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Tolkien's Greatest Hits - The Most Impressive Wordplay from our Favorite Author

News from Bree

May 8 2013, 6:42am

Post #1 of 18 (284 views)
Tolkien's Greatest Hits - The Most Impressive Wordplay from our Favorite Author Can't Post

It is one of the first things you learn in the craft of writing. Mediocre dialogue is instantly forgotten - but brilliant dialogue lives forever in the mouth of your audience.

You know those finely crafted little moments you always remember from a movie or play? Even if you don't see the performers again the brightest or funniest quips will linger on. The best movie dialogue has a way of becoming oft-heard bon mots relished among water cooler conversation.

The same goes for literature but often in broader measure. The most impressive wordplay remains within your psyche long after you put the book down. When the rubber hits the road, it's how a great writer is elevated above the ordinary herds.

Indeed one of the first things you learn about J.R.R. Tolkien is that his work is ripe with just such powerful language. His wonderful ability to play with tone, color, and emotion made it easy for me to select the following from The Lord of the Rings. These are my favorite one-liners (or two-liners), that stand out as having a striking impact. Consider this collection a literary sampler akin to "Tolkien's Greatest Hits."

Lord knows that the Professor himself would frown upon the idea, yet I present them playfully and respectfully. Whenever I read and encounter these moments I am forever impressed with intensity, humor, or remembrance.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Most bittersweet line:
"I have quite finished, Sam," said Frodo. "The last pages are for you."

Best exclamation of joy:
"Ass! Fool! Thrice worthy and beloved Barliman!"

Most perfect description of beauty:
Young she was and yet not so. The braids of her dark hair were touched by no frost; her white arms and clear face were flawless and smooth, and the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring.

Most poetic description of the weather:
The weather was grey and overcast, with wind from the East, but as evening drew into night the sky away westward cleared, and pools of faint light, yellow and pale green, opened under the grey shores of cloud. There the white rind of the new Moon could be seen glimmering in the remote lakes.

Most shocking moment:
But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.

Most gruesome encounter:
Then Pippin stabbed upwards, and the written blade of Westernesse pierced through the hide and went deep into the vitals of the troll, and his black blood came gushing out.

Most colorful analogy:
"Troubles follow you like crows, and ever the oftener the worse."

Best example of friendly competition:
"Forty-two, Master Legolas!" he cried.

Most powerful moment of rage:
Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.

Best invitation to dinner:
"You shall come home with me! The table is all laden with yellow cream, honeycomb, and white bread and butter."

Wittiest rejoinder:
Saruman- "For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colors!"
Gandalf- "I liked white better."

Spookiest moment:
Farmer Cotton found Frodo lying on his bed; he was clutching a white gem that hung on a chain about his neck and he seemed half in a dream. "It is gone forever," he said, "and now all is dark and empty."

Most gothic description of evil:
Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.

Most shrewd political advice:
"He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise, Master Halfling."

Single best piece of advice:
"Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."

Single funniest line:
"What's taters, precious, eh, what's taters?"

Funniest exchange between two characters:
Eomer- "For there are certain rash words concerning the Lady in the Golden Wood that lie still between us. And now I have seen her with my eyes."
Gimli- "Well, lord, and what say you now?"
Eomer- "Alas! I will not say that she is the fairest lady that lives."
Gimli- "Then I must go for my axe."

Most beautiful dream sequence:
As he fell slowly into sleep, Pippin had a strange feeling: he and Gandalf were still as stone, seated upon the statue of a running horse, while the world rolled away beneath his feet with a great noise of wind.

Most enigmatic historical allusion:
"Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder. Goldberry shall wear it now, and we will not forget her!"

Strongest statement of gender equality:
"In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen."

Most romantic kiss:
And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.

