I’m re-reading Lord of the Rings right now, for the first time in a LONG time.
I know how the story ends, no surprises there. This time around I’m really interested in seeing how a Master Storyteller and a Master World Creator works. I’ve been taking notes and enjoying all of the literary techniques that Tolkien uses, including things like.. plot structure, pacing, use of dialogue, the third-person omniscient narrator, etc…
Here are a few of my observations so far:
1) The narrator of the story is human, and assumes that the reader is human as well:
Example. A: “It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than Elves, or even than Dwarves.”
Example. B: “They ate a very frugal supper (for hobbits), and then went on again.”
2) The narrator, although human, is capable of speaking for all living things. In this passage we get to listen to the thoughts of a fox.
Example. A: “A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed. ‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.”
3) The narrator is in complete control and knows everything. If the narrator wanted to tell us the ending, he/she could do it right away; instead he/she is going to tease the information out to us, slowly, bit by bit. (One joy of re-reading a book is that you get to catch all the hints that the author is dropping – you’re in on the secret.) From the very first moment that we meet the character Boromir, we’re getting hints that his character might prove volatile and dangerous later on.
Example. A: “It turned out later that only one horse had been actually stolen. The others had been driven off, or had bolted in terror, and were found wandering in different corners of the Bree-land.”
Example. B: [Aragorn and Frodo leaving Cerin Amroth together] “‘Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, ‘and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.”
4) And lastly – this has nothing to do with literary technique – but whenever Tolkien talks about Elves and their magical dwellings, it sounds so much to me like he’s describing a psychedelic experience. (Something I didn’t consider when I was 10 years old and reading these stories for the first time).
Example. A: “He turned and saw that Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure that he was awake. ‘It’s sunlight and bright day, right enough,’ he said. ‘I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars: but this is more Elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song, if you take my meaning.’”
Example. B: “As Frodo prepared to follow him, he laid his hand upon the tree beside the ladder: never before had he been so suddenly and so keenly aware of the feel and texture of a tree’s skin and of the life within it, neither as forester nor as carpenter; it was the delight of the living tree itself.”
That’s all for now. I’m only halfway through the book, so I’m sure there’ll be more to come…