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J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
South Africa-born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's main claim to fame is as the author of "The Lord of the Rings," a 1960's "cult classic" and epic fairy tale featuring goblins, elves, dwarves and the many other strange and magical creatures that inhabit Middle Earth.

The story, in three parts, is set in an entirely new world, brilliantly created by Tolkien's fertile imagination and based on ancient Celtic, Nordic and Anglo Saxon traditions. Middle Earth came complete with its own unique vocabularies, alphabets, folklore and histories, and was "peopled" by dragons and orcs (disgusting elf-clones, created by Sauron, the Dark Lord, to facilitate his dark purposes), wizards and sorcerers, ents (ancient tree-like beings capable of speech and ambulation) and hobbits (good-natured, anthropomorphic creatures with large, wooly feet and insatiable appetites for conversation, pipe-smoking and feasting), and others, all co-existing, more or less obliviously, in a great, multi-specied stew. Until, that is, "The One Ring of Power" was found.

The plot revolves around the struggle for control of the Ring, which had been lost for generations, but which was miraculously found by Bilbo Baggins (this part of the story was told in the companion book, "The Hobbit"). Upon the inside of the ring was inscribed the chilling verse,
"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them;
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."
At the insistence of Gandalf (a wise, almost Christ-like figure), the Ring was given to Frodo Baggins, Bilbo's nephew, for final disposition (Frodo had to deposit it into the "Cracks of Doom" in the heart of Mordor (a rough equivalent of Hell). The "peoples" of Middle Earth polarize into two armed camps, ready to do battle for good or evil and the tale of the heroic Frodo and the noble "fellowship of the ring" reaches its exciting climax in a "war to end all wars, "the "return of the King" to his rightful throne in the land of Gondor and the cleansing of Middle Earth of the evil influence of Sauron.

The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy includes "The Fellowship of the Ring" (1954), "The Two Towers" (1955) and "The Return of the King" (1956). Tolkien also wrote other fables for both children and adults including "The Hobbit" (1937), based on the creatures in the trilogy, "The Silmarillion," "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," "Farmer Giles of Ham" and "Smith of Wootton Major."

Apart from the fame which justly derived from his "Middle Earth" writings, Tolkien was an Oxford scholar (Merton College) of Anglo-Saxon and English languages and literature. Perhaps his most famous scholarly work is his translation and editing of the medieval poem, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."

His friendship and competition with fellow Christian, C.S. Lewis, and his membership in the Inklings, an Oxford-based literary discussion and reading group (and drinking society), served as the creative environment in which Tolkien produced his memorable works.

Suggested reading:
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, Tolkien: the Authorized Biography, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1977
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1981
Tolkien on the Web:

Above illustration, "Saruman the White," is by Michael Green.

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