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When is enough, enough?


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Initial post: Dec 5, 2012 8:31:09 PM PST
Brian says:
As fantasy lovers we all know how writers such as Tolkien could paint a picture with words. His descripitves are magnificant, elegant, and brilliant. However, I do find that, from time to time, it's just too much (usually when I'm tired while read).
Do you prefer less or more?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 5, 2012 9:09:22 PM PST
Aerin says:
I'm afraid that, for me, that largely depends on the author. I adore the description of people and settings if it can be worked in properly and deftly, Unfortunately, too many authors drop it into the middle of the action - you are about to fid out the dreadful secret or the hero is about to lose his duel with the villain and the author decides to spend five pages descriving the beauty of the afternoon, the trees around them, the particular birds that are singing that moment and the way the shadows fall on the grass.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 9:45:40 AM PST
L. S. Jansen says:
I'm with Aerin that. It depends on the author and their ability to write descriptions that down drag down the plot. It doesn't matter what the genre is, either. People like Lindsey Davis and Elizabeth Peters, both of whom write historical mysteries, are really good at giving out historical information without bogging the story down.

I find Tolkien boring personally. I don't enjoy reading pages and pages of description about landscape. Less can be more as C.S. Lewis, Tolkien's contemporary, managed to show in The Chronicles of Narnia.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 11:38:38 AM PST
I'm trying to think of where there are "pages and pages of description about landscape" in LoTR. There might be in "The Hobbit" (although I don't remember any; then again, I haven't read it for about 30 years). I think you might be doing Tolkien a bit of a disservice.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 12:59:10 PM PST
L. S. Jansen says:
You're correct and what I'm remembering are the rambling paragraphs of description - and it was The Hobbit, so, yeah, you're correct there too.

On the other hand, I read Fellowship and Two Towers three or four years ago. I got within the last 40 pages of the second book when I realized I was forcing myself to finish it and really not enjoying it at all, so I gave it up as a loss and went on to something more to my taste. I've yet to work up the gumption to read Return of the King.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 1:00:34 PM PST
Captain says:
I just reread The Hobbit in anticipation of the movie and there's no pages and pages of description of the landscape. I was surprised at how short the book is as a matter of fact, and how there is action on every page.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 2:14:15 PM PST
I'm not surprised. I'm about to re-read The Hobbit, and I feared that the pages of description were there, rather than in LoTR ... ho hum!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 2:17:23 PM PST
Which fills me with foreboding as I prepare to re-read The Hobbit! :-)

Although I'm a big fan, I would in no way criticise people who don't "get along" with Tolkien. And, fan as I am, I'm not surprised that you ground to a halt at the end of "Two Towers". I never read the entire book these days, having read it so often when I was younger. Nowadays I tend to pick out sections, or even single chapters, to re-read ... and I rarely pick one from "Return of the King" (except, maybe, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields). Tolkien's writing style changed towards the end of "Two Towers", and his language did become much more ... not sure what word to describe it. But that might account for why you felt you couldn't go on? :-)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 2:27:32 PM PST
L. S. Jansen says:
Would you say that it was about that point that Tolkien decided he wasn't going to finish writing the series and several people had to argue him back into continuing?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 6, 2012 3:07:15 PM PST
I am an enormous LOTR fan, Never a year goes past without at least one re reading, but the second part of the second volume truly drags.

Fave sections anyone? Mine has to be the journey through Moria.

Posted on Dec 6, 2012 3:46:34 PM PST
R. Wilde says:
I haven't read Lord of the Rings since college more than a quarter century ago... I mean to reread it when I get a chance.

But, having read James Joyce' Ulysses a few months ago and currently a bit more than halfway through Tolstoy's War and Peace... I half expect to find Tolkien rather concise.

Posted on Dec 6, 2012 3:56:26 PM PST
I think that Tolkien is perceived as being overly descriptive because his writing style in LOTR is both arms-length and slightly medieval. He was a philogist and specifically chose to write LOTR using words that came into use prior to (I think) the year 1500. As a result, his language is a bit arcane.

However, as someone who reads a fair amount of epic fantasy, I disagree that he is verbose. All 3 books of LOTR combined don't exceed 1200 pages, which is shorter than Brandon Sanderson's most recent first installment of his Stormlight Trilogy: The Way of Kings. The Game of Thrones is over 800 pages & it is the first of an as yet unidentified number of books which just keep getting longer, and Jordan's Wheel of Time series makes Tolkien look like a master of brevity.

The Hobbit is completely different. It is a children's story, and is written in a much friendlier, informal fashion that is, in my opinion, thoroughly charming. I just read it aloud to my son and he loved it (he's 12). It is not filled with pages and pages of description - it is under 400 pages long and was a much quicker read than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is the book I finished prior to starting The Hobbit.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

Posted on Dec 6, 2012 6:19:12 PM PST
Brian says:
If you ever have the chance, read the unabridged version of The Princess Bride. There's 70 pages descibing a woman packing for a trip. It's meant as humor, but my God.....

