“The Lord of the Rings” (1954-1955), known as “LotR” for short, is J.R.R. Tolkien’s longest and best book about Middle Earth, his made-up world full of dwarves, elves, wizards, magic rings and all that. Somehow he makes it seem more real than our Earth.
It is arguably the best book written in English in the 1900s. It easily makes the top ten in readers’s polls, as it did on this blog, at the BBC and on Amazon.
The book is about 1200 pages long, so it was put out as three books for reasons of length:
- The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
- The Two Towers (1954)
- The Return of the King (1955)
“Lord of the Rings” was made into a nine-hour film by Peter Jackson. It also came out as three pieces for reasons of length – in 2001, 2002 and 2003. It was hugely successful, bringing in nearly $3 billion (658 million crowns), ten times more money than it cost to make.
Having read the books, I never saw the films: it seemed like it could only end in disappointment since films are rarely as good as their books. (On the other hand, I rarely read the book if I have seen the film since I already know how the story ends.)
Tolkien wrote three main books about Middle Earth, whose events take place in this order:
- The Hobbit
- The Lord of the Rings
In “The Hobbit” Bilbo Baggins finds a magic ring on his way to fight a dragon with some dwarves. In “The Lord of the Rings” he gives the ring to his son, Frodo Baggins.
To Bilbo it is just a trick ring that lets him disappear. In fact it can do more than that: with it you can rule the world. Frodo has enough sense to destroy it since only evil can come from so much power. But to destroy it he must travel all the way to heart of the country of the person who wants it most: the already-evil and powerful Sauron. It is a tale of good against overpowering evil.
Of course this gives Tolkien an excuse to have Frodo see much of Middle Earth and its wonders, which he tells so well that you feel like you are there.
Tolkien wrote the book from 1937 to 1954. He could not afford a typist so he had to retype all 1200 pages himself. The story probably hangs together better because of it.
Since he wrote much of it during the Second World War, some think that Sauron stands for Hitler or that the ring stands for the atom bomb. Tolkien says the book has no hidden meanings like that – he just meant it to amuse.
Still, he was the sort to complain that the 1900s were too grim and grey and that the English-speaking world had no great stories like the ancient Greeks did. In fact he believed in the power of fantasy and myth as more than just a way to pass the time and forget one’s troubles.