Tolkien: The Geek Godfather
By: Ben Knight
Say what you want, but let’s face it, without J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, geeky literature would just not be the same. I know there are many authors out in the world today that have provided us with loads of good reading material that have slaked our geeky thirst to slay dragons and save fair damsels. They, in their own right, have provided us with many hours of rich fantasy literature, which keeps us begging for more out of each new series. But, to those of us who truly enjoy and appreciate fantasy literature, we keep coming back to the man who started it all, John Ronald Reule Tolkien. Many author’s out in the vast and ever-growing world of fantasy literature have tried to emulate what Tolkien so marvelously accomplished in The Lord of the Rings, and some have come pretty close. George R.R. Martin and R.A. Salvatore come to mind right off hand, with their extremely detailed storylines and wonderfully three-dimensional characters, but it is because of Tolkien’s attention to detail, fleshed out characters, and flowing back story that these authors are able to thrive in today’s market. Tolkien set the bar that all other high fantasy authors hope to achieve. In short, Tolkien did to fantasy literature what Columbus did to the world: he completely changed the way people view it.
One of the key aspects that helps a reader completely immerse themselves into a great story is a rich background that is so vivid that even the most unimaginative of readers can still visualize what it must be like to walk in Middle Earth. I’ve never read of place more beautiful or enchanting than that of Lothlórien, with its ageless mallorn trees that appear to be engulfed in flame whenever they bloom. Nor have I ever been so at home as I was in the Shire, with its rich, tilled earth, flowing farmland, and cozy hobbit holes. And Tolkien knows how to play on both sides of the spectrum. How is it possible that one can create such a despondent place as Mordor? A place so full of hatred and demise that even the strongest of heart shudder in fear. A place with such a vast host of orcs and other nameless evil, when issued forth they look like black ants marching to war.
And let us not forget the characters Tolkien gave to us. Characters that we wish we were more like or we had the fortune to know. Characters like Gandalf, the wise wizard that makes a level 85 Undead Mage look like a pathetic fool that can’t even pull a rabbit out of his hat. Or what about the wring-wraiths? I still get chills whenever I read about them. Who could forget those nasty black riders with hissing voices that will stop at nothing to claim the One Ring for their master? And we can’t forget Sam; the loyal servant to Frodo Baggins who realizes at the foot of Mount Doom that there is no coming back from this journey. But instead of giving into despair at the task, that the rest of us would surely collapse beneath, he realizes this job has to be done, and gladly follows his master to the end. Those are the kind of characters, whether they’re ten feet tall or two-and-a-half feet tall, that you want to be like…well, I haven’t met anyone that wants to be a ring-wraith.
But what would Tolkien’s rich landscapes or deep characters be without a flowing back story to immerse them in? J.R.R. Tolkien created not just a background or a setting in which his characters would partake on a quest, but a complete world in which they and countless others lived. The story of Frodo and the Ring is but one of many that took place in Middle Earth. Tolkien’s entire book The Silmarillion is a complete history of his entire world and how it came to be, not to mention how the key characters in the War of the Ring came to be in the ultimate quest for good and evil. Within its pages we are told the stories of how the elves, dwarves, and all other races of Tolkien’s world came into existence. Middle Earth was not just meant to be a place that we hear of once as we follow Frodo on his quest to Mordor. It is a vast world with numerous stories and characters that we only see glimpses of through the songs and poems of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Tolkien provides us with all of the aforementioned and so much more. Honestly, I think we can all agree, without him some geeks would have never gone on to create Dungeons and Dragons. Without DnD we probably would have never been given World of Warcraft or other forms of geeky media. This man, this one man who said “I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size,” gave us a so much in the world of geek literature, or geek culture, for that matter, that no other person, not even Martin or Salvatore, will be able to replicate. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the Game of Thrones novels and everyone who plays DnD has read a Drizzt story or two, but Tolkien will always be my first love. He sparked my love of literature, and he’s probably one the main reasons I decided to teach English. In short, this Geek Godfather has molded and shaped me into the geek that I am today, and without his works, all of them, I most definitely wouldn’t be the same. And to that, I say thank you.