The Lord of the Rings
This is a portal page for quotes from the three standard volumes of the novel The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; they contain some "spoilers". For quotations from the movie adaptations, go to the page for The Lord of the Rings movies.
The following four titles are links to separate pages of quotes from each of the three volumes, and the appendices:
- Books I and II - The Fellowship of the Ring
- Books III and IV - The Two Towers
- Books V and VI - The Return of the King
- Appendices to The Lord of the Rings
Foreword to the Second Edition (October 1966)
- The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.
- Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.
- The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.
- I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
Quotes about The Lord of the Rings
- I rarely remember a book about which I have had such violent arguments. Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it, and among the hostile there are some, I must confess, for whose literary judgment I have great respect. A few of these may have been put off by the first forty pages of the first chapter of the first volume in which the daily life of the hobbits is described; this is light comedy and light comedy is not Mr. Tolkien's forte. In most cases, however, the objection must go far deeper. I can only suppose that some people object to Heroic Quests and Imaginary Worlds on principle; such, they feel, cannot be anything but light "escapist" reading. That a man like Mr. Tolkien, the English philologist who teaches at Oxford, should lavish such incredible pains upon a genre which is, for them, trifling by definition, is, therefore, very shocking.
- To present the conflict between Good and Evil as a war in which the good side is ultimately victorious is a ticklish business. Our historical experience tells us that physical power and, to a large extent, mental power are morally neutral and effectively real: wars are won by the stronger side, just or unjust. ... As readers of the preceding volumes will remember, the situation in the War of the Ring is as follows: Chance, or Providence, has put the Ring in the hands of the representatives of Good, Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn. By using it they could destroy Sauron, the incarnation of evil, but at the cost of becoming his successor. If Sauron recovers the Ring, his victory will be immediate and complete, but even without it his power is greater than any his enemies can bring against him, so that, unless Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, Sauron must win. ... The demands made on the writer's powers in an epic as long as "The Lord of the Rings" are enormous and increase as the tale proceeds — the battles have to get more spectacular, the situations more critical, the adventures more thrilling — but I can only say that Mr. Tolkien has proved equal to them.
- W. H. Auden, "At the End of the Quest, Victory", in The New York Times (22 January 1956)
- One of Tolkien's most impressive achievements is that he succeeds in convincing the reader that the mistakes which Sauron makes to his own undoing are the kinds of mistake which Evil, however powerful, cannot help making, just because it is evil. A good person always enjoys one advantage over an evil person, namely, that, while a good person can imagine what it would be like to be evil, an evil person cannot imagine what it would be like to be good. Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, Aragorn are able to imagine themselves as Sauron and can therefore resist the temptation to use the Ring themselves, but Sauron cannot imagine that anyone who knows what the Ring can accomplish, his own destruction among other things, will refrain from using it, let alone try to destroy it. Had he been capable of imagining this, he had only to sit watching and waiting in Mordor for the Ring Bearer to arrive, and he would have been bound to catch him and recover the Ring. Instead, he assumes that the Ring has been taken to Gondor where the strongest of his enemies are gathered, for this is what he would have done had he been in their place, and launches an attack on that city, neglecting the watch on his own borders.
- W. H. Auden, "Good and Evil in the Lord of the Rings", (1967)
- In its fundamental conception, as well as in many of the significant details of its working out, Lord of the Rings is heavily indebted to G. K. Chesterton's now little read poem of 1911, The Ballad of the White Horse.
