How Tolkien Influences My Writing

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gandalf-and-bearThis article is by Terri Rochenski.

My love affair with the fantasy genre started at an early age when someone bought me and my older brother The Chronicles of Narnia seven book gift set. I read them ‘til they fell apart.

Literally.

I can’t tell you how many times I checked the backs of every closet in our large farm house, totally expecting to find Mr. Tumnus. Oh, the disappointment of finding fantasy is just that—fantasy. Make Believe.

I was introduced to The Hobbit in middle school. The first time I watched the original cartoon released in 1977, I was hooked. I gobbled up the LotR series within the following month. While I may not have understood the underlying moral lessons at that age, re-reads through the years cemented Middle Earth as my favorite daydream land.

The rumors that Peter Jackson was producing LotR on the big screen got my blood pumpin’. I was thrilled when it was confirmed. Talk about excitement! Loved Loved Loved those movies. Then they released the extended versions with all those cut scenes …

Seriously? Heaven.

My adult day dreams took on more vivid surroundings than any my simple mind could ever imagine. Now I not only have to visit Tolkien’s homeland which he used as his basis for Middle Earth, but the movies’ New Zealand setting as well.

Life dreams. Life goals. Le sigh.

So how does Tolkien’s writing influence my own?

1. Rich Settings

Rich settings are the first thing that comes to mind. Back in the day purple prose was the way to go. Not so much now. I try to satisfy as many senses as possible when adding details of the worlds I create—while trying NOT to info dump. Creatively weaving in sensory images makes for a much more enjoyable read.

I always wanted to visit Rivendell. Jackson’s portrayal was beautifully done. Magical & dreamlike—better than my little mind ever pictured through the years of re-reads.

2. Empathetic Characters

Next thing I think of are his characters. Bilbo Baggins, a simple little creature content to stay in his little part of the world, ends up seeing things he never dreamed of. VERY easy for a simple farm girl to feel empathy for, let me tell you!

If I can hook my readers the way I was … well, let’s just say that’s a big SCORE. Make the reader feel what the character experiences—have them smell, taste, & see all the MC does. Yup. That’s the good stuff.

3. Memorable Journeys

Tolkien’s journeys are third. Forcing a MC to learn—grow into something they never would have if not for what they faced. Adventure, trouble, fear, & friendship all wrapped up in one unbelievable quest.

If I can keep the tension high, keep those pages turning, & kindles clicking then I’ve nabbed followers for life like Tolkien did.

4. Good vs. Evil

While this last isn’t so popular today, the clear distinction / definition between good & evil appealed to me. As a teenager learning the ways of the world and its gray areas, it was nice to know some people perceived things as I did. Black & white.

‘Course all that’s changed now. If we as writers can make the reader feel empathy for the ‘bad’ guy, then we’re on the road to success.

All this talk about Tolkien’s Middle Earth has given me the LotR itch. It’s been awhile! Think it’s time I pick The Hobbit up for another read before seeing Peter Jackson’s newest movie that released December 14th. Which, by the way, I cannot wait for. Another bit of cinematic heaven calling my name.

Now if I could just pawn my kids off on a babysitter & get the hubs to take me out on a date. Perhaps my muse will be inspired once again.

How has Tolkien influenced your writing? Have the movie adaptations influenced you more?

About the Author:

Terri Rochenski started writing stories in the 8th grade.  Today she enjoys an escape to Middle Earth during the rare ‘me’ moments her two young daughters allow.  Her latest story is featured in the Make Believe anthology. 

You can learn more about Terri by visiting her blog at terrirochenski.blogspot.com, or by following her on Twitter.

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33 comments
RuthMartin1
RuthMartin1

I do believe that stories you read in your childhood can influence what we enjoy reading later in life. And if you are a writer, it would make sense that this would also shape your writing to some degree. While I have not read any Tolkien, I used to love all the classical fairy tales. Our two children, ages 4 & 6, are now enjoying those same old classics :)

D Lawrence
D Lawrence

Thanks for this article, I agree with everything you said! I was given a 25th anniversary edition of the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy, four really nice hardbacks, as an 18th birthday gift from my parents. I didn't actually read them back then. It wasn't until seeing the Peter Jackson movies that I got around to reading them. 

 I've since read quite alot from other authors but find Tolkien's style the most satisfying of all. I am also lucky enough to live in a part of England that is very shire-like! My son has inherited my love of Tolkien's writing and the books and films are a constant source of shared moments, from talking about favorite scenes and characters to finding countless opportunities to use quotes from the movies in everyday life! (making a nice lunch is perfect for 'we've had nuttin but maggoty bread fer free stinkin days!) 

Ok..ok ..that does seem a little nerdy and weird. But yep, safe to say that we are huge fans and hope that our own writing can encapsulate the great qualities you highlighted Terri, without us being pale clone-writers.

Kim Rawks
Kim Rawks

I'm pretty new to the whole fantasy genre. I was turned on to it by my boyfriend. Maybe you can give me some advice? Tolkien, to me, is very hard to read. Is there any kind of advanced summary or companion reference book I can read along with Tolkien's works to better understand what's happening as I advance from chapter to chapter? 

