've summed up brilliantly how I've felt about the series. I'm reading it again (my third attempt to make it through the entire series) and I'm enjoying more this time, but the detail and heaviness of his prose can make it tricky.


message 25: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Ward I liked, but did not love The Lord of the Rings, but it is not badly written. I can understand some saying it is over rated, but that Terry Brooks is a better writer?! I can't understand that at all.


message 26: by Justin (new)

Justin Walgren Most people just don't see that Tolkein lived decades ago when the margins of acceptability were very different. Nowadays, it might seem boring to drag on descriptions for pages, but such was necessary then---or simply, it was just how he was taught in his time. And however trivial they may be, the descriptions made every piece of his world feel somewhat important.


Musicbox Tolkien may not have been the best writer. I admit it. Yet you mentioned how other authors ( i.e. Brooks) are notably better writers. And that is where I must disagree with you. Many artists have stated useing in reference images makes drawing a similar image much, much easier. Supposing that Tolkien's work as a 'reference image' for Brooks, how many things would be made easier for Brooks? The plot, characters, like you mentioned in the review, they are nearly identical. So without the difficulty of actually coming up with these, Brooks just rode on Tolkien's coat tails. The Lord of the Rings is packed with a seemingly infinite amount of original creativity, and good writers have this kind of creativity. Brooks, by stealing Tolkien's story, fails to show this. When it comes down to it, I do not think you can really say Brooks is any better than Tolkien.


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