If it weren't for Tolkien, there wouldn't be nearly so many geeky jokes about rings (precious rings), nor so many Halloween costumes with big feet or pointy ears. Our birthday boy's books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, have been popular since their original publication. They rank among the most popular books of the twentieth century, and they have famously inspired movies and even tourism in New Zealand to see where the movies were (are being) filmed.
I'm looking forward to Part 1 of The Hobbit (the movie), due to be out at the end of this year. Here is a preview.
The books inspired more than just movie adaptations: they inspired an entire genre. Tolkien is considered the father of modern fantasy literature – high fantasy, which takes place in an invented world and in which large themes of Good and Evil shake the very foundations of that world – and the popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to many more volumes of fantasy being written and published. Two good examples of high fantasy series include Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and the Eragon books by Christopher Paolini (the Inheritance Cycle).
The Lord of the Rings also inspired adaptations for radio and theatre, plus artwork, music, video games, and many cultural references.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on this date in 1892 in South Africa. When he was little, he was bitten by a large baboon spider and was also briefly kidnapped by a house-boy who just wanted to show the beautiful baby off to his kraal. (The house-boy returned the baby the next morning, safe and sound!) When he was just three years old, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother, just for a family visit – but his father died in South Africa, so the Tolkiens stayed in England. When J.R.R. was 12 years old, his mother died; she left guardianship of him and his brother to a Catholic priest.
Tolkien grew up to become a writer, a university professor, and a philologist (one who studies written languages). Tolkien learned Latin, French, and German from his mother at home, and during his schooling and career, he also learned Welsh, Finnish, and Old Norse. He made up whole languages for his invented Middle-earth, setting of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including Elvish (both Quenya and Sindarin), Dwarvish (Khuzdul), Entish, and Black Speech. Many fantasy and science fiction books and movies have, since Tolkien's time, also included invented languages such as Fremen from Frank Herbert's Dune and Klingon from the Star Trek universe.
Celebrate by reading and watching high fantasy today!
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