What a Wonderful World

I stumbled upon a review of The Lord of the Rings several months ago where the reviewer gave the book one star. {GASP!} What? Who doesn’t like The Lord of the Rings? Down, Tolkienites. We’re all entitled to an opinion. This reviewer didn’t appreciate the detail, the lengthy descriptions of the settings, and on and on…

Okay, okay, I get that. I don’t particularly like it either—in contemporary fiction, but it’s expected in fantasy and science fiction genres because the story takes place in a world unlike the one we live in. The description of that world is integral to the story. It’s referred to as world building and The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of it. Some would say it’s the best example, like…evah.

WW is for World Building

What is World Building?

World building is the process of creating an imaginary world that differs from our reality by modifying elements such as climate, geography, history, races, beliefs, government, architecture, languages, and so on.

In his book, J.R.R. Tolkien fashioned an imaginary period in our world’s history where races of hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and wizards existed beside men. He created a rich back story for the relations of these races and drew detailed maps of the realms each occupied. He invented grand cities and quaint villages with distinct architecture, governments, customs, etc. He blended mythical elements with the real world so seamlessly that you almost wonder if this period in time actually existed. He went so far as to invent languages. He did this last part so well that you can translate your name into Elvish at this site (my Elven name is Ireth Faelivrin, by the way).

Despite his attention to detail, some readers would’ve preferred if Tolkien had allowed them to use their imagination. So this got me to thinking. What if the world building was absent in The Lord of the Rings? What if it was left up to the imagination of the reader? How could the story vary from the original?

If the Prancing Pony had been referred to simply as an inn, where would Frodo meet Aragorn for the first time? Howard Johnson’s? The Holiday Inn?








Please, no.

And Merry and Pippin: would they make frequent pit stops for second breakfast and “elevenses” at iHop? Jack in the Box? McDonalds? Taco Bell?

What about the Mines of Moria? What would they look like? A primitive mine from the California Gold Rush?


Gollum’s role as a guide would be obsolete with modern technology.  Frodo would just whip out his iPhone, type in “Mount Doom” and view a map of Middle-earth.  Done!

When Frodo and Sam are exhausted from traveling and weak from days without food or sleep, they would just pop the top on a 5-hour energy drink, chug it, and charge up the mountain.


Heh. Heh. So I’m exaggerating,  but Tolkien created such a wonderful world, I can’t imagine it without the elements he so painstakingly planned.

What do you think about world building? Do you appreciate the details in Tolkien’s work or would you have preferred it be left to the imagination?

To learn more about world building watch the video How to Build a Fictional World by Kate Messner

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to link to their blogs.


12 thoughts on “What a Wonderful World”

    1. Ah, of course…Denny’s. My husband has eaten many “second breakfasts” there after a late night out. 🙂 Come to think of it, his feet are a little hairy…but at 6’4″ he’s much too tall for a hobbit. 🙂

  1. I think world building can make or break a fantasy story, because you really have to work at getting a willing suspension of disbelief. Tolkien did a fantastic job of world-building, but I do admit that sometimes the long descriptions are a bit boring for me – I think more because of the writing style than the actual content. Also, I tend to be someone who gravitates to character and dialogue over physical setting. Speaking of world building, I think Brandon Sanderson is one of the best I have seen at it. His worlds are so detailed that everything just flows.

  2. LOTR wouldn’t have been the same without the world building. Granted, it could have been phrased differently, but I would prefer it as is, to nothing. The mental image of Frodo and Sam using a GPS cracked me up. And my elven name is Uruviel Elensar. Couldn’t resist. 🙂

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