The Lord of The Rings

An epic fantasy adventure that follows the quest of a fellowship of heroes to save Middle-Earth.

His children
The Silmarillion

Tolkien's early life

In the field of fantasy fiction, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is an iconic figure. Understanding him as a man, and as a creator of worlds, is an important step towards understanding fantasy in general.

Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892, but moved to England at the age of three, and spent the rest of his childhood growing up there. As a boy, he enjoyed reading fairy tales, and also had a passion for language. He even invented a simple language called Nevbosh, or ‘new nonsense’.


As a teenager, he went to Oxford University to study English Literature, but his academic endeavors were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. He enlisted as a second lieutenant, but did not enjoy it. Like many soldiers, he was horrified by the devastation wrought by modern warfare.

Tolkien's academic career

After World War I, Tolkien decided to pursue a career in academia. At the age of 28, he became a scholar at Leeds University, where he specialized in Old English. He was also interested in Norse language, and founded the Viking Club – a group where people met up to study Icelandic sagas.


After five years at Leeds, he took a job at Oxford University in 1925, becoming a professor of Anglo-Saxon studies. Around this time, he also finished an ambitious translation of *Beowulf*, which he had been working on for several years.

All the while, he was developing ideas about something he referred to as the Cauldron of Story. He imagined that all the myths and fairy tales ever conceived were bubbling away in a collective pot of storytelling. New myths emerged when someone dipped a ladle to the story cauldron, and pulled up something new.

Tolkien’s mythopoeia

Tolkien’s views on storytelling were closely linked to his views on religion. As a devout Catholic, Tolkien believed that God was a creator, and the act of creation was divine. When humans engaged in their own creations, it was a form of religious worship.

The form of creation which interested him most was mythopoeia – the process of creating myths. He decided to try this process for himself, and started to develop a fantasy world with its own languages, races and themes. His work was deeply inspired by his extensive studies of Old Norse and English mythology.


At the time, Tolkien had no plans to publish his work, or to seek a career as an author. His creative process was all about worship, with an edge of academic endeavor. In terms of the Cauldron of Story, he was trying his hand at dipping a ladle to the pot.

Tolkien’s races

As Tolkien constructed his fantasy world, he referred to it as Middle-earth. This name was inspired by Midgard, one of the nine realms in Norse mythology, and the home of human beings.


Tolkien populated his world with fantastical races, including elves and dwarves. Tolkien’s elves were wise and graceful, while his dwarves were skilled and fierce. Again, Tolkien took inspiration from Norse mythology, which also featured elves and dwarves.

Tolkien also invented races of his own. Hobbits were one unique addition: small, nature-loving people, who lived in holes, and walked around on large, hairy feet. They echoed other fantastical races, like brownies and leprechauns, but still felt like something new.

Tolkien’s languages

Tolkien constructed fantasy languages to be used by the races who lived in Middle-earth. He called this process glossopoeia – the act of creating languages.

These languages are probably the greatest testament to Tolkien’s skill as a worldbuilder. As a professor of language, he channeled everything he knew, drawing heavily on Germanic languages. For example, Quenya – the melodious language of immortal elves – was inspired by the grammar and phonology of Finnish.


Glossopoeia was Tolkien’s greatest passion, and the driving force behind his fantasy world. He did not create these languages to add color to Middle-earth. He created Middle-earth to add color to his languages, and give them a place to live.

*The Hobbit*

While creating Middle-earth, full of magical races and constructed languages, there were only four people Tolkien wanted to share it with: his small children, John, Michael, Christopher and Priscilla.

He wrote a story set in his fantastical world, and read it to his children at bedtime. The story followed Bilbo Baggins, a brave hobbit on a journey with a wizard and thirteen dwarves, who wanted to reclaim their home from an ancient dragon. He named this story *The Hobbit*.


When his children enjoyed it, Tolkien decided to share the book with friends. One way or another, the story ended up in front of Susan Dagnall, an employee at a major publishing house. She persuaded Tolkien to publish the book, and *The Hobbit* became an instant classic.

*The Lord of the Rings*

After the success of *The Hobbit*, people clamored for Tolkien to write a sequel. He delved deeper into the world of Middle-earth, and came up with another epic story: *The Lord of the Rings*. It would be significantly longer than *The Hobbit*, and tackle some darker themes.


For a creator as meticulous as Tolkien, creating this story took time. Along with the main text, he also created maps, illustrations, calligraphy, and poetry. The entire process took more than a decade; he started writing in 1937, but did not finish until 1949.

The story was about another hobbit, Frodo Baggins, on a journey to destroy an all-powerful ring before it fell into the hands of the Dark Lord who created it. Just like *The Hobbit*, this story was wildly successful, and went on to become one of the best-selling stories of all time.

Tolkien's legacy

In 1973, Tolkien passed away at the age of 81, but Middle-earth lived on without him. Along with his published works, he had written a staggering quantity of notes which had never been seen by the public.


His son, Christopher, collected these notes, and structured them into readable bodies of text. He published them as a series of volumes, including *The Silmarillion*, an anthology of shorter myths and legends from the world of Middle-earth.

In the decades since, Tolkien has inspired thousands of modern authors. He may not have invented fantasy fiction, but his devotion to worldbuilding transformed it. Not many writers have influenced a genre to the same extent that Tolkien influenced fantasy.

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