A soldier during World War I and a university professor by trade, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien—whose surname is believed to have its roots in the German word “tollkühn,” meaning foolishly brave or stupidly clever (a characteristic shared by his beloved Hobbits)—wrote his first science fiction and fantasy classic almost by accident. While grading exam papers, he found himself staring at a blank page and impulsively wrote the words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Those words, of course, became the opening line of The Hobbit, and it wasn’t long before his publisher started clamoring for a sequel. Thus was born the Lord of the Rings books, his epic trilogy of Middle-earth.
The fantasy novel may have existed before J.R.R. Tolkien books, but there’s no denying that his Lord of the Rings books forever changed the landscape of science fiction and fantasy. No other work before them had existed on such a grand scale. Creating a fully realized world with its own languages and legends, his tales of hobbits, elves, orcs and men struck a chord that has never stopped reverberating. Today, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered “the most influential fantasy novel ever written” (The Encyclopedia of Fantasy), and Frodo, Gandalf and the other heroes of the Fellowship of the Ring remain among the most beloved characters in literature.
Though he died in 1973, Tolkien’s legacy continues. Other J.R.R. Tolkien books—based on his extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts—include The Silmarillion, The History of Middle-earth, and The Children of Húrin. Forming a connected body of tales, legends and histories, these mythic works bring the story of the Ring full circle, and ensure that the magic of Middle-earth will never fade.
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