Most exciting call of alarm:

Most intimidating description of geography:
Ever and anon the furnaces far below its ashen cone would grow hot and with a great surging and throbbing pour forth rivers of molten rock from chasms in its sides. Some would flow blazing towards Barad-dur down great channels; some would wind their way into the stony plain, until they cooled and lay like twisted dragon-shapes vomited from the tormented earth.

Most beautiful sunset:
But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstretched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire.

Most insidious falsehood:
"Our friendship would profit us both alike. Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world."

Most spectacular moment of destruction:
Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.

Most moving speech on the battlefield:
"But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him."

Most Shakespearean dialogue:
"Stir not the bitterness in the cup that I mixed for myself," said Denethor. "Have I not tasted it now many nights upon my tongue, foreboding that worse lay yet in the dregs?"

Most wonderful hobbit irony:
Then there was Lobelia. And there was such clapping and cheering when she appeared, leaning on Frodo's arm but still clutching her umbrella, that she was quite touched, and drove away in tears. She had never in her life been popular before.

Two moments that surely inspired the 60's hippie counter-culture:
1. "Cast off these cold rags! Run naked on the grass, while Tom goes a-hunting!" The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass, as he told them.


2. All that day they walked about in the woods with him, singing, and laughing; for Quickbeam often laughed. Whenever he saw a rowan-tree he halted a while with his arms stretched out, and sang, and swayed as he sang.

Passage of utmost triumphant rapture:
And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

Line that always, always makes me weep uncontrollably:
There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Many of you certainly have your own take on what qualifies as the "most humorous," "most shocking," etc., and that's fine too. This pursuit is a matter of taste, perhaps, but you cannot deny the foundation: Professor Tolkien showed his passion on every page, with every turn of phrase. Of his labors he wrote in a 1950 letter to Milton Waldman:
It was begun in 1936, and every part has been written many times. Hardly a word in its 600,000 or more has been unconsidered. And the placing, size, style, and contribution to the whole of all the features, incidents, and chapters has been laboriously pondered.

No better insight can be given towards understanding the perfection of his tastes in authorship. Here is the major facet that most assuredly elevates him and his body of work. We, his eager readership, are indeed blessed with his remarkable and thoroughly romantic word craft.

Much too hasty,



This article was first published on August 8th 2000 in Green Books. In an effort to introduce new Tolkien fans to our nearly 14 years of archived content, we will be publishing articles like this on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy it!

(This post was edited by entmaiden on May 8 2013, 5:41pm)

Aragalen the Green

May 8 2013, 3:09pm

Post #2 of 18 (162 views)
Dazzlingly marvelous! Perfect! Flawless! Staggering! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you for these wonderful insights into Tolkien's writings! I love how every sentence, even every word is perfectly crafted; and how Tolkien was able to create vistas of the imagination from just a few well-chosen words.

Some of my favorites are:

Best creature death scene:
"The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide. In it smote and vanished, so fierce was its flight. With a shriek that deafened men, felled trees and split stone, Smaug shot spouting into the air, turned over and crashed down from on high in ruin. Full on the town he fell. His last throes splintered it to sparks and gledes. A vast steam leaped up, white in the sudden dark under the moon. There was a hiss, a gushing whirl, and then silence. And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth, but not of Bard". (The Hobbit, Fire and Water).

Best case of mistaken identity:
"'The Corsairs of Umbar!' men shouted. 'The Corsairs of Umbar! Look! The Corsairs of Umbar are coming...the Corsairs are upon us! It is the last stroke of doom!'" (The Return of the King, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields).

(One of the) best Hobbit hero moments:
"But suddenly he (the Witch-King) too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up behind the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee...no other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will". (The Return of the King, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields).

We are indeed blessed. Thank you, Quickbeam!

'"Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!" he said to himself, and it became a favourite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.'


May 8 2013, 5:17pm

Post #3 of 18 (153 views)
Now that was a lovely thing to imbibe... [In reply to] Can't Post

again. It renews just why we are here, one who is an actuary of the sublime.

