10 Misconceptions about J. R. R. Tolkien and His Work

Tolkien Reading Event 2018Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Home and Hearth: The Many Ways of Being a Hobbit. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!  Check out the complete schedule here.


Tolkien Was Primarily a Fantasy Author.

In his lifetime, Tolkien was a respected philologist and professor of literature; he was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford.  Some of his professional achievements include convincing the scholarly community of the literary value of Beowulf and producing a highly-regarded translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon.  Only today do we think primarily of Tolkien as a fiction writer.  In his letters, Tolkien notes he is worried that his colleagues will think he was wasting his time by producing works of fantasy rather than working on his academic obligations.

The Lord of the Rings Was WRitten a Trilogy.

Tolkien actually wrote the work as a single book.  His publishers asked him to split it into three volumes due to a paper shortage that resulted from WWII.  This also lowered the price for consumers.

Denethor Is Nothing But a Loser.

The films depict Denethor as a degenerating madman who no longer cares for the good of his city, but sits back to watch it crumble.  In the book, we learn that Denethor, according to Gandalf is a man of great power and high lineage.  His strength of will allows him to resist Sauron and continue fighting him until Faramir’s seeming death, when Denethor finally succumbs to Sauron’s suggestions that all his acts are without hope.

Eowyn Defeated the Witch-King Alone.

Glorfindel predicted that the Witch-king of Angmar would not fall by the hand of man alone.  Eowyn fulfills this prophecy, but so does the Hobbit Meriadoc, who stabs the Witch-king, allowing Eowyn to go in for the kill.

Gondor= Minas Tirith

The films suggest that Gondor is a fading kingdom comprised primarily of its capital city Minas Tirith, along with a ruined outpost at Osgiliath.  In the book, readers learn that Gondor is a much larger country and that its soldiers are fighting against Sauron on multiple fronts, not just at Osgiliath.

There Are Only Three Women in LotR.  (Four if We Count Shelob)

Fans tend to point towards Arwen, Eowyn, Galadriel, and sometimes Shelob (debatable because she is a spider) as Tolkien’s “only” female characters in the book.  This is presumably because the films leave out Goldberry, Ioreth, and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.  Rosie Cotton appears briefly in both the book and the films.  How effective fans find each character is, of course, open to discussion.

Sauron Is the Ultimate Evil in Tolkien’s Mythology.

Melkor turned Morgoth is Tolkien’s first super villain and, at the height of his power, far stronger than Sauron, who was at first only his lieutenant.  Morgoth is so powerful that only intervention by the Valar (divine beings) can result in his overthrow.

Elves Are Perfect.

The Elvers were, at one point, open to manipulation by Morgoth and Sauron.  For years, they fought each other for possession of the Silmarils.  Fëanor and his sons, for instance, lead an attack on the Teleri for their ships, an act known as the Kinslaying.  They continued to fight and betray each other long after.

The Silmarillion Is Strictly Canonical.

At his death, Tolkien left a large number of unpublished manuscripts with various versions of different stories.  His son Christopher organized these into The Silmarillion and edited them to make a coherent narrative.  However, in many cases, it is difficult for us to know which version of the story Tolkien intended to be the final, definitive version.  Other versions can be found in The History of Middle-Earth.

Tolkien’s Work Is All Too Difficult to Approach.

Tolkien wrote many different kinds of works from academic texts to children’s books.  Readers who find themselves intimidated by The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion might want to check out one of Tolkien’s shorter works such as Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, or Roverandom.

18 thoughts on “10 Misconceptions about J. R. R. Tolkien and His Work

  1. Grab the Lapels says:

    I don’t know why, but I think I knew he was a linguist before I knew about his fiction. When you get into his fiction, his work as a linguist is evident all over the place, especially in the names. Funnily enough, I took a class in philology and still can’t really define it well. It was a grad class, so my introduction to the topic was in the deep end of the pool.

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  2. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Love this and I am always carrying about how LOTR was not a trilogy haha. Maybe we have discussed this before (I think?). I actually plan on picking up one of the newer trilogies though, as my big hefty one-volume addition is too hard on my hands and wrists now 😛

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    • Krysta says:

      I believe we did discuss it before! I mentioned that LotR isn’t a trilogy in a Bookish Misconceptions post, but thought it warranted a mention here, as well! But I can definitely see how one volume would be difficult to hold! I’m reading Team of Rivals now. It’s roughly 900 pages with all the end notes and such. I sort of have to prop up my hand while reading to support the weight!

      Liked by 1 person

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