Why The Lord of the Rings is so Hard to Mimic


David Broad

Bag End, Hobbiton, at The Lord of the Rings set in New Zealand.

Morgan C.

The Lord of the Rings is without a doubt the most iconic and defining works of its genre. It cast its shadow so far across fantasy that it’s nearly impossible to write a fantasy story without Tolkien’s influence. 

Unfortunately, many times, the themes Tolkien worked so hard to solidify in his works are wildly misinterpreted by writers that try to use that influence.

Because so many authors have attempted to replicate The Lord of the Rings, it now seems commonplace. We take for granted just how revolutionary it actually was. It’s so much more than the basic get a quest, go on the quest, fulfill the quest. In the end, the hero fails. Frodo succumbs to the ring and the world is only saved by Gollum’s stubborn addiction. It’s not as black and white as some want it to be, not every character is as simple as “good” or “bad”.

It’s also odd that so many writers take away the idea that there’s only one hero—just one person who saves the day for everyone else. There’s been debate about whether Sam was actually the “real” hero all along, but just like Frodo couldn’t have completed the quest without Sam, Sam couldn’t have done it alone either. This holds true for every character. Without even one of them,  Middle Earth would have fallen. There’s a reason the whole story wasn’t told from Frodo’s point of view—because that wouldn’t be the whole story.

While he may not be the only hero, Frodo is certainly a one-of-a-kind protagonist. He only draws his sword when absolutely necessary for self defense, and the worst of his struggles are internal. Many people aren’t willing to see him as a worthwhile hero because of these things, and few authors have since tried to replicate them in a protagonist. 

We see countless fantasy novels with an epic and glorified war that exists simply because the author thought it would be cool. This is one of the most frustrating misinterpretations of Tolkien’s works as it completely goes against one of their main themes:  that fighting is only honorable when it’s for something worthy. Perhaps Faramir explains it best in The Two Towers:  “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend….”

What makes The Lord of the Rings great isn’t the giant spiders, epic quests, and dramatic battles. It’s the unrelenting idea that even the smallest bit of good in the world is worth fighting for, and that’s what authors should be striving to replicate in their stories.