The Beginning of Lord of the Rings

I started listening to the audiobook for the first Lord of the Rings book this morning, marking the first time I’ve ever read (?) this extremely famous book trilogy. And aside from watching half of Fellowship in 2011, I haven’t seen any of the movies since probably 2004. So this is an extremely fresh experience to me!

It’s also bizarrely, uh, not widely appealing in the beginning, to put it politely. The first forty-plus minutes of this book, and it’s still in the Shire with Bilbo’s party and all his relatives. Bilbo just disappeared right when I stopped the book. Forty minutes of Hobbit culture and random irrelevant characters talking about their quaint little British lives… it’s a little bit boring! I like it for its whimsy, but there certainly isn’t anything noteworthy going on just yet.

And that fascinates me.

So much of writing advice talks about making a strong impact as fast as possible, for your novels to leap into the most appealing parts as fast as possible or to otherwise grab readers so they don’t let go. Fantasy novels especially so, with a cutthroat market filled with thousands of web novels and ebooks and gigantic 1000-page tomes at your local indie bookstore. Boring a reader is a straight ticket to them dropping the book and never picking it back up.

At least… that’s what’s always taught. That’s the advice that’s always given. Focus on the characters and the plot and keep the action (not always literal action) moving… But then the forefather of all high fantasy spends 40 minutes of its audiobook describing an out-of-the-way town filled with simple bumpkins? It flies in the face of all that despite being, of course, one of the most successful books in all of history.

Did Lord of the Rings simply exist and gain its fame in a time before that sort of stuff would have killed a book? Is its charm just that alluring even to reluctant readers? Or is the conventional wisdom given to writers not so accurate at all?

I have no idea, but it really interests me to wonder about it.

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