"#(tolkien why are you such a good theologian and such a bad writer)" thank you for this. NO, SERIOUSLY, THANK YOU. FOR THIS. FOREVER.
In my opinion, Tolkien is not a writer.
He is many things—a linguist and a historian and a theologian, a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, a genealogist. But let’s be honest, his characterization can be flat and his prose long winded. I need both hands to count how many of my friends have said, “I love the movies but I can’t get through one book of the series!” Most of them cite Tom Bombadil or the dry writing style, the endless descriptions of lineages or particular historical importance of a hill.
Now I don’t doubt for a second that style was intentional on Tolkien’s part. I recognize his word choices and sentence structure as Biblical, but I’ve heard other people compare it to Herodotus or Beowulf or various ancient texts. Tolkien is deliberately appealing to our sense of history when he’s writing, evoking how real history was written about to create his own. But it does mean that things like…oh, I don’t know, wives or children or introspection or personal details tend to get lost in the shuffle.
(This makes it fun for fanfic writers, because the gaps in Tolkien’s work are more like chasms, and you can build a lot in the spaces he left. But at the same time, we have no idea what any of the Fellowship were really feeling as they took on the quest; what their opinions were on each other, whether they were homesick, or frightened…we know very little about their inner lives and that can be frustrating.)
But Tolkien cares less about narrative and characterization than he does about establishing this world, this universe, the rise of its evil and the fall of its empires. He embroiders his theology of death into the relationship between elves and men; he expresses his thoughts about creation and mastery through Silmarils and Valar. One of the reasons he even came up with Middle Earth in the first place is because, as a linguist, he believed that you couldn’t understand the development of a language without understanding the history of the people it belonged to. His languages needed a home, and so he built one for them.
My favorite Satre quotes is “A novel is nothing but philosophy expressed in images”—and Tolkien makes that as literal as possible. The Lord of the Rings is the synthesis of all his fascination with languages and histories, with theologies and mythologies—it’s an academic tract as much as a creative work.
Personally, I like the term “myth-maker” to describe what Tolkien was doing. There’s less of an assumption of entertainment there—a writer promises you a story, but a myth-maker is crafting something more. A myth is bigger and heavier than just a tale to be told; there’s more to it than simply writing. It’s about resonances and archetypes and scope, and that’s something Tolkien brings in spades.
For some people, Tolkien’s writing style is and will be a deal breaker. For other people (yes, I’m one of these) the excavation of the myth is enough to keep you reading. Even through the passages everyone acknowledges could have been left out. (Though seriously, there is nothing on this earth that can convince me Book IV of the Two Towers needs to be that long. It’s excruciating. Frodo and Sam never stop walking. Never.)
It’s the beauty of what Tolkien is doing that there’s something deeper than the prose—and god knows the prose needs it sometimes.
An Art Book from Devendra Banhart that’s as Eclectic as the Man Himself
Devendra Banhart is exactly the sort of person for whom the term “multithyphenate” was coined. Though he’s attained a measure of mainstream notoriety as a musician, his undergraduate degree is in the visual arts, and for the last 15 or so years he has been steadily building, and occasionally exhibiting, a parallel body of work around drawings, paintings and, more recently, photography.
“Y/n! Get in here!” Dean’s furious voice called from the filing room, more commonly used as a dungeon, his growl echoing around the Men of Letter’s library, volume carrying in the spacious air. You let the book of lore you were studying fall to the thick mahogany table with a deafening thud, your disturbance of the silence reverberating from bookshelf to bookshelf as you reluctantly made your way over to the sound of Dean’s cursing. When you reached the doorway, propping yourself against the wooden frame, three pairs of eyes snapped up to welcome you; Sam, Dean, and the King of Hell himself, wearing a dirty little smile on his blood stained lips, carrying himself with the confidence of a man who wasn’t shackled in a stranger’s literal dungeon, filling you with a feeling of intrusion, as if you were walking in on him in his own home.
“There’s my favourite huntress!” Crowley smirked, voice like an oil slick. Dean raised his demon blade to the demon’s stubble-ridden cheek again, threatening him without words, the demon’s flinch transforming seamlessly into a chuckle, his head, which had tilted back at the chill of the blade, leveled, his tongue catching crimson droplet as he swept it over his mouth. Damn, you hated when they enjoyed the torture. It completely defeated the purpose, which is why, you assumed, he put in such a potent effort to appear unfazed by his various wounds, scarlet blood clotting over his chest from his numerous lacerations, fabric sealed to his healing injuries, his face displaying only crude intentions, not a sliver of pain visible on his features.
“He won’t squeal!” Dean spat through gritted teeth, his muscles tense, jaw clenched in aggravation at the demon’s unwillingness to show vulnerability, delaying your success on your future hunt by withholding valuable information. Sam was sorting through a selection of carving knives, his jaw hardened similarly to his brother’s, fiddling with the assortment of weapons, his posture rigid with his lack of patience.
“How long have you been at him?” You asked, heaving yourself away from the doorway, walking into the dungeon, leaning your back against the corner of a metal filing cabinet, your eyes glazing over the demon, locking on Dean’s, your disregard for the demon a mere instinct. Crowley, displeased by your blatant display of ignoring him, perked up in his seat, barely hissing when the eldest Winchester eased against the tip of his blade.
