Book Meme Day 3: My Favorite Series

Argh! There are so many overlooked and underrated book series out there, and I spent some time searching my bookshelf for a hidden gem to showcase. But if I am to be honest – and I fully intend to be honest – there is only one series of novels that can truly be termed my favorite. For over a decade it has influenced the way I think about the fantasy genre, about mythology (both historical and modern), about the purpose of writing fiction, about languages, about what exists beyond the edges of a map, and even about faith and Christianity. And it is so famous that I hardly know what more to say about it.

I speak, naturally, of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

My father read the series to me when I was in elementary school, intending it to be a fun project by which we could spend more time together. Neither of us knew much about it beforehand; my dad claims he was completely oblivious to the cries of “Frodo Lives!” and “Gandalf for President!” that swept American counterculture in the 1960s and ‘70s, while he was studying engineering at a state university. Curled up on the couch, listening to my dad read, I had no way of knowing what I was getting into. The plot minutiae was often a bit too complex for my pre-teen mind and the long sections of poetry sometimes put me to sleep. I don’t think I was even aware of just how much I loved it, at the time. But as I began delving deeper into the fantasy genre, The Lord of the Rings was the story by which all others were judged. It still is, in fact.

The saga endures beyond all others of its kind. Tolkien’s love and respect for his characters, his world, and his readers comes through on every page. Neither pandering nor literary arrogance towards the readership have any place in The Lord of the Rings. It all holds together, for all its myriad characters, plot threads, city names, weapon names, fantastical creatures, songful interludes, and references to other pieces of invented mythology. It is lovely, epic, thrilling, charming, heartrending, uplifting, ecstatic, grim, dignified, merciful, amazing…

For Tolkien’s sake, I wish I could find the words to express just why his effort rises above everyone else’s. At the moment, the words are failing me. What can I say that has not already been said time and time again? If you ask me what is an epic fantasy story, I point to The Lord of the Rings and say “There, that is it. That is what is essential about the genre. All other such novels and series are the attempts of the rest of us to understand the depth of what Tolkien did.”


  1. Melpomene says:

    Lovely lovely. I do have a quibble though: does LotR count as a series? I always considered it as one cohesive book.

    That being said, I think Tolkien could pretty much fill almost all the spots on this list. But I am saving him for a secret farther down the line . . . . mwahahaha!

    1. David says:

      Yeah, I think you can validly look at it both ways. He wrote it as one book, but the very fact that it was split into 3 parts has influenced great swathes of new fantasy sagas in 3, 4, 5, or more parts that are all called series even though they tell one continuous story. For this post I nearly just said “the collected works of Tolkien relating to Arda,” but I decided to be slightly more conventional. However, I will probably end up cheating with many of the following meme posts. I mean, how am I supposed to pick a favorite book out of LOTR? I don’t think I can even find a single favorite quote. That’s partly why I modified “book” to “story” in the first post, so I could include the various Unfinished and Lost Tales later on.

  2. kesseljunkie says:

    Solid post, and I couldn’t agree with you more. When I finally got around to reading LotR it changed the way I looked at reading. It is amazing and stands as one of the greatest works of literature of the last 100 years (at least).

    What also made me smile is that last year, I read The Hobbit to my oldest daughter for the first time (she was 3, now 4). She can recite characters and sections and we discussed parts of it. In a lot of ways I’m broken hearted that the film version being made seems like it’s going to skew too intense for her, because I really wanted to take her to the movie and share that experience with her. Oh well, there’s still DVD.

    I have yet to read Lost Tales, but I’m borrowing a copy with the goal of reading it this year. 🙂

    1. David says:

      Awesome! I have two nephews and a niece, and it’s so much fun to read them stories when I can — so far I’ve had time to read some of the Magic Tree House books, and a particularly well-illustrated version of Saint George and the Dragon, adapted for children from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. They’ll probably become familiar with Narnia too, before long — they’ve seen some of the movies. I can’t wait to get them into The Hobbit. Yes, the movie probably will be too intense for the younger fans of the book. That’s my guess, going by the trilogy and the artistic tendencies of Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro. And maybe that’s inevitable with a live action version of a story that does already include a huge scary dragon and a bloody 5-way battle at the end. The Hobbit is lighter than LOTR, but it’s not quite Disney fare.

      I hope you like the Lost Tales! Some can be tough to get through, especially since some are quite unfinished and in fragmentary form. You’ll be reading a lot of footnotes and endnotes by Christopher Tolkien, just to get proper context. They work best if you’ve read The Silmarillion, which gives you the whole invented history in a more manageable, streamlined form. But they’re still beautiful, no matter what; the poetry especially.

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