What Makes The Lord of the Rings so special

In a 2013 talk at Carnegie Mellon University, Michael Drout explained what makes Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings different from many other books that look superficially the same.

It’s a great talk, if you’re a Tolkien fan attempting to understand what makes LOTR special, you will learn a lot. It’s also great if you’re a fantasy or scifi writer trying to create something with a similar magic.


One fact I’d not heard before. As Tolkien tells his tale, it is almost always from the POV of the least knowledgable member of the scene. Do you write that way? Maybe you should some of the time.

–Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien

Love that lecture!! Thank you for posting the link.

Not only that, but the most “important” characters in the book are not the most powerful or knowledgeable. The most objectively powerful characters are either corrupted by the power of the Ring (Sauron, Saruman, Boromir) or refuse to have anything to do with it for fear that they would be (Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel). And so the insignificant hobbits are the heroes of this world-spanning epic. Resonated in Tolkien’s time, when the “nation of shopkeepers” held off the Third Reich, and continues to resonate in ours.


1 Like

As usual, another thoughtful reply Katherine.

Funny that the Italian neo-fascists have adopted the Lord of the Rings as their bible, sort of an initiation tale of the übermensch. Never understood why, considering the heroes are the small Hobbits, never fascinated by the power of the ring.