Thoughts on Tolkien & writerly advice from the Tampa Bay Comic Con 2016

I decided to start reading The Fellowship of the Ring again after many, many years. The last time I read it was in 2001 before the movie came out, in an effort to know & remember the book before the movie potentially spoiled the memory. I didn’t know that I had no reason to worry because Tolkien is a writer who needed to be reeled in by an editor.

JRR Tolkien
“I will not listen to an editor, I will not listen to an editor, I will not…”

Trying to read Tolkien is a chore. It’s actually not fun or interesting. You know That Guy in every bar who talks too much about stuff no one cares about? Tolkien is that guy in book form.

I give all due respect to Tolkien for the depth & breadth of his (possibly unparalleled) worldbuilding; his kickstarting a genre of literature that I love; for influencing the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Fantasy as we know it exists due to him.

But he still needed an editor – badly. And boy did he tell versus show. Here’s where I am right now:

Gandalf fell silent, gazing eastward from the porch to the far peaks of the Misty Mountains, at whose great roots the peril of the world had so long lain hidden. He sighed.

‘There I was at fault,’ he said. ‘I was lulled by the words of Saruman the Wise; but I should have sought for the truth sooner, and our peril would now be less.’

‘We were all at fault,’ said Elrond, ‘and but for your vigilance the Darkness, maybe, would already be upon us. But say on!’

‘From the first my heart misgave me, against all reason that I knew,’ said Gandalf, ‘and I desired to know how this thing came to Gollum, and how long he had possessed it. So I set a watch for him, guessing that he would ere long come forth from his darkness to seek for his treasure. He came, but he escaped and was not found. And then alas! I let the matter rest, watching and waiting only, as we have too often done.

‘Time passed with many cares, until my doubts were awakened again to sudden fear. Whence came the hobbit’s ring? What, if my fear was true, should be done with it? Those things I must decide. But I spoke yet of my dread to none, knowing the peril of an untimely whisper, if it went astray. In all the long wars with the Dark Tower treason has ever been our greatest foe.

‘That was seventeen years ago. Soon I became aware that spies of many sorts, even beasts and birds, were gathered round the Shire, and my fear grew. I called for the help of the Dúnedain, and their watch was doubled; and I opened my heart to Aragorn, the heir of Isildur.’


I know that he was writing an olde, literary epic, but it’s just not very good. I’m having trouble continuing because every damn thing out of someone’s mouth is a long-winded story. Not to mention the two chapters involving Tom Bombadil have literally nothing to do with the rest of the book.

I watched the Peter Jackson movies last weekend and realized how well & judiciously he edited Tolkien (caveat: let’s forget his Hobbit movies exist). And the extended editions really didn’t add that much to the story (that’ll save me a few hours next year). If all writing is rewriting, Tolkien didn’t do nearly enough rewriting.

I wouldn’t be so aghast at his writing if not for a comment by RA Salvatore at a writer’s panel at the Tampa Bay Comic Con last month. The sentiment was how terrible it is that most people will learn about Tolkien from movies rather than the books. There was a collective murmur of shock & agreement from the audience & some doleful head nodding from his fellow panelists.

[ insert eyeroll/facepalm here]
I didn’t believe that was terrible. If anything it means WAY more people will be exposed to Tolkien & be led to the books (or hopefully fantasy books by better writers). And it turns out that’s exactly what happened, according to this 2007 article, Tolkien proves he’s still the king:

Thanks partly to filmmaker Peter Jackson, the Tolkien brand has never been stronger. Fully one-third of the 150 million copies of The Lord of the Rings sold to date were purchased after the release of the first film in the series.


Boo fucking hoo, right? In the 4 years after the first movie came out, 50 million copies of the trilogy were sold. Who knows, maybe there’s something tainted about someone who reads a book after a movie. Perhaps they’re terrible, lesser human beings? I don’t know – I thought anyone getting interested in books for any reason was a good thing.

That specific writers panel was full of reactionary bullshit (and yes, this has been gnawing at my conscience for weeks). I don’t know how much of the audience was taking the panelists’ words as gospel butI couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

Kevin J Anderson, founder of WordFire Press, was the lead fearmonger. He actually said that bad writing could … turn people off from reading. Seriously.

He complained quite a bit about online reviews, because there are tons of fake/intentional 1 star reviews. And the ability to self-publish is flooding the market with bad $.99 books that are driving prices down. And all $.99 books are by amateurs.

What he really meant to say: I believe people are dumb as shit.

Let me tell you how stupid you are...
Let me tell you how stupid you are…

No one with half a brain would decide to stop reading completely because they tried a bad book. People know damn well that all reviews are not to be trusted, but that overall aggregate online ratings are a pretty decent indicator of quality. And while we like saving money, we also know that cheaper isn’t always better.

Oh – and Tracy Hickman, of Dragonlance fame, has stopped writing because of ebooks. Seriously?
I could not believe how much bullshit he spewed, it certainly overshadowed anything worthwhile he said. And regarding Hickman – no one quits doing something unless they want to anyway. They’re just looking for an excuse to stop.

People aren’t stupid, but taking them for granted is.

Surprisingly, the one good nugget of info came from RA Salvatore. He’d been in contact with Amazon regarding selling some of his books there and was told that books costing less than $2.99 are not selling unless they are the first in a series.

Look at that – people aren’t stupid! And neither are the authors who are using a lower price point to attract new readers to a series of books.

Honestly though, I feel bad for RA. He said that his income has gone down and while he said he wasn’t complaining, it was impossible to ignore his pangs. The man is a beloved writer who has written a ton of books. And he does not own the intellectual property for most of the books he’s written, especially his most popular work. The IP owners are Hasbro (for his Dungeons & Dragons work) and Disney (for this Star Wars books).


So he doesn’t have the option of taking his best work, slef-publishing and making 70% profits from ebook sales. The prices for ebooks are – as they should be – lower than physical books and his income has declined (probably a lot) as a result. And that really sucks for him.

However, there was one sensible bright spot in the panel: Quincy Allen. The big biker dude with a mohawk & kilt was easily the voice of reason. He writes some crazy cross-genre shit and was very positive overall about self-publishing and self-promotion, using newsletters, yada yada. Hopefully more people paid attention to him than the fearmongering naysayers.

Photo of author


Arp Laszlo

Hi, I’m Arp! I make comics and write about life as an Indian-American with late-diagnosis ADHD. I’m a self-taught and self-employed creator so I write a lot about art, learning, and entrepreneurial stuff that I’ve picked up along the way.

My stories are kinda weird, because that’s just how I am. My formative influences are Indian mythology, Batman, Tintin, 70s Bollywood, Ray Harryhausen, and Monty Python. There’s no way anything normal could come out of that, right?

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