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2012 6:57:41 AM PST
<<If you ever have the chance, read the unabridged version of The Princess Bride. There's 70 pages descibing a woman packing for a trip. It's meant as humor, but my God.....>>

And this is why you should never pass along something heard or read as if you were yourself a witness to it. The unabridged edition doesn't exist. It never did. Goldman wrote the book himself and the unabridged edition and its author was just something he made up to add flavor.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2012 10:13:03 AM PST
Could be! :-)

There is a definite change in tone towards the end of TT, and in RoTK he starts using much more archaic language (more "thees" and "thous"). Whether this was deliberate, as a portent of the near-apocalyptic ending, I don't know ... but I do find the third book less engaging to read.

So you might be right.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2012 10:14:50 AM PST
I generally find that I don't read the Frodo bits any more, in the second and third books. Obviously one cannot ignore Frodo in the first volume, but once the Fellowship breaks up, my interest in Frodo and Sam wanes.

Mines of Moria - yes.
Helm's Deep - yes.
Council of Elrond - yes.
Bree and Weathertop - yes.
Tom Bombadil - No, non, nein, and thrice no! :-)

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 11:30:08 AM PST
I always wondered if the change in language for books 5 and 6 was partly because of the long delay ( war related, wasn't it?) in finishing the work, as well as building for the formal ending

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 5:38:25 PM PST
H. R. Holt says:
I am probably a little bit crazy, but I prefer books that are filled with detail, although it has to be done well and with purpose as well as style, not just dropping the descriptions like pebbles into an endless pond. For example, there was this one book I was reading one time, which I never finished, and the author (every 1,000 or so words) would say one thing about the male lead's eyes - they were green. No other description. No different shade of green. No saying of anything else about them. They were green. Over and over and over. GREEN!!! I nearly died reading that book. I often finish reading everything I start, but that was a definite killer for me. I don't even remember what the book was supposed to be about to catch my interest... all I remember is that the guys eyes were, most definitely, GREEN!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2012 6:55:10 PM PST
L. S. Jansen says:
I do the same thing when I'm re-reading Dune, sometimes skipping over the Harkonens, sometimes not. It depends on my mood at the time.

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 10:27:05 PM PST
Captain says:
Except for Jordan's descriptions of women's clothing, I've never tired of lengthy books by my favorite authors. Their prose is manna to me. That's why I read them. The longer the better.

Posted on Dec 9, 2012 12:09:41 PM PST
Brian says:
I love Jordan's desciptives. Just enough to paint a picture, without putting you to sleep. I haven't read Sanderson beyond The Wheel of Time, but as he did such a great job, I intend to. Anyone who could take over such a massive series, has talent beyond measure.

Posted on Dec 9, 2012 12:39:44 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 9, 2012 12:41:55 PM PST
Captain says:
Jordan's descriptions pretty much exemplify the OP's point and were the first interminable descriptions to set readers upon authors who did so, starting with him. He started it all and destroyed his series with it until Sanderson took over. Tolkein was everything except verbose. Jordan epitomizes verbosity and made it his own.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2012 1:32:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 10, 2012 3:44:36 PM PST
According to Tolkien himself, the Common Speech dialect of the Shire is represented by "modern" (early twentieth century) English, with a few archaic words (mathom, michel, smial) from Old and Middle English.

The Common Speech as used in Rohan is peppered with even more archaic forms, like Holbytlan (Hole-Builders) for Hobbit, or "woodwose," ultimately from, or modeled on, Old English. The Common Speech used in the royal court in Rohan is notably formal (see Gandalf's exchange with Wormtongue). (The language of Rohan itself is represented by Mercian dialect Old English.)

And the Common Speech of the Court in Gondor is in a very formal, old-fashioned, register, represented by seventeenth-century English forms, like "thee" and "thou." (Tolkien comments in the Appendices on how Pippin's' "informal" or "familiar" speech addressing Denethor surprised the Steward's servants, leading to the belief that the hobbits were themselves princes.)

Some readers, and certainly some critics, seem to have missed these points; Thomas Shippey has been very hard on some of the latter, who should have known better, in his books on Tolkien.

As you can probably tell, I'm a long-time Tolkien fan (and English Major), who could go on at great length on such topics.....

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2012 1:56:40 PM PST
Thanks for the elucidation. Not doubt I read all about that at some point, but it's been many years. I just remember that the language did change - but it therefore makes sense that the language should become more archaic as the book progresses.

There you are, then! :-)

Posted on Dec 13, 2012 4:48:38 AM PST
Harry Posner says:
My wife and I read LOtR out loud to each other over a period of a couple of months, which made the whole experience of the books totally different. My wife couldn't get through them when she tried to read them a few years prior to this, but really enjoyed them in the hearing. In this instance the extended descriptions only enhanced the imaginative listener's experience.
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Discussion in:  Fantasy forum
Participants:  19
Total posts:  37
Initial post:  Dec 5, 2012
Latest post:  Jan 1, 2013

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