The major theme of both works is the war and eventual victory, despite all odds, of an alliance of good folk against vastly more powerful forces of evil, and the return of a king to his rightful state. Like Lord of the Rings, Chesterton's poem is set in a heroic society after the decay of a highly civilized imperial power — in England, that is to say, in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. (Tolkien's Minas Tirith, built on seven levels, greatly resembles a medieval idealization of Rome.) King Alfred, its hero, is fighting a losing war to save his kingdom from complete conquest by the Danes. As one would expect with Chesterton, it is a war of white against black, of Christianity against a diabolical paganism that has defeated Rome and is now trying to make all good men its slaves. … The enemy is not simply Danes, or barbarians in general, but a wholly malignant and almost irresistible force that stands behind all the enemies of Christianity: This power blights everything it touches — there are repeated references to its distorting effects even on the natural world — and the men who serve it become like Tolkien's Orcs. … To fight against this menace, Alfred, hiding in exile, summons three kindreds of free, Christian peoples as allies. Alfred himself, like Tolkien's Aragorn, is an idealized heroic figure who roams around in humble disguise and is sometimes mistreated by the ignorant. Instead of Dwarves, Elves, and Men of Numenorean descent, he leads an alliance of Saxons, Celts, and Romans.
- Cristopher Clausen, "The Lord of the Rings and The Ballad of the White Horse", in South Atlantic Bulletin 39.2 (May 1974)
- Tolkien's Middle-earth gleams with the light of an ancient hope: peace between peoples, and with nature, and before the unknown.
- Patrick Curry, Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity (1997), p. 165
- Oh, fuck, not another elf!
- Hugo Dyson, Tolkien's friend and fellow academic, during a reading of The Lord of the Rings at a meeting of the Inklings; quoted in C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990) by A. N. Wilson, p. 217
- And The Lord of the Rings would begin with Hugo lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, "Oh God, no more Elves."
- Christopher Tolkien's account of readings of The Lord of the Rings in the television documentary A Film Portrait of J. R. R. Tolkien (1992) directed by Derek Bailey.
- On one memorable occasion a small group had gathered in Lewis's rooms and were listening to Tolkien read the last installment of The Lord of the Rings. They were sitting there puffing on pipes and sipping tea when Hugo Dyson, who had been lounging on a sofa and growing increasingly bored with the proceedings, suddenly exclaimed: "Oh, fuck! Not another elf!"
- J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy remains the ultimate quest, the ultimate battle between good and evil, the ultimate chronicle of stewardship of the earth. Endlessly imitated, it never has been surpassed.
- John Mark Eberhart and Matthew Schofield, "After half a century, The Lord of the Rings towers over fantasy fiction — and now the films loom," The Kansas City Star, 1 October 2000: J1.
- I wonder how could he have been able to invent all this stuff. It feels more like Tolkien discovered some sort of long-lost scrolls.
- Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realized. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart.
- As we read we find ourselves sharing [the characters'] burden; when we have finished, we return to our own life not relaxed but fortified.
- C.S. Lewis, "The Gods Return to Earth" (14 August 1954)
I always felt like Gandalf should have stayed dead. That was such an incredible sequence in Fellowship of the Ring when he faces the Balrog on the Khazad-dûm and he falls into the gulf, and his last words are, “Fly, you fools.”
What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he's sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.
- There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
- Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time. The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away. They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.
- Christopher Tolkien, Le Monde, as quoted in "Why JRR Tolkien’s Son Hates What Peter Jackson Has Done" by Devin Faraci, Birth.Movies.Death. (9 January 2013)
- I should regard them [the Elves interested in technical devices] as no more wicked or foolish (but in much the same peril) as Catholics engaged in certain kinds of physical research (e.g. those producing, if only as by-products, poisonous gases and explosives): things not necessarily evil, but which, things being as they are, and the nature and motives of the economic masters who provide all the means for their work being as they are, are pretty certain to serve evil ends. For which they will not necessarily be to blame, even if aware of them.
- [Lord of the Rings] is … a piece of literature, … and not real history. … Its economics, science, artefacts, religion, and philosophy are defective, or at least sketchy.
- [Tom Bombadil is] an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly independent of the enquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture. Even the Elves hardly show this: they are primarily artists.
- J. R. R. Tolkien; in a letter to Peter Hastings (Sep 1954); in Humphrey Carpenter (ed.) assisted by Christopher Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1995, 2014), 190, Letter No. 153.
