Friday, February 7, 2020

A Dream, and Writing Tips from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy

"One ring to rule them all." Photo: Creative Commons
I've been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy this past couple weeks. I'm currently halfway through Book Two: The Two Towers.

This morning I woke with the following strange dream. After recording it here I will share a couple writing tips I've gleaned from reading Tolkien's masterpiece.

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A DREAM
This morning I woke and recorded this dream.

In my dream, the four hobbits--Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin--were trying to find a hiding place that would be safe from the evil Eye of Sauron. Somehow they accidentally exit Middle Earth and end up in our reality. I find them and agree to try to help them.

It's after dark and Susie has gone out. My kids have gone to bed and I must find a place to hide these four hobbits, which I'm at a loss to do. While we're talking I keep looking out the window toward Susie's garage. There is a 3,000 page book lying on a bench at the corner of the garage but no car yet.

For some reason it is exceedingly important that the hobbits not be seen by anyone in our realm. I go about searching for a hiding place for them. In my garage I discover a hollow piece of chrome piping, about two feet long, with a couple slight bends in it so it looks like a small tailpipe from a miniature car. It has a straw-sized chrome dowel welded cross-wise on the hollow part so that the whole apparatus looks like a crucifix of sorts.

While talking to the hobbits I ask them if this would work as a hiding place until we can figure out how to get them to Middle Earth. They all agree it would make a good hiding place. They turn their bodies into mist and enter the hollow chrome pipe. I plug both ends and now wonder how to get them back to their homeland. I awake.

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Book One
Tolkien's massive Lord of the Rings is a truly remarkable achievement of the first order. He's created a world and populated it with memorable characters. The future of that world is at stake in this battle between good and evil. The central character, Frodo, is on a quest that must succeed or all is lost. How this tale is told is itself brilliant.

Here are a few brief observations for fellow writers.

1. Use of Dialogue to Advance the Story
Notice how much of the story emerges through the interactions between characters as they discuss this and that. The narrator (story is told from omnipotent point of view) lets the story come from the mouths of the characters, who themselves are not all-knowing. We watch and listen and discover as they discover, problem solving with the hobbits as they face their own various obstacles.

2. Memorable Characters
Gollum has to be a work of genius. So vividly painted, we see an amazing portrait of our own divided selves. There are probably whole books written about Gollum if one were to look. But all of these characters are fun to get acquainted with. And who can resist falling in love with these hobbits?

3. Problem Solving
Agatha Christie's mysteries are all about creating problems for readers to solve (in conjunction with our brilliant hero, whether Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot. In addition to the main problem of destroying the Ring, there are a host of intermediary problems to solve. In The Two Towers, Frodo and Sam get separated from the Fellowship. In turn the other characters are trying to rescue or find them.

4. Foreshadowing
The books are full of instances of foreshadowing. Having watched the movies (themselves remarkable achievements of interpretation) I glean numerous instances of this technique of creating anticipation in the reader. There will be a big battle ahead and it will no ordinary battle.

5. Names
Naming is something writers love to do, and Tolkien's Trilogy has plenty. People, places and even whole races (Orcs, Ents, Hobbits, etc.) Several years back when workin on the Intergalactica project (Artist Kamikaze, Part IV) I learned some new tricks about naming from Patricia Mahnke and Kate Dupre. We Googled lists of boys and girls names in foreign languages, Icelandic, Danish and others.

6. Pacing
Even though there are a gazillion characters in these books, Tolkien introduces them slowly and vividly. The story begins with Bilbo Baggins celebrating his 111th birthday. In this introduction we learn about the Hobbits, meet Gandalf and learn about the power of the Ring. Frodo's task is set in motion, and in his journey to fulfill it we meet more and more characters who will help or thwart along the way.

* * * *
The Trilogy is a story about good and evil, one of the great themes of literature. My dream inovolved another great theme of literature: The longing to return to our homeland.

* * * *
More could be said, as always, but it's time to start the day.

Related Links
Frodo, Fellowship of the Ring and the Hero's Quest
The Name Game
Intergalactica (Free iBook)

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