It’s no exaggeration to state that J.R.R. Tolkien invented the contemporary fantasy genre as we know it today or at least the part of the genre that concerns itself with invented worlds, quests for treasure or magic and mythical races and creatures. But before he became one of the most famous and best-selling writers in English, Tolkien was a war veteran and a professor, and both of those things fed into the work that eventually became the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Tolkien lost both of his parents at a young age. As a teenager, he became interested in linguistics, invented languages and poetry, and all of these would find their way into his extensive chronicling of the world of Middle-Earth later in life. Tolkien married young and shortly after set off to face the horrors of World War I. Despite his repeated denials that he was writing about the war in his fiction, it is difficult not to see reflected in his fiction the enormity of loss he must have felt seeing all of Europe descend into war and the death of so many close friends.
Within a few years of the war’s end, Tolkien had begun teaching at the University of Leeds where he worked on both Middle and Old English texts. He began working on The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the late 1920s, and in 1937, The Hobbit was published. This beloved but modest book for children gave little hint of the vast history of Middle-Earth upon which Tolkien had embarked. For years, he met regularly with a group of British fantasists known as the Inklings that included C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams to exchange readings of each other’s work and critiques. One of Tolkien’s aims in writing The Lord of the Rings was to produce a kind of origin myth for English people who he felt had been deprived of such mythology due to multiple waves of invaders. He also based much of his work on the Finnish myth the Kalevala. In the 1940s, Tolkien became a professor literature at Oxford University, and in 1954 and 1955, his trilogy was published at last.
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