Even in epic fantasy stories, though, it’s questionable how much detailed worldbuilding improves a work. Tolkien is revered among worldbuilding obsessives for going to such lengths as inventing complete languages for his fictional races before even writing the story. Contrast that with George R. R. Martin, who famously describes himself as a “gardener” instead of an “architect,” and who simply makes up some fake words and lets the reader infer the rest. Readers may prefer one series to the other for a variety of reasons, but I doubt one reader in a million prefers The Lord of the Ringsbecause dwarven has more realistic grammar than Dothraki.
Which shows a misunderstanding of why Tolkien invented languages. Tolkien invented languages because language is what he loved. He was not doing it to improve his stories, but because it was his own passion. The connection with the stories arose because, as Tolkien notes in his Letters, he thought a “real” language needed stories to go with it – which means that he invented the stories to improve the language, not the other way around.
Martin’s use of language only becomes an issue when he tries to draw attention to it (the “nuncle”and “leal” nonsense). Otherwise, asking why the Dornishmen and the Wildings speak the same language is like asking what Aragorn’s Tax Policy was (right, Mr Martin?).
And for all the worldbuilding love that The Lord of the Rings gets, Tolkien’s work would fail the worldbuilding guides I’ve linked to here. He may have set the table for high fantasy, but he doesn’t even pass contemporary fantasy author Brandon Sanderson’s first “law’ of magic. The focus on worldbuilding has moved far beyond simply creating some interesting backstories and complex politics to increase the drama of the tale, to expecting a writer to have mapped out every detail of a world as if they were producing an encyclopedia instead of a story. Would the mythic The Lord of the Rings be improved by more discussion of elvish trade agreements and Mordor dining room etiquette?
Yes, The Lord of the Rings would fail Michel’s straw man – though I have no idea what Michel means by Tolkien failing Sanderson’s Law, which refers to the perils of using magic to solve problems. Tolkien doesn’t use magic to solve problems in Rings.
The funny thing is that Tolkien did actually write about Gondorian currency – but cut it from the appendices, because it had zero relevance to the story he was telling. Because Tolkien’s work was just that – story, not encyclopedia.
(As an aside, it isn’t a coincidence that the celebrated SFF “worldbuilders” are Western writers, typically white, while imaginative writers from so many other cultures get lazily lumped together as “magical realism.” Worldbuilding insists on a certain concept of supposedly logical “realism” that pretends it is the only way to see the world.)