I am reading The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first of the LOTR trilogy. (ISBN 0-345-33970-3) At the time I bought it, years ago, it cost $6.99 for the paperback copy. It’s the Ballantine edition, containing a foreword by Tolkien himself.
One thing that drew my attention is that toward the end of the foreword, Tolkien complains about other paperback editions being published without his consent. He states that only the Ballantine edition is the one he approved and encourages readers not to buy any other! And here I was thinking that stealing authors’ work was a recent thing born of the internet. Obviously not.
While most readers skip the Foreword (I seldom pay a second’s attention to it), this time I have made a special effort to trudge through it. I’m glad I did. First of all, this is Tolkien himself talking about his work. In my mind, silly as it sounds, he’s talking from beyond the grave, as he’s been dead many years.
Tolkien denies that his books had anything to do with the war (WWII) and points to the fact that his work’s origins go back way before the war. His main motive in writing the works was to “…hold the attention of the readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” Those are the reasons any true writer writes.
The writing of the series (LOTR) went on from 1936 through 1949! Today, authors put out a book every three months. Anyone who doesn’t produce in numbers is not considered a true writer. But Tolkien, one of the most beloved and successful authors in the English language, did not write every day! His duties, his interests, and the war got in the way. It took him thirteen years, but he never gave up.
A final point of observation I have is in the way Tolkien writes, primarily his sentence structure. His sentences are complex, often taking up the space of a small paragraph. He uses plenty of commas and an abundance of semicolons. He also does not skimp on the word “that.”
I don’t find his work difficult to read. I don’t see many extremely hard or out-of-date words. Words like “laborious, decrepitude, and allegorical” are few and can be easily Googled by anyone who has never heard them.
The one thing that may make him difficult for today’s reader is that he requires the reader to hold more than one line of thought within one sentence. Today’s readers want to get there fast. They have little patience for the meandering way.
Tolkien’s Foreword is not without humor. At one point, he talks about his reviewers:
Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writings that they evidently prefer.
Here is a genius writing books that eighty years later are still selling, and he had reviewers who put him down! Some of the indies on Facebook and Goodreads should learn from him.
At the end of his Foreword, he dedicates his book to us across the water. America. He obviously knew that we, across the water, would continue to buy millions of his books for many years to come. Smart marketing move, the dedication!
On to the Prologue, where we are filled in on all kinds of background info on the Hobbits.