J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) wrote “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings” and other books in which he tells stories of Middle Earth, a world he invented. It is so wonderfully detailed that you feel as if you were there. Even though it is full of elves, dwarves, dragons and orcs, it seems realer than ours when you are reading it.
Tolkien loved languages. After learning Welsh and Finnish, he invented a language for himself. From there he invented the rest of the world that goes with it – other languages, histories, countries, kings, heroes, old songs and strange creatures.
He started by telling the stories to his children. Later they became books.
As with the old Greek stories about gods and heroes, the attraction lies not in the sort of truth you find in history or science books, but in its moral truth.
- “The Hobbit” (1937) tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit – like a man but shorter with more hair. He goes on a journey with 12 dwarves and a wizard, Gandalf. They cross the mountains and then the great Mirkwood to fight Smaug. He is a dragon who lives in a mountain, where he keeps the gold he took from the dwarves. On the way Bilbo finds a ring with strange powers…
- “The Lord of the Rings” (1954-1955): Bilbo gives the ring to his son Frodo. With the ring Frodo could rule the whole world, but that would make him even more evil than Sauron, who rules the south and wants the ring for himself. To save the world Frodo must go to the heart of Sauron’s land to destroy the ring. “The Lord of the Rings” is often written as “LOTR” for short. It was put out as three books for reasons of length.
Tolkien says there is no deeper meaning to his stories – he wrote them only to amuse. The ring does not stand for the atom bomb, Sauron is not Hitler. Still, they tell a great story of good against overpowering evil.
Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings” out by hand. He did not have money for a typist, so he had to type it himself before it could be put out as a book. This became in effect a rewrite.
Tolkien taught at Oxford. He studied and taught the language and books of the West Midlands of England in the Middle Ages, stuff like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (1300s).
He fought in the First World War at the battle of the Somme, where he lost two good friends. He thought the 1900s were a grey time to live in, but it is where God had put him so there must be a reason for it.
Like C.S. Lewis, he was part of the Inklings, a writing club. They met and read what they were writing. Here is where “The Lord of the Rings” and the Narnia stories were first heard.
Tolkien worked on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). He researched word histories for the words from “waggle” to “warlock”.