888 – Finding Tolkien Hard To Read?

You like the Lord of the Ring films, but are new to the book, and finding it hard to read? 

Many report this.  He was an academic, and used to complex scholarly communications.  No ‘narrative hook’ – though he accidentally produced one in The Hobbit.  And he was writing before tales of magic for adults became the norm.  Helped change that norm, though US stories of science or fantasy probably did more.

So I’d suggest the following:

  • Jump straight into Chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past.  All you need to know is that Frodo inherited the ring from his uncle Bilbo, who is now far away.
    Most readers would anyway know that from the first of the films.
  • Continue with Chapter 3, Three Is Company, where the Black Riders appear.
  • Then skip to Chapter 9, At the Sign of The Prancing Pony.  The story will still make sense.  And this is how it was done in the Jackson films, and in the much earlier BBC dramatization.
  • Once you are properly into the story, you can then go back and fill in the gaps.  You will now see where the details fit.  And be interested enough in the characters to want to learn more about where they came from.

The avoids the Forward, the long Prologue and a long first chapter that links the book to the events of The Hobbit.  Features Bilbo, who is then not seen till Book Two and never plays a large role.

A modern publisher would probably ask that Forward and Prologue go to the end, for just the keenest readers. 

Chapter One could be reduced to a short paragraph.  Something like:

In a hole in the ground lived Frodo Baggins.  He was the nephew of the famous Bilbo, who helped slay the dragon Smaug. 

Bilbo was rich even before that, and the hole he lived in was also a very comfortable underground house.  His people, the half-sized hobbits, had always preferred living underground.  The richest and poorest still did so, though the middling sort now lived in houses like the Big Folk. 

Big Folk is what they called humans like us.  And apart from their size, their hairy feet and refusal to wear shoes, they were not very different.  Gentler and less ambitious, though in small ways some of them could be quite bad.

Ever adventurous, Bilbo had long ago set out for more travels.  And left to Frodo a magic ring that would make the wearer invisible.  But the wizard Gandalf, their old friend, had advised Frodo against using it.  So he kept it safe and kept it secret.

Now Gandalf had returned, staying as Frodo’s guest, as usual.  But now he looked older and more care-worn.  Something worried him: worried him enough that he thought the matter was best left until daylight.

Then go to the existing text, but part-way into Chapter Two – the things Gandalf tells the morning after he arrives.  The section beginning

“Next morning after a late breakfast, the wizard was sitting with Frodo by the open window of the study. A bright fire was on the hearth, but the sun was warm, and the wind was in the South. Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tips of the trees’ branches.”

This skips over more than 21,000 words of introductory text etc.  Including 9851 words in ‘A Long-expected Party’.  And more than 2000 earlier words in ‘The Shadow of the Past’.

Most of this could be told later, as a flashback when Frodo meets Bilbo at Rivendell.

This page was originally written in May 2019.  But I greatly expanded it in September 2020.