“Days. Usually, they only last a few minutes, but they have surprising stamina this time around.” Crowley oozed, the innuendo obvious, his gravelly voice infiltrating the air, raising gooseflesh on your arms. Sam absentmindedly slid his hand over the small selection of torture instruments, throwing a dart as casually as one can into Crowley’s neck, the demon hissing as his flesh steamed. The hunter had laced the tip with holy water, genius as always. Crowley tore the dart from his neck, letting it fall to the concrete, thick-banded iron chains jingling.
“He seems to like you, Y/n. Why don’t you… work your magic?” Sam ordered more than he suggested, grinning flatly, lips pressed together in a weary line, passing off his blade to you, slick with slimy blood. His brother followed him away, the cabinets sliding closed behind you with an ominous clank, the shift shivering through your body as you worked your way to a standing position, eyes dropping to the demon. Crowley grinned, possessing the nerve to wink at you, his eyes flitting up and down your body in a swift, almost subtle movement, his teeth biting down on his lower lip.
“Alone at last.” He teased, hands opening and closing as he rattled his constraints, wiggling his fingers as he twisted his wrists, shifting in his seat. You clicked your tongue at his poorly efforts, striding closer to his beaten, battered, and bloody form, twirling the knife between your fingers, metal casting the a dim glint of light against the brick interior.
“Keep your socks up, Crowley. This is strictly professional.” You said, voice hard with unfeeling steel as you stood before him, hands on the table, knife underneath your palm, your shoulders leaning forward. Crowley inhaled slowly, staring at your low-slung tank top with starving eyes, smiling at what he saw, dark eyes deepening with lust. How very predictable. Men, no matter their state of mortality, were so easily manipulated.
“Why don’t we skip the interrogation, head down a different route?” He suggested, inching forward in his seat, perching as close to you as he could, his voice dropping to a sultry whisper. He reeked of blood and expensive cologne, his well-tailored suit riveted with slices and stab wounds, glossy material stained with shine-dulling patches of gore. “What do you say, love? Skip the stabbing, keep the chains?” You scoffed, weapon twisting in your palm, digging the blade into his arm, his swallowed scream reverberating against your eardrums, his lips thinning as he grunted, eyes glaring up into yours, pupils dilating, shocked that you had stabbed him, like you hadn’t been down this road before. He craned his neck, spine crackling as you extracted the knife from his arm, clearing his throat. “Or we could play dirty. Have to admit, it’ a bit of a turn on.” He sleazed, eyes raking over your form as you wiped the blade on the thigh of your denim jeans. A bead of sweat dripped on your brow, the taste of bile in your mouth. You drew the blade along his cheek as Dean had, twisting the blade, watching the demon flinch beneath you, his chest rising and falling steadily. He was unafraid, for the most part. Infuriating.
“This could all be over if you just tell us how to translate the tablet.” You breathed, calm despite your white-knuckle grip on the handle of the blade held against the man’s face. Crowley winked again, tilting his head away from your blade, smiling when you followed his movements.
“When home freezes over,“ he exhaled, grin widening at your eye roll, tongue sweeping over his lips again. "You look ravishing, love. It could be this lighting, or perhaps it’s my blood splattered on your face, but you look absolutely stunning tonight.” He flirted, his posture seductive, fingers gesturing to the ruby droplets soaking into your shirt, the colour sparse, but present nonetheless. “Let’s you and I get out of here, I’ll buy you a drink, we can rent a room…” You drew the knife away from his face, opting to push your weight through the blade and onto Crowley’s finger, the bone snapping as his index finger broke away from the rest of his hand. Crowley screamed, agony flashing across his face. His breathing was labored, his face drenched in sweat and drying blood, eyes wide with surprise and pain. “Oh, you’ll regret that later, darling.” He whispered, licking the red from around his lips, waggling his fingers in your direction as is he were gesturing for you to step closer. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for you to connect he dots, smiling smugly when the horror on your face displayed that you understood his… invitation. You sneered at him, your face inches from his, knife pressing into the tender skin at his throat, hovering one vicious slice away from severing an artery.
“Tell. Me.” You rasped, your breath washing over his face. Crowley leaned a centimeter closer to you, causing your lips to part unwillingly, his proximity invoking instinctual reactions. He leaned away then, snickering, arrogance painting his smiling lips.
“Beg?” He offered, head tilting to the side, hands crossing atop the table, eyes dancing at your aggravation. You drove the blade of your knife through the back of his hand, cementing him to the table, his guttural grunt ricocheting from the walls of the torture chamber.
“Pretty please?” You asked sweetly, leaning over the blade, sugar tainting your brutality. Crowley, choking on a cry, stared blatantly at your cleavage, somehow still vulgar enough to avoid your eye when you held his life in your hands. You retracted the knife as he nodded his head.
“Bring me the tablet.” He hissed, raising his eyes to yours, chocolate irises expanding with… respect, was it? You swooped down over the table, pressing your lips to his, tasting the salty bitterness of his blood as his tongue traced yours, deepening the contact instantly, his shackled hands brushing just barely over your abdomen. You leaned back, turning on your heel, walking away from the demon, putting in the extra effort needed to throw a little more sway into your hips than usual. Crowley groaned hungrily from his chair, making you laugh. “Glad we see eye to eye.” You added, closing the cabinet doors, peering at him through the sliver you kept open to gauge his reaction, his lower body shifting in his seat, his head shaking, a weak chuckle slipping through his lips.
“A pleasure, love. Your interrogations are always welcome.” He ensured before the metal blocked him from view, sealing him away.