My first experience with J.R.R. Tolkien was not on a temperate spring day like March 25. Rather, I first picked up a Tolkien novel because of an assigned summer reading project during the stifling season before my freshman year of high school. I procrastinated completing my summer reading, choosing to while away my last days of freedom from school schedules poolside or watching movies with friends. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I value my freedom highly. Being told which novel to read and, to add insult to injury, being given an assignment to take notes about my reactions to the book created a less than auspicious beginning with the great author.
The Hobbit kept my interest well enough as I sped through it and added the prescribed Post-It notes with commentaries as the teacher had dictated. One of my main takeaways from the novel: There are no female characters. I was less than impressed. Thankfully, I’ve had additional opportunities to engage with Tolkien. I first encountered The Lord of the Rings when the high-grossing film trilogy came to theaters. (Yes, I know that as a bibliophile I should have read the books first.) And once I was captured by the romantic adventure of his tale on the silver screen, I elected to take a course dedicated to Tolkien’s written words and those of his compatriot C.S. Lewis in my university days. The Lord of the Rings not only has female characters worthy of note; the trilogy also has a strong sense of adventure and an epic tale of good and evil with characters who achieve greatness because of their flaws, not in spite of them.
J.R.R. Tolkien understood language and mythology in a unique combination that led him to write the vastly popular stories of Middle-Earth. In fact, one of his first jobs was working on the Oxford English Dictionary. He created a world peopled with fantastic creatures whose humanity belies their otherworldly characteristics. The humble professor invented characters, lands, and even entire languages to tell an enduring tale of good triumphing despite impossible odds. Contrary to my initial reception of it, The Hobbit is an outstanding piece of literature. It continues to be read by children and young (and young at heart) adults around the world 83 years after its initial publication. Tolkien could have included some female characters, in my opinion, but the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his adventure with the ring continues to engage and delight readers.
And, on March 25, as initiated by The Tolkien Society, readers around the world focus on Tolkien and share significant quotes or the impact of his words with fellow readers. The specific date was selected because of its importance in the trilogy as the date of the downfall of the Lord of the Rings (Sauron), and the practice began in 2003 in imitation of “Bloomsday,” a similar holiday dedicated to the works of the Irish author James Joyce, specifically his novel Ulysses.
Any time you indulge in a second breakfast or imitate Gollum when obsessing over an object you deem “your precious,” you’re engaging in the folklore our shared literary culture owes to J.R.R. Tolkien. Popular culture has embraced the habits of Tolkien’s elves, dwarves, and hobbits in such a seamless way that many people may not know their origins. But plenty of avid fans and literary scholars continue to analyze and dissect Tolkien’s work for insight into the beloved story and characters. Tolkien invented origin stories in The Silmarillion and linguistic constructions particular to Middle-Earth, which have provided ample source material for continuous study and speculation. Tolkien is easy to engage through the lens of popular culture and through the study of his linguistic art.
As a literature-major turned technical writer and editor, I love Tolkien because he created such a rich world filled with linguistic and moral triumphs. His characters are relatable despite their short stature and hairy feet, and the scope of his epic adventure speaks to the literary scholar in me. Even though my path after earning my Master’s in Literature did not lead me to study and pursue professorship, I owe part of my appreciation of the English language to authors like, and including, J.R.R. Tolkien. As I work to create clearly written technical documents, I draw from the wealth of linguistic understanding I owe to a lifetime of reading and enjoying novels. Learning how to communicate well through the written word is a skill best learned in the pages of a good book, and so today, on the official Tolkien Reading Day, I celebrate good writing and the love of reading by offering this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien:
“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” —The Hobbit
Grab your favorite Tolkien book off the shelf, or navigate to one of his tomes on your e-reader of choice, and join me and the many others celebrating Tolkien Reading Day in delighting in the way Tolkien strings together words. His skillful manipulation of the English language into the world of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and his several other published works are worth revisiting in celebration of the art of storytelling and appreciation for his unique skill of wielding language in a powerful commentary on what it means to be truly human. Whether you’re new to Tolkien’s Middle‑Earth or have long traveled with Frodo and the fellowship of the ring, I highly endorse perusing the pages of one of Tolkien’s books on this Tolkien Reading Day.
As when searching for the best word to communicate an idea precisely or when seeking the best professional to assist with a major project, you may not always find what you expect. Tolkien may not be the most obvious inroad to lead you to a technical writer, but if that’s what you’re seeking, Shea Writing and Training Solutions is happy to discuss how we can help you with your technical writing needs.
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