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What The Hobbit Teaches Us About Alliteration & Rhyme

The Hobbit, 1977 Rankin/Bass

Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. Thrush. Dori, Nori, and Ori. Kili and Fili. This morning I was laying in bed and it occurred to me that I do not have a set of characters in any of my writings that come close to what Tolkien did in The Hobbit or There and Back Again. One would figured they would change their names just to avoid such an occurrence. Thorin and the thrush are characters of some importance and share the "th" sound to begin their names. I had not been conscious of it until a few hours ago. Even if that is coincidence, the names of Thorin's company are not.

As a side note, even though Thranduil is not named in The Hobbit, he does get a name later on. So technically, if retroactively, we get Thorin, Thranduil, and Thrush. Like a prog rock band from 1972.

So what, you might be asking? With all the (valid) critique of Tolkien, I think it is fair to say that he did not write anything by accident. The flow of alliteration and rhyme in the names of the characters is more than mere poetry; it is world building on the micro scale and provides relationships among the characters. It tells us something through a simple mechanism that, even without some great context, we would know Kili and Fili must be connected in some manner.

The Combination of Poetry & Prose

Epic poems and stories have a long history with many (every?) culture. They tell great deeds or small ones and provide cultural context and often expose the reader to the morals of the culture that created it. But that kind of framing for a story is a hard sell to most readers these days. Especially for an independent author or small publisher who already run up against barriers.

But The Hobbit is a pretty straightforward novel that still includes a number of such tricks that I think we could learn to incorporate into our own work. Creating relationships through names and not just familial. What if your protagonist and antagonist had names that began with Th or Ch? It might tell us a great deal about how they do or will interact, giving the reader clues without having to spell it out.

Breaking or bending the rules can be fun. Using techniques that might otherwise be ignored in modern writing can make your work stand out. I highly recommend seeking out writers across genre and spectrum who do things differently and emulating their style and incorporate it into your own.


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