- My story [Lord of the Rings] is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power (exerted for Domination). Nuclear physics can be used for that purpose. But they need not be. They need not be used at all. If there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread assumption of our time: that if a thing can be done, it must be done. This seems to me wholly false.
- J. R. R. Tolkien; in letter draft to Joanna de Bortadano (Apr 1956); in Humphrey Carpenter (ed.) assisted by Christopher Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1995, 2014), 246, Letter No. 186.
- There was a time when the Hobbit fantasies of Professor Tolkien were being taken very seriously indeed by a great many distinguished literary figures. Mr. Auden is even reported to have claimed that these books were as good as War and Peace; Edwin Muir and many others were almost equally enthusiastic. I had a sense that one side or the other must be mad, for it seemed to me that these books were dull, ill-written, whimsical and childish. And for me this had a reassuring outcome, for most of his more ardent supporters were soon beginning to sell out their shares in Professor Tolkien, and today those books have passed into a merciful oblivion.
- Philip Toynbee, "Dissension among the Judges", in The Observer (6 August 1961)
- Written mainly between 1937 and 1949 (which places most of the writing during World War II), The Lord of the Rings did not become a best seller until the 1960s. Despite that late start, it can arguably be called the greatest work of fiction of the twentieth century. Its main theme is good versus evil, friendship, the importance of the individual, and reverence for nature are as relevant today, during the current campaign against terrorism, as when the book was written.
- Without the challenge of the Dark Power, Frodo, Gandalf, and Galadriel would not have grown. We develop only by going against opposition and facing our shadow. All the characters who won... found their key to the path to the heart of the universe by looking inward, to the God within, which unlocks all mysteries.
- Helene Vachet, The Lord of the Rings and the Journey to the Heart of the Universe, Quest magazine, (November - December 2002)
- One is puzzled to know why the author should have supposed he was writing for adults. There are, to be sure, some details that are a little unpleasant for a children's book, but except when he is being pedantic and also boring the adult reader, there is little in The Lord of the Rings over the head of a seven-year-old child.
- At the end of this long romance, I had still no conception of the wizard Gandalph, who is a cardinal figure, had never been able to visualize him at all. For the most part such characterizations as Dr. Tolkien is able to contrive are perfectly stereotyped: Frodo the good little Englishman, Samwise, his dog-like servant, who talks lower-class and respectful, and never deserts his master. These characters who are no characters are involved in interminable adventures the poverty of invention displayed in which is, it seems to me, almost pathetic.
- Edmund Wilson, "Oo, THOSE AWFUL ORCS!", The Nation, April 14, 1956.
- Once Sauron's realm is invaded, we think we are going to meet him; but he still remains nothing but a burning eye scrutinizing all that occurs from the window of a remote dark tower. This might, of course, be made effective; but actually it is not; we never feel Sauron's power. And the climax, to which we have been working up through exactly nine hundred and ninety-nine large close-printed pages, when it comes, proves extremely flat. The ring is at last got rid of by being dropped into a fiery crater, and the kingdom of Sauron « topples » in a brief and banal earthquake that sets fire to everything and burns it up, and so releases the author from the necessity of telling the reader what exactly was so terrible there.
- Edmund Wilson, "Oo, THOSE AWFUL ORCS!", The Nation, April 14, 1956.
- Now, how is it that these long-winded volumes of what looks to this reviewer like balderdash have elicited such tributes as those above? The answer is, I believe, that certain people – especially, perhaps, in Britain – have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash.
- Edmund Wilson, "Oo, THOSE AWFUL ORCS!", The Nation, April 14, 1956.
Not fully sourced
All the following are from the 'blurb' on the back dust wrapper of the hardback copy of the 1966 Second Edition of The Fellowship of the Rings...
- The English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and those who are going to read them.
- The Sunday Times
- Among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the mid-20th century.
- The Sunday Telegraph