Primarily, most people only know that he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but he also wrote The Silmarillion, along with various other works (such as Farmer Giles of Ham and Roverandom) that have nothing to do with Arda/Middle-earth. Someday I shall have to get my hands on copies and read them all, but for now I shall confine myself to Middle-earth. Otherwise, I would be here all day.
Now, we can argue about the movies until we're blue in the face, and we can also argue about the books until we're blue in the face. I am of the general opinion that whichever medium the story came out in first is the better, and this usually means that the books are better than the movies, since the books came first.
(As far as Star Wars goes, the movies came first, and so are generally better than the books. The books get really messy and complicated. Narnia may be my dubious exception. I'm sorry, C. S. Lewis, but your writing could be very dry and boring. The movies became really good action-oriented adaptations. No doubt they lost a lot of your symbolism and meaning, but... ah, well, we'll be arguing until we're blue in the face.)
Anyway, I thought I would compile a list of my 10 top Tolkien quotes, and try (as far as possible) to remain spoiler-free. They will all be from the books (which are better for qutoes that are sheer moving and eucatastrophic in nature, although the movie has given us memes). They will undoubtedly not contain all the quotes others may find most moving, but these are some of the ones that always have the potential to make me tear up.
1. Thorin Oakenshield: "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."
2. Gandalf the Grey: "Always after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again."
Frodo Baggins: "I wish it need not have happened in my time."
Gandalf: "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
3. Frodo: "What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile [Gollum], when he had a chance!"
Gandalf: "Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity."
4. Frodo: "[Gollum] deserves death."
Gandalf: "Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many live that deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment, for even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part yet to play, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not the least."
5. Eomer: "I had forgotten that. It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?"
Aragorn: "As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house."
6. Faramir: "...I will not trouble you now. If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Numenor, farewell!"
7. The land seemed full of creaking and cracking and sly noises, but there was no sound of voice or foot. Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping amogn the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to hime.
For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.
8. Hurin: "Aure entuluva!"
- This is from The Silmarillion, where Hurin fights a rear-guard action at the Nirnaith Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. His capture and subsequent cursing by Morgoth spark the tragedy of the Narn i Hin Hurin, the Tale of the Children of Hurin, in which everyone dies horribly and pointlessly because one man would not bow to Morgoth.
I find it so sad and ironic that he fought so hard that day, crying over and over again each time he felled an Orc: "Day shall come again!"
Yet he did not live to see that day.
9. Samwise Gamgee: "Where are you going, Master?"
Frodo: "To the Havens, Sam."
Sam: "And I can't come."
Frodo: "No, Sam. Not yet, anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."
Sam: "But I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done."
Frodo: "So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. But you are my heir: all that I had and might have had I leave to you... You will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on. Come now, ride with me!"
10. Gandalf: "Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."
Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. 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.
And now I want to go cry again...
Our hearts can never thank J. R. R. Tolkien enough for allowing the stories of Middle-earth to be written through him. He shared so much light, joy, wonder, and indescribable beauty with us.
All hail the victorious dead!
In Pace Christi,