The influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings lives on everywhere. And we mean everywhere.
If you’ve read, played, or watched anything that could be classified as fantasy, there’s a good chance The Lord of the Rings inspired it.
It’s been over 60 years since J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, yet somehow it’s just as relevant today as ever. Even if you don’t count the big budget movie adaptations and video games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, every major fantasy trope seems to have started with Tolkien. Elves, orcs, hobbits… heck, even the sheer concept of a rag-tag group of heroes and misfits on an epic quest seems Tolkien-esque. It’s amazing to think that one man could lay the groundwork for literally everything, but who could honestly imagine a world without Tolkien at this point?
The most amazing part? It’s actually easy to break down how Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings became so massively influential to fantasy. It’s so easy, we’ll be doing that right now.
1: Tolkien reinvented themes from folklore.
You know how we just implied that Tolkien invented elves, orcs, and hobbits? Well, there’s a reason we implied it and didn’t actually say it. Namely because it’s not true.
Just as modern writers draw from The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien drew inspiration from classic folklore. However, rather than settle with rehashing existing stories, Tolkien brought a myriad of mythical creatures together in the same universe for the first time while keeping them consistent with his own vision. This makes The Lords of the Rings a veritable smorgasbord of ideas for aspiring writers to utilize. In fact, by taking Tolkien’s mythos and using it to create new worlds and stories, you’re basically paying homage to the man.
2: Tolkien built a vast universe.
Did you know that you could learn to write in Quenya, language of the elves? This doesn’t have a lot to do with Bilbo or Frodo’s quest surrounding the one ring, but Tolkien still wrote it, because why not?
If you’ve ever seen Stephen Colbert talk about Lord of the Rings, you know this is a series with a ton of peripheral material under its belt. Middle-Earth isn’t just a world that exists to tell the stories of hobbits and kings. It’s a fully developed universe from every angle, and the story of The Lord of the Rings just happens to take our heroes across its vast landscape. George Lucas is said to have studied The Lord of the Rings when building the “myth” of Star Wars. We can certainly see why.
3: The Lord of the Rings combined a grandiose world with accessibility.
Despite the sweeping narrative and epic scope of The Lord of the Rings series, there’s one undeniable truth that drives the appeal of the series: it’s easy to pick up and read.
We sometimes forget that The Hobbit – the prequel to The Lord of the Rings – was originally written as a children’s book. Even C.S. Lewis favorably compared it to Alice in Wonderland. The Lord of the Rings veers into complex and philosophical territory, but it was still written for the same audience who first read The Hobbit. In fact, Tolkien conceived The Lord of the Rings’ darker themes to appeal to readers who had originally read The Hobbit as kids. It isn’t until books like The Silmarillion that the series starts to become particularly dense, but by that point, the reader would have 1000+ pages of a complete fantasy story under their belt. Anyone reading from that point on would just be feeding their desire to want more of this amazing world.
The Lord of the Rings is more than a source book for fantasy writers. It’s a tale full of complex characters navigating very human topics, such as mortality, fidelity, the brutality of war, and even the ramifications of the industrial revolution. You don’t have to be a fantasy enthusiast to enjoy The Lord of the Rings. Heck, Tolkien didn’t have the community of fantasy fans we have today to write for, so he wrote The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of his times first and a fantasy novel second. Not only is the world of The Lord of the Rings a foundation of the genre, but Tolkien popularized fantasy as a viable means for writers to explore ethics, spirituality, and the state of humanity.
Like Pachabel’s Canon in D, The Lord of the Rings will probably be as relevant in 100 years as it is now. But when a cornerstone piece of pop culture is this good, how can it not be everywhere? It’s the one fantasy to rule them all, the one fantasy to inspire them, the one fantasy to bring them all into the limelight and admire them.
… Yeah, it’s hard enough to just rhyme, so I’ll leave the wholesale art of language-inventing to the professionals.