Posts Tagged With: the Lord of the Rings

Will Readers “Misunderstand” Your Book?

I wonder how much authors worry about how readers misunderstanding what their book is about. Its meanings, themes and intentions. Some authors might overcompensate by entering the story and explaining too much. This “author intrusion” often makes a character sound out of character or exposition sound like a lecture. Authors should realize not every reader is going to get, or like, everything you have written and that’s okay. A mature reader isn’t going throw down your book if he or she doesn’t agree with every sentence you write. They might do so if your book isn’t entertaining or is unreadable.

I mentioned in an earlier post on how modern readers like to reinterpret older books (in that case Dracula) through modern eyes. When an author is still living, or wrote about their books, it’s always best to default to their explanations. After all, they wrote the book. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is brimming with themes and meaning, but it was no allegory. The author wrote:

There is no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story…To ask if the Orcs ‘are’ communists is to me as sensible as asking if Communists are Orcs.

Devin Brown continues by asking, “Don’t they share a number of similarities? [along with Sauron/Hitler, etc.] Of course they do.” But he adds what Tolkien explained, “I think many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory.'”

Of course, “everyone knows” C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was an allegory. Everyone forgot to tell C.S. Lewis. He said he never intended to write an allegory, the story unfolded as it did. He also wrote:

As we know, almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough…[the author] will find reviewers, both favorable and hostile, reading into his stories all manner of allegories which he never intended. (Some of the allegories thus imposed on my own books have been so ingenious and interesting that I often wish I has thought of them myself.)

So focus on writing your story. Understand not everyone will like it or get all the wonderful things you are trying to get across. Nor should you attempt to appease everyone or your story will most likely end up not being very interesting. Make your tale organic and entertaining. Use the tools you have to improve your craft.

Because ultimately the mythos you create is yours and someone out there wants to enter it.

Categories: Books, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More Than “Just a Fantasy”

It’s not often that popular fiction stays in print for decades. Even less often does it have the depth that allows it to transcend the imaginary barrier from pop to literature or even to the status of classics. Even most of what is today referred to as literary fiction, well, won’t stand the test of time. Every so often there are books that do the impossible. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, as embodied in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, have done just that and have endured for over a half a century.

Many have only been exposed to Tolkien’s world through the recent movie versions. Or perhaps you think fantasy is just that, fantasy. Elves, trolls and big battles. Doesn’t sound very relevant to the real world, does it? There must be a reason why Middle-Earth is still the inspiration for an entire genre and still attacts millions of readers decades after its publication.

Because it is relevant.

Like any great book, the author has the primary responsibility for its success. Tolkien was a scholar, not a fiction writer. His mastery of history, language and culture allowed him to create an alternate history of Earth. This wasn’t his most important strength, however. Like any writer, his beliefs and convictions inform and influence his words on paper. As a great writer, he didn’t strive to lecture or teach as much as meant to entertain.

And so there have been endless books critically analyzing every aspect of Tolkien’s world. Most of today’s “literature” never warrants such study. One of the best such scholarly, yet accessible, endeavors is Matthew Dickerson’s A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Dickerson explores Tolkien’s many themes such as the free will of men, moral responsibility and war. This last may be apparent from the film versions and people may think it the overwhelming part. Indeed it is in many ways, but Tolkien wove many subtleties in his stories.

War is at time necessary, but takes a terrible toll on all, even the victors. That is clear in the books, as is that the forces of good should never use evil to conquer evil. The means don’t always justify the end. The Ring could be used to destroy Sauron, but at what cost? What did it do to all that did use or want it, often with the best of intentions? Even the way the “good guys” treated captured enemies was diametrically opposed to how the Enemy treated their prisoners. Moral and military victories aren’t always the same thing. Discussions like these in Dickerson’s book reveal some very deep issues embedded in Tolkien’s books.

Thoughtful people will begin to realize that all the screaming “experts” on television who pretend to be intellectuals, never approach the mind of someone like Tolkien. Unlike them, he doesn’t preach, browbeat or lecture his readers. His beliefs are so well-thought out, they naturally flow within the story. They make his book an endless treasure chest to be searched.

The films captured Tolkien’s world better than any other book-to-screen adaptation, but there is much more. If you are someone who likes books that can reveal new depth at every reading, or you have never delved into a book for a literary study, Dickerson’s book will surprise and challenge you to do just that with Tolkien.

And no doubt you will pick up Tolkien’s books again and read them like it was the first time.

Categories: Books, Fiction, Writing | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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