“I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum.”
“You have not seen him,” Gandalf broke in.
“No, and I don’t want to,” said Frodo. “I can’t understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”
“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. . . .”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (emphasis added)
Good morning! I thought I’d start off with an analysis of a book quote, and who better to start with than Tolkien?
This is a classic quote, as much as The Lord of the Rings is a classic work of fiction. I’m sure all those of us who are speculative fiction fans have heard it at one time or another. Gandalf often has these wise quotes that I love so much. And today, I thought I would analyze this quote.
What makes the quote above (specifically the bolded words) so effective and so classic? What lessons can we writers learn from Tolkien through this quote?
1. It’s powerful. Tolkien, through Gandalf, is talking about life and death here. Big things. Themes writers deal with all the time. In fact, life and what to do with it is a theme in The Lord of the Rings. This quote, early on, is foreshadowing some things to come. Incorporating important themes can definitely strengthen our work, and using wise characters to allude to them is one good strategy for foreshadowing.
2. It’s eloquent. I will probably say this whenever I analyze a Tolkien quote, and for good reason. I, personally, love to bask in Tolkien’s prose, the soaring beauty, the flowing magnificence of the way he uses words. (See how nice that sounded?) While not everyone’s author or character voices lend themselves to such eloquence, if your voice does, use it. Art is, after all, often meant to be beautiful.
3. It shows who the characters are. Look at that dialogue again. Even if you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings (and if you haven’t, you really should), you can tell something about Frodo and Gandalf from what they’re saying, can’t you? Gandalf clearly dominates the conversation. He “breaks in” a couple times to defend Gollum, and his response to Frodo shows his maturity and wisdom. He’s seen more of the world and the people in it than Frodo has. Frodo is young and inexperienced at this point. He’s frightened. He doesn’t understand why Gandalf would let Gollum live. I’ll try not to give too many spoilers, but this is more foreshadowing, this time about how Frodo will grow in the rest of the book.
This quote, then, is a great demonstration of how powerful “show, don’t tell” is. Without reading anything but a small snippet of chapter two, we’ve gotten to know these two integral characters in this epic work.
Tell me in the comments: What do you think of this quote? Can you think of a writing lesson we can draw from it that I didn’t list here? Are you a fellow Lord of the Rings fan? Do you have a favorite Tolkien quote?
Thank you for reading, everyone! Come back next Saturday for more from The Story Scientist!