In regards to reading older books, I generally love it. I do find, however, that it seems to differ from author to author. One author may well be a scholarly gentleman writing in beautiful prose, whereas another is a spoiled dandy flexing his vocabulary muscles and generally being a snob. "Look at me! Look at mmeeeeeeee! See all these ridiculous words I can use!" Those are the ones I have difficulty reading, not because it is hard but because I have the urge to locate a time machine and go punch the guy. Ancestors of hipsters!
Aside from the snobby ones, I don't find older writing that difficult. If i come across a word I don't know, I can usually figure it out from similar words, root words, cognates in other languages, and context. I've only been stuck enough for a dictionary a couple of times. Sadly, I am among few in my generation. There are several aquaintances I have who regularly ask me to clarify a word which I thought was common knowledge. I can't bring an example to mind right now because I think I have blocked them from my memory.
I took a course on Medieval Literature in second year, and we were reading Chaucer in the original Middle English. I LOVED it. It was the first time in ages I actually did the course readings on time. The girls I sat with in class hated it, and when I asked what they were taking Medieval Literature for they just looked at me funny and said "credits". SAD!!
While I realize that my love of older writing is a little extreme, I do still feel justified in saying that these days it is changing more than is good for us. It's not so much changing as lessening. People are not only using less words, but the range of commonly discussed topics is sadly diminishing. English is, always has been, and always will be a malleable language but the illiteracy of some of my peers is frankly alarming.
In terms of LotR, I love JRR's style. It is rather heavy handed and in places absurd, but it really reminds me of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse writings which he is so inspired by. He doesn't let this get in the way of it's beauty though. My mom read LotR to my little sister, and came out of her room one night and said to me "I never knew that would be such a beautiful read-aloud book! It's practically poetry!" And I must say I quite agree. As for long-winded description, it paints such a vivid picture in one's head.
P.s. you guys, threads like this and literate discussion is why this will forever be my favourite forum. RB was my first, and i've never found one to match it. OH MAN you guys all use full words and things!
Edit: I forgot to add! I think while the condensing and reducing of language does make it a bit faster, it also makes it a little shallower, if you get what I mean. Less ways to express different nuances in conversation, and less time to think deeply about things.