"we will be publishing articles like this on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy it!" .

The green books contain so many fine sentiments such as our Tehanu, our Quickbeam (who i nickname 'Cliff Bar', which is actually a divine cookie used in endurance sports) and our Anwyn, as a fine example here quotes Dr Birzer from his book 'Sanctifing Myth':

''If we can't be loving, we can't be anything. Every one in the fellowship was loving. Gandalf willing to sacrifice himself-an act of love. Frodo , same thing. Aragorn confronting Sauron was loving. I think we do our duty, see what happens, and not be too impatient."

For me, the crux of the ultimate success of the fellowship rests in this line. I will be looking forward to the installments. A gold star who thought of this too:).

''Sam put his ragged orc-cloak under his master's head, and covered them both with the grey robe of Lorien; and as he did so his thoughts went out to that fair land, and to the Elves, and he hoped that the cloth woven by their hands might have some virtue to keep them hidden beyond all hope in this wilderness of fear...But their luck held, and for the rest of that day they met no living or moving thing; and when night fell they vanished into the darkess of Mordor.'' - - -rotk, chapter III

Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are one in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted."
ó J.R.R. Tolkien


May 8 2013, 6:36pm

Post #4 of 18 (133 views)
Tolkien was definitely a matchless master of words! [In reply to] Can't Post

But what really got my attention ... not to be contrary ... were his rocking ideas! His work is positively generative among other things. He started genres and movements and caught on a following while he was very much alive.

I might be so daring as to venture to say that some people remember those quippy one or two liners well and are often witnessed exchanging lines and quotes on the fly or in speeches. But I wonder if everyone remembers such things best. I never seem to be able to remember exact words and names just right, myself ... now I wonder how much I am missing ...

I'd quote some of my favorites but I know I won't get it just right (without looking it up) ... but I like his dialogue (especially parts like the good-morning scene between Gandalf and Bilbo) quite a bit.

AlassŽa Eruvande

May 8 2013, 6:49pm

Post #5 of 18 (143 views)
*bookmarks* [In reply to] Can't Post

Here is my own favorite:

Best Arrival of Cavalry:

"Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last."


I am SMAUG! I kill when I wish! I am strong, strong, STRONG!
My armor is like tenfold shields! My teeth like swords! My claws, spears!
The shock of my tail, a thunderbolt! My wings, a hurricane! And my breath, death!


May 8 2013, 7:35pm

Post #6 of 18 (112 views)
*goosebumps* every time I read that, and it's been many times. // [In reply to] Can't Post


Tol Eressea

May 8 2013, 8:20pm

Post #7 of 18 (132 views)
Most poignant rail against societal expectations for females [In reply to] Can't Post

You know what's coming, don't you?Wink Not a one-liner, Quickbeam, but an unforgettably passionate speech as a prelude to that great two-liner.
Aragorn is being calmly rational and - to the ears of a 20-something female - insufferably condescending, and Eowyn is having none of it. This became my manifesto for that 20's decade. Age and life have softened my anger, as they did for Eowyn, but the words still make my blood sing.
Thank you, Professor Tolkien.

"Your duty is with your people."
"Too often have I heard of duty," she cried. "But am I not of the House of Eorl, a shieldmaiden and not a dry-nurse? I have waited on faltering feet long enough. Since they falter no longer, it seems, may I not now spend my life as I will?"
"Few may do that with honour," he answered. "But as for you, lady: did you not accept the charge to govern the people until their lord's return? If you had not been chosen, then some marshal or captain would have been set in the same place, and he could not ride away from his charge, were he weary of it or no."
"Shall I always be chosen?" she said bitterly. "Shall I always be left behind when the riders depart, to mind the house while they win renown, and find food and beds when they return?"
"A time may come soon," said he, "when none will return. Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defense of your homes. Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised."
And she answered: "All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death."
"What do you fear, lady?" he asked.
"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

(This post was edited by Lissuin on May 8 2013, 8:29pm)

Forum Admin / Moderator

May 8 2013, 10:28pm

Post #8 of 18 (108 views)
"Ripe with powerful language"! [In reply to] Can't Post

An excellent way to describe his words - thank you, Quickbeam, for this smorgasbord of verbal delights!

