The man was an absolutely amazing storyteller, and he was a top-of-the-line worldbuilder, and those are both incredibly important things.
But he wasn’t a very good writer, imo.
Like — the plot was good, the characters are quite literally iconic, he basically fathered an entire umbrella genre, the vast majority of contemporary fantasy works have something derived from tolkien in them. His world is rich and detailed and wonderful.
And his writing’s really not the best.
For context, this is coming from someone who absolutely loves the books. They’re gorgeous pieces of literature that conjure up a world where I’ve escaped to literally countless times. I spent weeks as a kid losing myself in their world and wishing desperately to find a portal to Middle-Earth.
But let’s face it, they’re clunky. They’re too detailed in places where they really don’t need to be. There are large passages that could be taken out or condensed with literally no harm done. Almost everyone I know confesses to skipping huge swathes of flowery prose.
Like, beyond all the commentary of the problematic bits of the series, because that’s being talked about all over the place by people who are far more capable to talk about racism in media than I am — talk to people about the books. Not the story, not the world, but the books: these are three separate things that can’t really exist without the other but that can definitely be discussed separately. Few argue that the storytelling or worldbuilding are sub-par, but talk about the actual words on the page to fans of the books.
People who adore these books talk about them like they just got home from a tour of duty. “Oh, I made it through the Battle of Helm’s Deep.” “I just got through the Two Towers.” “I can see the light at the end of this Tom Bombadil passage!” Most of what people say while they’re reading Lord of the Rings isn’t “I can’t believe it’s almost over”, it’s “oh thank god they’re finally out of Shelob’s lair oh no why is there more walking”.
That is not the mark of good writing. Good writing should entice you along, should make it difficult to put the book down instead of difficult to get through two pages without a bathroom break. That having been said: It’s a mark of good storytelling and worldbuilding that people still read them. But if you’re talking specifically about the words, the writing and not the actual subject matter, I’d be willing to bet you’ll find far more people who find it bad than good, even among fans who reread the trilogy every year.
Again, to hopefully avoid some of the criticism I’m sure I’ll get for this: I love Lord of the Rings. For literally a decade I’ve called myself a fan of them without having been able to get through the movies. My being a fan is largely based on the books, not the movies. I am not saying they are bad books — I’m just saying that their strength doesn’t lie in their writing.
I have been trying and failing to read these books for the past decade and keep getting stuck for the exact reasons you’ve detailed here.