Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
I know you must be well aware of how popular Tolkien is. But the truth is that I didn’t discover just how good of a writer he was, until the year I published my debut novel. I read The Hobbit when I was twelve, and liked it well enough. Yet, I couldn’t force my way through the first, in The Lord of the Rings series, at that time. Not enough patience, I guess. Anyway, I started Fellowship of the Ring again in 2018, around the time I was proofreading my own story for its final polish.
Tolkien’s work wasn’t just a breath of fresh air for me, but rather a heaping wave of it. See, I was stuck in “editor” mode. Other authors’ books were too distracting in their construction. There was simply too much I wanted to change about sentence structure, story elements, or lack thereof, et cetera. But the beauty of Tolkien’s structure is how he perfectly picks the words to “sound” good together. Then the sentences effortlessly blend together, creating a sort of smooth rhythm, until he wants something to jar your senses, and make you pay attention. Take this section near the start of Chapter 11 - A Knife in the Dark:
“A feeling of fear had been growing on him all day, and he was unable to rest or go to bed: there was a brooding threat in the breathless night-air. As he stared out into the gloom, a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound. Terror seized him. He shrank back, and for a moment he stood trembling in the hall. Then he shut and locked the door.
The night deepened. There came the soft sound of horses led with stealth along the lane. Outside the gate they stopped, and three black figures entered, like shades of night creeping across the ground. One went to the door, one to the corner of the house on either side; and there they stood, as still as the shadows of stones, while night went slowly on. The house and the quiet trees seemed to be waiting breathlessly.” (Tolkien)
Possibly you’re not a fan of Tolkien. But please bear with me, in seeing how his structure works to “sound” pleasing. Other writers do this too, but Tolkien does it best in my opinion.
In the first section, he picks two words that start with ‘F’—feeling and fear. Then he has three words starting with ‘B’ within the same sentence—bed, brooding, and breathless. When adjectives, nouns, et cetera start with the same letter within the same sentence, it can give a rhyming or complimentary sound. Couple that with a wonderful story, and you’ll have a book that is a joy to read. Good stories are a nice escape. Poetic sounds are pleasing too. Pair them together in a way that Tolkien has, and you get something rather special. Perhaps even unforgettable and addictive.
Next, we have lots of words starting with the letter ‘S.’ And the sound of ‘S’ flows perhaps better than any other letter. So, we have the sentence, “As he stared out into the gloom, a black shadow moved under the trees; the gate seemed to open of its own accord and close again without a sound.” Then Tolkien grabs his readers with a short, harsher-sounding sentence, “Terror seized him.” This is the writing equivalent of music slowly building in a crescendo, until “Bam!” you get the chorus or heart-stopping note. It’s the power short-sentences can have, if used correctly. And, believe me, Tolkien uses them to perfection every time.
The very next passage starts with another three word sentence. It signals the reader, whether you realize it or not, that the passage should be read faster. Because of Tolkien’s flowing word choice, you can, in fact, read the second passage even faster. Go back, and try it!
I could go on even more, but I’ll stop myself there because this review is already longer than I had wanted. Hopefully, I’ve converted you into a Tolkien fan; enough, anyway, that you’ll give his work a chance.