Virtually everyone with a literary palate knows that The Lord of the Rings is extraordinary. It’s impossible to deny its impact in both literature and cinema. Name a fantasy book or series that was written afterward and we can highlight a vast number of parallels or points of influence, direct or indirect.
Because The Lord of the Rings is so well known and frequently scrutinized, I’m reluctant to spend time analyzing the story. I’m not a scholar, and I don’t have anything new to add on that front. I’ll say simply that my father loves the books. Consequently, I was introduced to the story at a young age, and my appreciation has grown. What I would instead like to focus on is Tolkien’s writing process.
I have this reoccurring emotional response every time I get to the end of The Return of the King. I feel sadness and loss that the journey is over, but I am also incredibly disappointed that Tolkien didn’t write more books. I feel like the world missed out because The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are all we got of J. R. R. Tolkien.
However, as I’ve come to better understand how Tolkien wrote, I have been both consoled and given a degree of hope. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings over a twelve year period, in which his friends told him that maybe he should write less of the Silmarillion and more about the war of the rings. While he wrote, he also had a job and a family, so it’s not like he could dedicate himself wholly or even primarily to writing. Tolkien also neither had the technological advances that hasten the modern writing process nor the financial means to have the manuscript typed professionally.
Still the unhurried, hobbyist manner in which Tolkien wrote is a key part of why the story is so rich. Tolkien tinkered with this narrative for over a decade. He imagined new languages. He created characters and backstories that we’ll never know about, whose shadows add nuance and history and depth to his epic, something readers probably wouldn’t have gotten save for the manner in which Tolkien wrote. In essence, Tolkien’s protracted writing process gave us fewer books, but a deeper experience, which I find consoling.
Likewise, understanding how Tolkien wrote in the spaces of a busy life gives me hope for my own writing. I too have a family and job, and those fixtures of my life take precedence. Still, just as Tolkien found time to form a world, I too can find time to create.