Study Guide

The Fellowship of the Ring Writing Style

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Writing Style

Detailed, Wordy, Culture-Specific

Tolkien loves his details. Take, for example, his description of the West Gate of Moria:

At the top, as high as Gandalf could reach, was an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character. Below, though the threads were in places blurred or broken, the outline could be seen of an anvil and a hammer surmounted by a crown with seven stars. Beneath these again were two trees, each bearing crescent moons. More clearly than all else there shone forth in the middle of the door a single star with many rays.

"There are the emblems of Durin!" cried Gimli.

"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas.

"And the Star of the House of Fëanor," said Gandalf. (2.4.93-6)

The door is covered with symbols in shining silver, brought out by the light of the moon. Some of these have been blurred by time, but they remain visible. What's more, the people in the Fellowship identify the different signs by sight; they don't just let us guess at the origins of the "two trees" or the "single star with many rays."

We have talked about Tolkien's obsession with world creation in the "In a Nutshell" sections of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring learning guides. But his love for defining origins for the different things in Middle-earth carries over into his written style as well: he frequently stops the action of the narrative to give lavish descriptions of the things the Fellowship are seeing. And not just what they look like, but also what they are. Tolkien's pleasure in description really makes us feel as though we have been transported to Middle-earth to follow along with the Fellowship on their adventures.

Along with description, Tolkien sure likes to name things. For example, there are three Mountains of Moria: Barazinbar (Baraz for short), Zirakzigil (or Zirak), and Bundushathûr (or Shathûr). These are their Dwarvish names, but in Elvish, they become Caradhras, Celebdil, and Fanuidhol, respectively. And it's not over yet! Each of these mountains also have names in Common Speech: Baraz is the Redhorn, Zirak is Silvertine, and Shathûr is Cloudyhead. J.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford professor of languages, strikes again.

Tolkien is also careful to attribute each of his cultures' speech with a certain style. Nowhere are these distinctions more apparent than in Lothlórien, when Galadriel addresses Sam Gamgee:

"And you?" [Galadriel] said, turning to Sam. "For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this [Mirror], if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"

"I did," said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. "I'll have a peep, Lady, if you're willing." (2.7.72-3)

Galadriel's language is relatively formal, with extremely precise word choice. Can you imagine Galadriel or any of the other Elves using something as simple and casual as a contraction? Yet, in the next sentence, Sam chimes in with "I'll have a peep." Not only does he express himself directly and without the formal correctness of Galadriel ("I'll" instead of "I will"), but he also uses simple, homey expressions ("a peep"). Different strokes for different folks.

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