The Genius of Tolkien

Anyone who doesn’t think that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is pure genius, upon the part of the esteemed Tolkien, must be watching the movies with eyes shut or reading the books upside down. Who wouldn’t want to get lost in this fantastical world of hobbits, dwarves, elves, wizards, orcs, ringwraiths, ents, balrogs, and men? Filled with both lovable and detestable characters, entrenched in the war of good versus evil, LOTR reveals the extravagance of the human nature plunged into the dark depths of treachery and every vile deed, or soaring to the shining heights of loyalty and every noble contemplation.

It is overwhelmingly full of contrasts, from Aragorn and Gandalf standing strong against Sauron and Saruman, to Loriethien and Gondor facing Mordor and Isengard, down to Frodo and Sam waging a battle of wits with Gollum, and Pippin and Merry courageously taking on the Orcs. But even more so, besides these obvious contrasts between characters, the clever Tolkien includes numerous details to his works, to paint the most distinctively dark versus light picture possible.

He describes the withered and burned blades of grass where Orcs’ destructive feet have trampled, while pointing out the silvery, shiny leaves where Elves have lightly trodden for many a year. Some readers groan over the seemingly endless landscape scenes, preferring to skip over such parts, wondering why Tolkien included these numerous details. Why bother with so much flowery details, whether blooming or decayed? The answer, my dear reader, lies in the fact that Tolkien is pulling you into a world of dark shadows through which rays of hope are struggling to pierce. He wants you to see this world, smell it, taste it, touch it, and hear it. He beckons you to enter the world of Middle-earth, to be drawn in, to experience it beyond what you originally imagined or thought possible.

It is, in fact, his carefully thought-out descriptions that amaze me! They leave me in awe of the man. How could Tolkien switch from landscape to landscape, castle to castle, cave to cave, tower to tower, forest to forest, grass to grass and on it goes, seeming to glide as effortlessly as the elf Legolas through the woods? It is his descriptive details that reveal his genius. It is his intense labour of plotting out his story so exactly that makes LOTR so astonishingly great.

We move from the beautiful innocence of the land of the Shire as our four hobbits take a deep breath and plunge into the unknown forest. Although later we can hardly recall that first forest the hobbits wandered through, because of how much we experience with them and the other members of the Grey Company, it was the beginning of our journey. It now seems to us as if that was merely child’s play in the first forest. We easily forget that we were at first nervous, hearing and seeing that which made us uncomfortable. Tolkien moves us slowly in many respects. Even the whole ordeal at Mr. Butterbur’s inn is nothing compared to when Frodo and Sam enter Mordor or when Aragon travels the Paths of the Dead. We feel stronger when we look back at those first steps. The Shire seems so hazy in our memory, a dream of long ago, as we move forward to the siege of Gondor and the labouring climb up the stairs to Cirith Ungol. We are stumbling almost as much as Frodo. We have nearly become old wizards, haggard, with the world hanging unbearably heavy on our shoulders as Gandalf. We choke on Mordor’s abominably disgusting air. But there is hope. The lands of the Shire, Rivendell, Loriethien , Rohan, and Gondor don’t exist for nothing. They are the light overcoming the darkness. They will not be destroyed entirely. The good will triumph yet.

Moreover, we have become stronger. We refuse to give up. We have developed a tenacity, a stubbornness that refuses to stop us moving from valley to hill to mountain. Tolkien has drawn us in. He has captured us, and we are beyond the point of turning back. How can we now? The Ring must be destroyed! It is all that matters. Tolkien has thus revealed his genius. Through his details, descriptions, the weaving of this fantastical story, he has exposed his brilliance. He has thrown back his cloak to show forth that which seemed for a second, possibly boring and almost pointless. It is there through the details that we witness good defeat evil. Stop. Breathe, smell, taste, touch, and see it. Tolkien’s genius is upon us.