On September 2, 1973, the world lost one of its finest storytellers. But years on, JRR Tolkien’s novels continue to inspire writers, artists, film-makers and lovers of fantasy. Without him, literature would not have been the same. We bring his world to life once again.
- JRR stands for John Ronald Reuel. Tolkein comes from the German word tollkuhn meaning “foolhardy”.
- Tolkien, a devout Catholic, fell in love with Edith Bratt (three years his senior and a Protestant) at 16. He waited till 21 to propose. She broke off her engagement to another man, converted to Catholicism, and the two were married for the rest of their lives.
- He and CS Lewis were the best of friends, and were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings.
- Tolkein was a signals officer in his battalion during WWI.
- In order to get around the British Army’s postal censorship, the Tolkiens had developed a secret code which accompanied his letters home.
- Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W.
- In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College.
- In the run-up to World War II, Tolkien was earmarked as a codebreaker, to serve as the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office. He never served as one though.
- After his retirement, fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory.
- Tolkien and his wife are buried in the same grave. Below his name on the tombstone is inscribed “Beren” and below Edith’s name is inscribed “Lúthien,” in honour of two characters from The Silmarillion.
- Forbes ranked him the 5th top-earning dead celebrity in 2009.
Men: The Men in The Lord of The Rings universe refer to humanity, irrespective of gender. Men are mortal, and considered friends of elves for most part. Hobbits are believed to be human in origin and others, like wizards, are thought to be human, though they are another race.
Notable humans: Aragorn, Lord Denethor, Boromir, Faramir and Eowyn.
Wizards: The wizards of Middle Earth resemble Men, but possess greater physical and mental strength. They came to Middle Earth in the body of old men, but they age slowly and are immortal. Few really know who the wizards are, and as a result, steer clear of them.
Notable wizards: Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown.
Elves: Elves are the most elusive, immortal creatures in Middle Earth. Beautiful, with great artistic ability and wisdom, elves are believed to be the cause of many of the troubles in Middle Earth, having independently created the Three Rings. Quenya and Sindarin, the elfin languages, are the most comprehensive that Tolkien created.
Notable elves: Elrond, Arwen, Galadriel, Legolas and Cirdan.
Dwarfs: Dwarfs are often shown as bumbling and comic in Tolkien’s books, but are always honourable, serious and loyal. They are in constant conflict with the elves, and prefer live in mines where they create marvellous metalwork. Though they are mortal, dwarves typically live for over 250 years.
Notable dwarfs: Gimli, Gloin, Balin, Thorin Oakenshield.
Hobbits: Hobbits are dimunitive humanoid characters with large hairy feet. Hobbits are fond of food and drink, love their comforts and are reluctant to travel. They view people who go on adventures as foolish and rarely leave their villages. Hobbits are capable of great courage when necessary.
Notable hobbits: Bilbo, Frodo, Samwise, Meriadoc and Pippin.
Ents: In Middle Earth, Ents are creatures which resemble trees. They are at least 14 ft high, appear covered in bark, with long twig-like beards and deep eyes. They are able to speak and walk, but take ages to do so. Ents dislike being hurried and are allies of elves and humans. They are also very powerful when angered, but can be killed by fire.
Notable Ents: Treebeard, Quickbeam.
Orcs: Crafty, despicable and villainous, Orcs are among the most disliked creatures in The Lord of the Rings universe. They are mostly miserable, hating themselves and serving their masters only out of fear. Orcs are also known for creating clever and cruel things used to hurt and destroy.
Notable Orcs: Azog, Shagrat, Gothmog.
Nazgul: Sauron’s most powerful servants in Middle Earth, the Nazgul (the Nine Riders) were once nine noble men who succumbed to Sauron’s power, became wraiths and are bound by the power of the One Ring. They are invisible to mortal eyes, but wear black robes that give them form. The Nazgul are able to sense the One Ring when it is worn.
Notable Nazgul: The Witch-king of Angmar.
Other Creatures: Some of the notable creatures in The Lord of The Rings are Crebains, large crow-like creatures that are spies for Sauron; Great Eagles, a race of large birds that are intelligent and aid the Fellowship, and Oliphants, elephant-like creatures that are used in war by Sauron’s armies. Shelob, the Great Spider, is an evil creature that lives in Cirith Ungol and preys on elves and Men. And Galdalf’s bane, the Balrog, is a tall menacing creature that shrouds itself in darkness and fire.
Other notable works of Tolkien
We could tell you what the book is about or let Tolkien do the talking. In his own description for the original edition, he writes about the prelude to LOTR, “If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero, here is a record of such a journey and such a traveller. In following the path of this humble adventurer, you will learn by the way (as he did) — if you do not already know all about these things — much about trolls, goblins, dwarfs, and elves, and get some glimpses into the history and politics of a neglected but important period. This is all the more remarkable, since he was a hobbit. Hobbits have hitherto been passed over in history and legend, perhaps because they as a rule preferred comfort to excitement. But this account, based on his personal memoirs, of the one exciting year in the otherwise quiet life of Mr Baggins will give you a fair idea of the estimable people now (it is said) becoming rather rare. They do not like noise.”
Long preceding its origins in The Lord of the Rings, it is the story of the First Age of Tolkien’s world, the ancient drama to which characters in The Lord of the Rings look back and in which some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part. The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Feanor, the most gifted of elves, and his people against the gods, their exile in Middle- Earth, and their war, hopeless despite all the heroism of Elves and Men, against the great Enemy. Other than Silmarillion proper, the book contains four parts, that explores a wide array of themes inspired by many ancient, medieval, and modern sources. The book was edited and published posthumously by son Christopher Tolkein in 1977.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
A small fun volume of songs, rhymes and poems about Tom Bombadil and events, characters and creatures in the Tolkein world. They tell of Tom’s encounters with Goldberry, with Old Man Willow, who tries to trap Tom inside his trunk, with the Badger-folk, and with the ghostly Barrow-wight, as well as with a princess, trolls, dwarves and legendary beasts.