Lord of the Hobbits – Life Lessons from J.R.R. Tolkien
“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” - Tolkien
If a child truly could become whoever they wish to be I would now be a cape-wearing Ninja Turtle with Jedi powers. In reality, history gifts us with those rare, extra special people who rise above the rest in their field. One such man was J.R.R. Tolkien. While we will surely be disappointed if our aim is to become Tolkien reincarnate, there is much we can learn from the life of one of literature’s most cherished gems. In particular, there are three lessons passed down through the legacy of the lord of hobbits.
1. Tolkien Took A Chance
The spark ignited during the most hot, and laborious of days. Grading exam papers Tolkien discovered one student left a page blank. On the empty canvas he jotted down “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He later recalled, “Names always generate a story in my mind. Eventually I thought I better find out what hobbits were like…”
Tolkien had no need to do so, however. No one had heard of these peculiar, hairy-footed Halflings so no one would lament their absence. But a seed had been planted and Tolkien allowed it to grow. When it bloomed it would change the landscape of fantasy literature forever.
Sadly, for every example like this, how many more exist for the contrary? Many of the greatest stories ever imagined have been left untold and forgotten. Many promising seeds of inspiration “put-off” until more time was found to water it. Put your thoughts to paper and you may be amazed at its beauty when it blooms.
2. Tolkien was Persistent
The Hobbit was gobbled up by readers and a sequel was needed. Tolkien’s “New Hobbit” took shape, its complexity increasing, and his focus turned toward a mysterious, powerful ring.
Despite the story’s potential, writing became a battle in the trenches. Seventeen long years would pass before the manuscript was complete. Yet, even then, he was miserably unhappy with it and publishers were equally hesitant.
Today we glamorize Tolkien as a godfather in English literature; but the reality of his life is far from glamorous. His Lord of the Rings masterpiece came at the cost of many years of lonely, tedious nights. His desk was so crowded he used a bed in his attic to balance his typewriter while he slowly plucked away with two fingers, never learning to type properly.
We live in a “right-now” culture. We desire the respect and fame that accompanies a masterpiece but are reluctant to pay the price to produce one. We always idolize the people we lack the discipline to become ourselves. Many writers abandon their work at the first sign of trouble. Writer’s Block sweeps in or a scathing critique emerges so we flee in search of fresh green pastures. Great writers are not those who avoided hardship; they are those who pressed through and overcome it. Greatness is costly.
3. Tolkien was an Imperfect Perfectionist
The greatest obstacle Tolkien overcome was himself. He was a seveare perfectionist. If he unearthed one tiny flaw within the story then the whole tale as tainted. He would re-write the entire story from the beginning to remove all traces of the blemish. The inner-battle was almost the tragic death of his work. Yet, after 17 hard-fought years, he handed the final manuscript to the publisher and uttered: “It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.”
In the end, all we have to offer is our best. Go on Amazon or Goodreads to the magnum opus of the most successful authors and you will discover some of the most spiteful, angry 1-Star reviews. No writer, however great, has ever produced a perfect manuscript. Likewise, no work, however cherished, has ever pleased everybody. Perfection is not the aim; your best is.
We may not earn a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Literary Giants alongside the likes of Tolkien but what is stopping us from pursing our passion to completion and offering the world our best? Let no epic go untold or saga left unfinished like an ancient cathedral gathering dust. We are the only ones who stand in our way. One old, poorly spoken English professor gave the world Hobbits. What will our contribution be?