JenniferDarnell
JenniferDarnell

Tolkien has been an influence on a lot of writers. Do you have some of your work published anywhere? Oddly for a girl like me on  a fantasy site, one of my bigger influences was Stephen King. Like Tolkien, he is a master at 'rich settings.' I love how he can give an entire historical background of the town his stories happen in without ever really interrupting the fabric and flow of the story.

L Weber
L Weber

It’s amazing how Tolkien’s timeless fantasy works have led to father the fantasy genres even till this day. I love how you can easily adapt his techniques into modern writing, even in academic narrative essays during my school days!

Norman G
Norman G

Tolkien’s writing style inspired me to start my own fantasy series, particularly after I embarked on LOtRs. I was really glad when Christopher continued his Dad’s unfinished works, and maintained the life in the fantasy genre. I think the best lesson that I could take away from Tolkien is the ability to create memorable journeys that capture the hearts of my readers. Well, I hope to master this art of writing as I continue on my series.

Scott Ruby
Scott Ruby

My favorite feature of Tolkien’s works is the way he handles the atmospheric settings in his stories. Extremely vivid, yet not too complicated, allowing the perfect amount of room for his readers’ imaginations to blend in. I’ve never encountered any other author’s writings which are just as flawless as his masterpiece. Definitely a true work of honor.

Lorinda J Taylor
Lorinda J Taylor

I probably wouldn't be writing today if I hadn't read LotR, but since I'm so ancient, I didn't read Tolkien until I was 29!  I always made up imaginary worlds as a child, but I just thought after you grew up, you quit doing that sort of childish stuff.  Then I discovered that this marvelously erudite linguistic scholar did it his whole life, and I was hooked!  Nowadays I write more science-fictiony stuff, but it was Tolkien that got me started. 

Inglorious_Hero
Inglorious_Hero

Tolkien was a big influence on me, however I haven't read the books since middle school.  I'm 24.  Since Tolkien I've read Terry Brooks, Joe Abercrombie,  "some" Robert Jordan.  None of them are as good as Tolkien but I will be one of the few who defends Terry Brooks.  

Uh, this post has put the smell of Middle-Earth back into my nose.  The sounds of wargs and goblins in my ears.  I do believe I will have to read them again.  Thanks for the post.  I love reading about what influences others.

Nicole Valek
Nicole Valek

It makes me sad... I'm using a losely based form of his Sindarin Elvish language for the Elven race in my book... I'm learning from the Grey Company. I fear this will stop me from publishing it... is this a rational fear...?

Shawn Spjut
Shawn Spjut

If you've ever written a fantasy where you've created another language, used elves, dwarves, goblins, sorcerer's, a company of individual's, objects of significance, and oh yea...pointy hats, then you've been influenced by Tolkien. I certainly have...since I was eight years old.

Gaynor Roberts-Hamilton
Gaynor Roberts-Hamilton

try not to copy, be tru to yourselves play up to his writings by all means but he is the true master of wizardry,

Bex Pavia
Bex Pavia

A little, yes. My book is good old typical fantasy, with elves, dwarves and the like, but I think my writing style is more basic than Tolkien's. I'd never presume to be at his standard. Like Shawn though, I long to write an epic tale. Thanks to self-publishing, I can be less restricted about the size of my first book. Good thing, I'd never fit my whole story into 80-100'000 words. ;-)

Shawn Enge
Shawn Enge

Yes, Tolkien has influenced my writing. He set the standard for elves, dwarves, even wizards. I know I need to start of small but there is that part of me that wants to write the epic age spanning tale. Which I am working on ;)

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@D Lawrence  Some day I WILL visit that shire-like England!!!!! Bucket list.

I don't think it's nerdy or weird. What you have with  your son is an awesome connection a lot of parents would give anything for. You're very blessed. 

And as for maggoty bread? Yum. hehe

Thanks for stopping by & commenting!

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Kim Rawks Hmmm. I've never heard of one, but that doesn't mean there isn't something out there! I'll look into it, though.

Feel free to email me any time, Kim. terrirochenski at yahoo dot com

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

 Thanks for stopping by! My 4 flash fantasy pieces can be found on my website under the 'books' tab, and my 2-book fantasy series, Pool of Souls, just got contracted last month with J. Taylor Publishing. The first book, Eye of the Soul, releases on October 7th of this year. I hope you'll check them out!

www.terrirochenski.com

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@L Weber Timeless is the key word for sure. I'll never tire of Tolkien, no matter how old I get!

Thanks for commenting.

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Norman G Memorable journeys are key, but you must admit it's also his memorable, empathetic characters that nab your attention & don't let go. 

Thanks for commenting.

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Scott Ruby EXACTLY! There's no paragraph upon paragraph of purple prose, just the perfect amount to create vivid images within our minds, engaging our senses.

Thanks for stopping in!

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Lorinda J Taylor Ancient? LOL. A person can never be too old for using their imagination and enjoying other's put on paper.

Thanks for commenting, Lorinda!

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Inglorious_Hero LOVE Jordan. I've read a handful of Brooks', but lost interest. It was years ago, so I can't remember exactly why. Perhaps now that I'm older I should give him another chance. He's one of the biggest fantasy names out there besides Tolkien.

Thanks so much for stopping in & commenting.

terrirochenski
terrirochenski

@Bex Pavia I'm pretty basic too in my writing. My latest novel due out in Oct 13 is just over 80k.  I'm a 'say it in less words' kinda writer.  Thanks for commenting!

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