Birthday Musings: Why We Need More Men Like J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on this date (January 3) in 1892 in what is now South Africa. He needs to introduction here.

For this birthday observance, I’m going to use the quote on the left as my jumping off point. I’ve subtitled this post “Why We Need More Men Like J. R. R. Tolkien”.  That’s not just clickbait.

Tolkien wrote one of the most influential works of literature, one that resonates with people and is still popular nearly half a century after his death.  I want to briefly examine why that is.

Click on the image if you can’t read the quote.  The mindset Gandalf is espousing is one that is all too rare these days.  At its core, he’s stating a very heroic philosophy: face your problems, deal with them, and don’t whine about it.  If’ you paid any attention when you read The Lord of the Rings (and if you haven’t read it, go read it now), you should have seen certain themes emphasized.  Sacrifice.  Loyalty.  Courage.  Commitment.  Justice.  Mercy.

These traits aren’t very common these days.

You hear a lot of noise about representation in entertainment, about how people what to see themselves represented.  Me, I want to see people I would want to emulate in my entertainment.  And while I enjoy morally ambiguous protagonists antiheroes, ultimately they aren’t the type of person I want to be.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Tolkien gives us a variety characters.  He’s been accused of a lot of things, but thing he can’t be accused of (with any legitimacy) is that he took his characters from central casting.  They are unique, have their own voices, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own temptations, and sacrifices.  They’re people you care about when you read his works.

And ultimately, the heroes are heroic. In spite of their fear, in spite of what the actions cost them, they do the right thing, often at great cost to themselves.  Or to put it another way, Frodo didn’t demand to go to his safe space.

This is the type of representation I want to see in my fiction.  That’s why I say we need more men like J. R. R. Tolkien.

10 thoughts on “Birthday Musings: Why We Need More Men Like J. R. R. Tolkien

  1. Matthew

    “Sacrifice. Loyalty. Courage. Commitment. Justice. Mercy.

    These traits aren’t very common these days.”

    Frankly, I don’t think those were ever very common. I think they ever will be. I do however think people are reading more heroic literature than ever. I think that’s a good sign.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I think you’re right about them never being very common, but at least they were honored more in the past that they seem to be now. I agree with you that things seem to be changing, and that it’s a good thing.

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  3. Constantin

    This post warmed my heart. Tolkien’s Middle Earth holds a special place in my childhood. It spurred my imagination and had me lost in its world like no other epic before it. I enjoyed antiheroes as well but ultimately it’s works of heroism like this one that I keep returning to and aspiring for.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I agree completely. There’s a reason certain tales and characters seem to be timeless. They touch something in us that makes us yearn to be more than we are.


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