I was raised on Tolkien. The Hobbit is the first book I remember reading. I learned Quenya and Sindarin and Dwarvish runes and doodled them in my schoolbooks. I played Dungeons & Dragons. So I say this from a place of love: Tolkien is a pretty shitty author.

Lord of the Rings was a struggle for me to get through even as a dice-obsessed 14-year-old. Hundreds of (mostly male) characters, a vague plot, pages and pages of dry descriptions and irrelevant background. How did this thing become such a big part of our culture?

You could say: it isn’t about the story, it’s about the world. Elves and orcs and gods and languages and history. On the whole, though, I think the world Tolkien constructed is pretty mediocre as far as imagined worlds go. It’s remarkable for its thoroughness, but not for much else. There are many other much more interesting efforts alive today. Tolkien was a linguist, but the languages he constructed are not particularly creative—Quenya’s script is very close to Arabic, and Dwarvish runes are nearly identical to Norse runes. If you’re interested in really inventive constructed languages, give Ithkuil a look.

The only way the popularity of Tolkien makes sense to me is if Tolkien had this idea first, which is as far as I can tell the case. The craft of worldbuilding has advanced significantly since Tolkien’s time. Let’s thank him for bringing it into the world and press forward into richer, deeper, better ideas.

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