Life used to be so much simpler and the author had so much more time to grab a readers’ attention before they decided to put the book down and do something else (those who were literate anyway). There is always something threatening to grab our attention away from the book like the latest PS3 game, the latest movie starring that mother of orphans Angelina Jolie (or is that Jolie-Pitt?) or the latest great television series (the Files, Lost, etc.) and it’s becoming more important for the author to include snares and traps in his work to grab the unsuspecting reader.
I sometimes wonder whether the Lord of the Rings would have been as popular as it is if it had been published in the last few years rather than when it had been. Of course, such a change would have meant a huge change in the fabric of existence and the publishing landscape could look incredibly different. My point between the waffling is that The Lord of the Rings doesn’t start with a hook and the great important first line wasn’t something which blew our minds. The Fellowship of the Ring spent pages and pages and chapter upon chapter expanding on Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday and the repercussions of it. But would it have enough to grab a reader’s attention?
I’m not so sure. I’m pretty sure that everything before Gandalf telling Frodo that the Ring is indeed the One Ring would have been excised and most of the preparations for Frodo to leave as well. Great scenes like the Meeting in Rivendell and the creation of the Fellowship would have been curtailed. Tom Bombadil, like the movie versions, might have been scrubbed out completely and chunks of the discussion with the ents would have been obliterated. The finished product would have been vastly different and the soul of the novel might have vanished.
The conclusion is that it would have been so different it might not have made as great an impact as it actually did.
Now, if you think of the limitations placed on a great like The Lord of the Rings above, what lengths would the modern author have to go in order to have such an effect? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if there will be any work which can be as influential as Tolkien’s great work.
The only conclusion I can make is that we are writing under greater limitations in the current day to attract more readers. We would need to meld the great world-building of Tolkien voer chapters into a shorter period and layer the world-building with hooks to grab and hold the reader.
Not an easy task.