J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien) was born in 1892 in Bloemfontain, South Africa. The son of Arthur and Mabel Tolkien, his family had only recently arrived from England. When John Ronald Reuel was three years old, Mabel returned to England to await Arthur's later arrival. Unfortunately, Arthur died soon afterward and his family never saw him again.

Mabel Tolkien did her best to raise her sons, John and Hilary, but by 1904 she had succumbed to Tuberculosis and her sons were fostered by Father Francis Morgan. Father Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest, was a stern but loyal guardian. He ensured the boys had a good education and prepared the young John Ronald (known as "Ronald" to many of his friends) for a future career in linguistics by teaching him Greek and Latin. By the time JRRT was 18, he had read The Bible in Greek, Latin, and English.

While still a teenager, JRRT met Edith Bratt, who was three years older than he. The two fell in love, much to Father Morgan's displeasure. He felt the relationship could have severe consequences for Ronald's future and he forbade the boy to have anything to do with her. Ronald dutifully went to school at Oxford University but when he turned 21 he sought out Edith, who by this time was engaged to another man, and persuaded her to marry him instead.

When England went to war in 1914, J.R.R. Tolkien remained in school at Oxford, but he eventually enlisted as a Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Tolkien was sent to France where he saw action in 1915 and 1916, including serving in the Battle of the Somme, the deadliest engagement in British history. Tolkien subsequently contracted Trench Fever and he was sent back to England to recuperate. There he was reunited with Edith and after his health was sufficiently recovered the Tolkiens began raising a family.

JRRT's first significant role in linguistic studies was a two-year job with the Oxford English Dictionary. The etymological research he performed on the project foreshadowed his long career as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon Studies and an inventor of realistic languages. It was also during the years 1916-1921 that Tolkien worked on his first fictional mythology, The Book of Lost Tales. Conceived of as a mythology for England, The Book of Lost Tales attempted to construct an imaginary history for the English isles showing a transition from a prehistoric magical fairyland to the modern human kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon tribes. But Tolkien never finished the mythology.

Instead, Tolkien became focused on reinventing two of the stories he had composed for The Book of Lost Tales. He wrote two lays, long poetic works, titled "Lay of the Children of Hurin" and "Lay of Leithian". Both lays were now set in an imaginary land that never existed, and several changes in character and events were introduced. When Tolkien wrote a summary for a friend in 1925, he began in earnest the work of developing a new mythology he called The Silmarillion. Tolkien worked on several versions of this Silmarillion mythology over the next 12 years, but by 1937 his attention had been diverted by another literary project.

As the Tolkien family grew, JRRT entertained his children by inventing amusing stories. The most significant story to emerge from this period was The Hobbit, which Tolkien was persuaded by a family friend to submit to a publisher. Released in 1937 by George Allen & Unwin, The Hobbit achieved immediate international and critical acclaim. Sir Stanley Unwin wrote to Tolkien in November 1937, advising him that his readers wanted to know more about Hobbits. Tolkien, disappointed in Unwin's disinterest in The Silmarillion, reluctantly set to work to create a new Hobbit book.

The resulting work, The Lord of the Rings, took 11 years to write, and the appendices which accompanied the book required several more years. As he brought various literary worlds and mythologies together, Tolkien created a new mythology which represented a fusion of his Hobbits, Silmarillion, and Atlantis (Numenor) mythologies. The Middle-earth mythology surpassed all of Tolkien's previous efforts in complexity and sophisticated. As his character Gandalf might have said, the previous mythologies were merely "essays in the craft", but The Lord of the Rings -- together with a newly revised The Hobbit -- formed the basis for a new imaginary history for northern Europe.

Tolkien saw The Lord of the Rings published in 1954 and 1855 as a three-volume work. He began writing a new Silmarillion to be included in this latest mythology, but by the late 1950 and early 1960s he had become distracted by reader questions and his own insatiable curiosity about Hobbits and Middle-earth. Tolkien composed many essays and stories about Middle-earth, particularly Middle-earth in the Third Age, and he ultimately found himself incapable of finishing work on the long-awaited Silmarillion.

By the time he died in October 1973, J.R.R. Tolkien had virtually lost hope of seeing The Silmarillion published. He had sold the film and merchandising rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and the British Broadcasting Corporation had produced (in 1956) a radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. It felt to Tolkien's son Christopher to publish a composite Silmarillion which represented Christopher's best guess at what the book might have looked like. However, by 1996 Christopher had publicly conceded he probably could have done a much better job, had he devoted more time to studying his father's disorganized papers.

The Lord of the Rings has been made into a movie twice, so far. Ralph Bakshi released part one of a planned two-part adaptation in 1978, but the movie performed so poorly it was never finished. Peter Jackson began working on a second film adaptation in 1998 and the first of three films, "The Fellowship of the Ring", was released by New Line Cinema in 2001. The third film, "The Return of the King", was released in 2003.

And now The Hobbit is being made into three movies, the first of which is scheduled for release on December 14, 2012. The second will be released in December 2013 and third will be released in mid-2014.


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