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J.R.R. Tolkien

Most people know J.R.R. Tolkien from the movie trilogy 'Lord of the Rings' by Peter Jackson. However that was not the first throw at filming the book trilogy; there was the "Bakshi" in 1978 and a few other attempts that did not make it to the screen. To readers, Lord of Rings was famous much longer, as it was published in 1954 and became an instant hit, firmly establishing fantasy as a literary genre. People were astounded by what they encountered on the pages. Here was not just a story, but a vast fantasy world filled with history, magic and strange creatures, which the story only touched the surface of. Some races, like elves and dwarves, were taken from Norse/Germanic mythology; others like orcs and ents, invented by Tolkien himself. They went on to become part of modern folklore.

A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. "For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time; and I've lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to."

Tolkien's mother instilled a love of languages in him when he was young, though it took some time to blossom. He served in World War I, survived and went on to pursue a career in literature. From 1925 to 1959 he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon. He combined his knowledge of languages with imagination and invented fantasy languages of his own, most noticably the 'Elven' tongues Quenya and Sindarin. Out of this grew a mythology of elvenkind, which developed into the fantasy world of Middle Earth, the background for Lord of the Rings. So actually the books were a spinoff, not the main course, though Tolkien was as much a storyteller as he was a linguist.

Utúlie'n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlië'n aurë! Auta i lómë!

Though Lord of the Rings is world famous, it is not the perfect tale. Its characters are very one-dimensional; the demographics of Middle Earth don't make sense; there are too many landscape descriptions in the text. Most of all, much of the mythology is 'stolen' from Norse/Germanic myth, warped by Tolkien's christianity and own philosophies into a battle between good and evil that is all black and white with no gray in between whatsoever, quite unlike the original tales from our ancestors.

Despite its flaws, Lord of the Rings is still a grand tale. But Tolkien has written more: several short stories, many poems and verses, often in Old English. His debut, The Hobbit, which is also set in Middle Earth and precedes Lord of the Rings, was published in 1937. It is a children's book, but a delight for adults too; more concise and less pompous than the later trilogy. Peter Jackson made three films out of that book too, though he digressed from the original story to an impermissible degree.

All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.
"Good morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.
"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"
"All of them at once," said Bilbo.

J.R.R. Tolkien died in 1973. Much earlier, his youngest son Christopher made himself his father's biographer. He pusblished several texts which were unnpublished during the professor's lifetime. Many of them give an insight into how Tolkien juggled with the storylines, revising them over and over again to improve them. Most of this is stuff for the die hard Tolkien fans, too tough for the ordinary reader.
An exception must be made for the first book that Christopher published: the Silmarillion. It tells about the First and Second Era, which precede the events described in Lord of the Rings. Here the roots of Tolkien's Middle Earth are revealed: the elves, the dwarves, Sauron's superior and much more. The Silmarillion is not a rounded story, but rather a loose collection of interweaving tales, just as Tolkien envisioned. Despite its fragmentation and despite the fact that Tolkien never got to finish it himself, it is probably his best book. And the best part is right at the beginning, both in the text and the storyline, where the creation of Middle Earth is described. It is conceived by something that no Earth creation myth ever mentioned: by music. This is Tolkien's most innovative and most beautiful storywriting. Read it, even if you disliked Lord of the Rings.

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