Although I do beg to differ, as to the "best" invitation to dine: "If you come soon you'll find breakfast on the table. If you come late you'll get grass and rain-water!" Laugh

Just before this scene, I love this use of imagery: "As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented."

But one that always brings a tear to my eye: "And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."



"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


May 9 2013, 12:07am

Post #9 of 18 (95 views)
That's a great passage Lissuin... [In reply to] Can't Post

You can hear the pain in Eowyn's voice just leap off the page!

It's short, but the part that gets me at every read... Most Poignantly Sad yet Happy Moment?

"As a father you shall be to me," said Merry.
"For a little while," said Theoden.

Loved reading this whole thread! Thanks! Angelic

Manwe, when asked a simple "Yes" or "No" question, contemplated, and responded "the middle one."

(This post was edited by Brethil on May 9 2013, 12:08am)


May 9 2013, 12:09am

Post #10 of 18 (95 views)
And of course [In reply to] Can't Post

The most Blood-Thumping Line

"And suddenly all the host of Rohan burst into song. And they sang as they slew for the joy of battle was on them. And the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the city."

But the whole paragraph before that is superb. "for morning came. Morning and wind from the sea. . . " you remember. Recite it aloud so we all can hear it.

Ziggy Stardust

May 9 2013, 12:12am

Post #11 of 18 (109 views)
Loved this [In reply to] Can't Post

Such amazing dialogue and narration. These are some of my favorites too.


May 9 2013, 10:41am

Post #12 of 18 (74 views)
This is great! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for posting this!

Lily Fairbairn

May 9 2013, 1:52pm

Post #13 of 18 (79 views)
Glorious, glorious, language and imagery [In reply to] Can't Post

Not only the passages quoted in the original post but the ones posted by others. Some of these words grabbed me when I first read them many, many years ago, such as the passage Alassea quotes about the horns of the Rohirrim, and have never left me. To my benefit, I'm sure. EvilHeart


May 9 2013, 3:59pm

Post #14 of 18 (65 views)
Ah, This reminds me of why JRRT is my favorite Author [In reply to] Can't Post

And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

Use Well the Days


May 9 2013, 5:21pm

Post #15 of 18 (56 views)
That's always the most poignant for me. // [In reply to] Can't Post



May 10 2013, 11:43pm

Post #16 of 18 (39 views)
*Bookmarks* and [In reply to] Can't Post

one more:

"And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death.
Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire."

Thank you!

Aragalen the Green

May 11 2013, 5:43pm

Post #17 of 18 (37 views)
Another one...a sad one. :( [In reply to] Can't Post

This scene always gets me Frown

"'It looks like a tomb,' muttered Frodo, and bent forwards with a curious sense of foreboding, to look more closely at it. Gandalf came quickly to his side. On the slab runes were deeply graven:

"'These are Daeron's Runes, such as were used of old in Moria,' said Gandalf. 'Here is written in the tongues of Men and Dwarves;
'He is dead then,' said Frodo. 'I feared it was so.' Gimli cast his hood over his face." (The Fellowship of the Ring, A Journey in the Dark).

'"Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!" he said to himself, and it became a favourite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.'

(This post was edited by Aragalen the Green on May 11 2013, 5:52pm)

Aragalen the Green

May 11 2013, 6:14pm

Post #18 of 18 (33 views)
Of course! [In reply to] Can't Post

Both the book version and the movie version give me goosebumps every time. I'm not a big fan of battle scenes; but this one is, may I say, beautiful.

'"Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!" he said to himself, and it became a favourite saying of his later, and passed into a proverb.'


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