Map of Middle Earth, setting for Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, April, 16, 2017 – Offensive Artist/Wikimedia Commons
CAIRO – 3 January 2018: Born on this day in history, January 3, was legendary author, poet, scholar and professor J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of “The Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” and the Middle-Earth setting, thereby standing as one of the most influential writers who ever lived.
It all began in 1892, when John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa, moving with his mother to England when he was around four years old.
After his father, Arthur Tolkien, passed away, his mother, Mabel, decided to settle with her sons in Birmingham, England. The pleasant countryside atmosphere inspired a young Tolkien's love for nature and the simple life, themes that would certainly carry over into his greater works.
Unfortunately, Tolkien's mother would die in 1904, when he was only 12 years old. Her strong Roman Catholic beliefs rubbed off on her son; although, while Tolkien was a strong proponent of his faith, he refrained from using his writing to preach. What he was most fascinated by was language, particularly Anglo-Saxon and Germanic tongues, along with a love for classical literature.
Tolkien attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham and the Exeter College of Oxford. It was around this time that Tolkien also met a fellow orphan, Edith Bratt, who he fell in love with. Alas, Tolkien's script guardian, a Catholic priest, forbade the relationship on grounds of wanting him to focus on his studies and due to Bratt's Anglican beliefs, and the priest only allowed Tolkien to speak to her again as an adult.
By the time he was 21, the two were married, remaining together in a life-long relationship until the very end.
With the coming of World War I, Tolkien was drafted to serve, though he returned quick enough following a bout of illness, allowing him to resume his marriage to Bratt in 1916 and continue his literary studies. Besides his love for language, Tolkien was also heavily passionate about inventing some of his own, and was particularly enamored with a tongue he created called “Qenya”, derived from Finnish. Spurred by a need to piece together his imagination and a love of history, nature and literature, Tolkien began to put pen to paper and embark on his very first foray into fantasy writing. These stories, done in private, were grand, elaborate, fantastical and harrowing. His first audiences were not scholars, fellow professors or close friends; they were Tolkien's children.
To entertain them before bed, Tolkien told them lively and grand stories. The longest of these he started in 1930 and were published seven years later as “The Hobbit”. This tale of Bilbo Baggins, a small and meek Hobbit whisked away on a grand adventure by the wizard Gandalf, quickly grew to critical acclaim, growing so popular that the publisher asked Tolkien for a sequel. He began working on what would eventually become one of the most important English novels of all time, defining an entire genre and creating an entire mythology of its own – “The Lord of the Rings”.
It was a tale 17 years in the making, finally bringing the languages and ideas Tolkien held into one sprawling narrative, while also elaborating on what he had established in “The Hobbit” – the world of Middle-Earth, a land of magic and myth in Earth's prehistory, when mankind was young and lived alongside dragons, elves, talking trees, dwarves and other fantastical beings. Inspired by ancient epics such as Beowulf, Tolkien set about the immense task of crafting a modern-day story of that same grand tapestry and weaved a story of a magical ring of immense power, the “one ring to rule them all.”
The first installment was published in 1954 as “The Fellowship of the Ring”, followed up the next year by “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”. Contrary to popular thought, Tolkien did not devise the books as a trilogy, as they were originally one massive story that needed to be separated on request by the publisher. While several critics decried it, readers quickly adored Tolkien's work, ensuring his books would eventually become amongst the most popular in the world. Tolkien lived until 1971, where he would follow the passing of his wife seven months later on September 2, at the age of 81.
Through his books, Tolkien has forever achieved immortality through his unbelievable contributions to fiction. Adapting his stories into other mediums also proved to be a grand undertaking. In 1977, not too long after Tolkien's death, animators Rankin-Bass would adapt “The Hobbit” into an animated film.
Rankin-Bass would later adapt the final novel of “LOTR” in 1980 with “The Return of the King”, also considered to be a direct sequel to their previous “Hobbit” adaptation. More famously, director Peter Jackson stepped in to adapt the grand fantasy series into the big screen, utilizing some of the most cutting-edge special effects to bring his vision of the world to life in the most striking way across two different film trilogies. Starting with 2001's “The Lord of the Rings”, Jackson would release an adaptation of the following two books in 2002 and 2003. Featuring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and many more, the films were critically well received, though drew ire from the purist fans of the books for its many changes.
“The Hobbit” would be adapted into a second trilogy of films, comprising of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 2012, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in 2013 and the final film, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” in 2014.