Lord of the Rings, The by J.R.R. Tolkien
Plenty has been written about the quality of this work and its significance within the fantasy genre, so I'll just touch on some of my favorite aspects, those that distinguish LOTR from all (or at least the vast majority of) other fantasy fiction.
No other fantasy author, and in fact NO author whose work I've read, could create such a cohesive, living world in print. Tolkien was a true scholar, and he understood that a story, historical or fictional, needs a context to give it meaning. He provided this beautifully by constructing a complete Middle-Earth, with well-defined races and cultures, history, folklore, values, and politics. There's a reason why so much fantasy fiction involves elves and dwarves and orcs, or thinly disguised variations of each. It's because Tolkien's descriptions of these races are definitive, and most authors are incapable of describing new creatures with as much depth and insight - so, to their credit, they build on the incredibly strong foundation of LOTR.
More importantly, Tolkien made his values central to his fiction, without becoming didactic. Too many works of fiction focus solely on action and plot, without providing a real sense of meaning to the goings-on. The "good" characters in LOTR are concrete examples of positive human traits - Aragorn is a personification of sober, benevolent strength; Legolas of carefree joy and love of nature; Sam of total love for and dedication to his friend, etc. The purpose of their quest is the triumph of good over evil, life over death, happiness over misery - the purpose that we would all have, ideally, every day of our lives.
Finally, a more subtle point: the use of magic. Certainly central to the story, Tolkien never lets it get out of hand and damage the underlying logic of his world. This is in strong counterpoint to many fantasy novels, where magic serves as the deus ex machina. There's no instance where a dramatic charge in battle is halted by the enemy wizard suddenly blowing gigantic fireballs out of his - ahem, well, there's nothing like that.
These, I submit, are some of the many reasons why Tolkien's work remains superior to all subsequent fantasy fiction.
Submitted by Franky Boyd
My first fantasy book I've ever read was Tolkien's 'The Hobbit', but that in no way has affected my opinions on LOTR. Reading Fellowship I had told myself that Tolkien was rather long winded, why would he make me read 3 or 4 pages describing the the mines of Moria?
I later found out that all his descriptions had made me visualize the sadness of all the dwarves dead and scattered on the ground, it made me feel trapped inside a dark place, where the slightest sound would alert orcs, or worse, when Gandalf read the journal of a dwarf from the mines. That was just creepy and it really made me feel the despair and the helplessness of the dwarves.
Through reading the Fellowship and the Two Towers, I had thought that there was most definitely better writers out there, but once I cracked open Return of the King every past experience throughout the entire trilogy rained down on me - all other so called 'epics' pale in comparison to what Return of the King had done for the trilogy, all the pains of the main characters where felt by me remembering all that had happened in the previous two. Return of the King though couldn't be the book it is without the first two though, the trilogy compliments each book within perfectly, events are foreshadowed and all loose ends are tied, familiar characters and places are seen and by the end of the trilogy you feel physically exhausted as if you yourself had travelled the far reaches of Middle-Earth.
I won't say Tolkien is 'the best' because there are other authors on par with him, although I don't think anyone will ever usurp him and become better than he is.
Submitted by Brandon
Most people will enjoy and appreciate this book. I say book singular, because although divided into three parts, this is one novel and written as such.
Tolkien wrote LOTR to be in the same realm as the great saga's of history - Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Kalevala & Beowulf. Rather than being based in Sumerian, Greek or Norse culture, Tolkien wrote LOTR to become an adopted heritage for England.
The novel is extremely detailed, featuring vivid descriptions, an incredibly detailed backhistory and several created languages that can actually be learned and spoken. The dialogue exists primarily for servicing the forward motion of descriptive plot, although it occasionly falls into a poem or song.
Certain fans of modern fantasy dislike Tolkien for what they perceive as boring, long-winded descriptions and a non-standard storyling arc. I certainly don't bear them any ill will. They are entitled to their views. I just pity that they remain locked in a modern "grand conclusion/one arc/happy ending" type of reading.
By creating a superbly detailed world, Tolkien created a world that lives and breathes within a person who accepts the words in his novel. And by having the ending conclude with sadness, it much more accurately reflects the real world.
There is a reason why people say that LOTR is almost a forgotten history of the world rather than fantasy. Long after more contemporary writers have faded from view, Tolkien will still remain.
Submitted by Sam Emmott
How can one express the admiration I have for this lifetimes work? Very few authors have managed to write into existance a whole world with its own creation, mythos, religions, history and peoples as well as the usual characters and plot. This is one of histories most epic stories. Its scope is enormous and set the tone for fantasy thereafter - lowly character turns out to be hero and saves the world.
There are a few things I skip when I re-read it - the songs, poems and long geneologies are not to my taste. Also I can understand some peoples complaint that Mr Tolkien tended to be a bit long-winded but characterisation is brilliant, the plotline is breath-taking and the sense of urgency palpable.
A must read...And quite probably read again...and again!
Submitted by Liz Danielson
One of the best books I have ever read. IT catches your from the first page to the last page. Once you start it you won't be able to put it down. The Portrait that Tolkien paints of Middle Earth is spectacular. No one could have done better.