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J.R.R. Tolkien

JRR Tolkien(1892-1973)
The Tolkien website (maintained by Harper Collins) has lots of nice wallpapers and avatars.  Here’s the Tolkien Society website.

The Hobbit: Good clean fun

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is just good clean fun, delightful for children and adults. If you've read LOTR and wondered how Bilbo got the ring, here's the story. I enjoyed Tolkien's omniscient narrator style in this book — somewhat like Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and more recently Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell -- which I suppose he adopted because he was writing for children. I think it's charming.

I highly recommend the audiobook, read by Rob Inglis. He's a Royal Shakespeare company actor and the best audiobook reader I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of them). He has a different voice for each dwarf, and he does a great Gollum, too. He actually sings the songs (nice voice!) and he even belches up ponies. The scene with the trolls is es... Read More

The Silmarillion: More enjoyable than LOTR

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm going to come right out and say what will make most people think I'm slightly crazy: I enjoyed reading The Silmarillion more than I enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings. Why? I haven't the faintest idea. Maybe I was too young to properly appreciate The Lord of the Rings. Maybe my love of mythology made The Silmarillion a shoe-in. Maybe the lack of three-dimensional characters was more understandable in a book this vast. Maybe I'm just weird.

In any case, The Silmarillion is challenging, beautiful, epic reading and well worth the time and effort it'll take to fully appreciate the work Tolkien has put into his secondary world. Published after Tolkien's death and edited by his son C... Read More

The Fellowship of the Ring: Magnificent work of fantasy

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Even today, almost six decades since its first publication, J.R R. Tolkien's magnificent work of fantasy is still attracting readers and scholars — more so now due to the publicity surrounding Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Perhaps for the first time ever, the movie release of a book adaptation has actually boosted sales of the book involved. And this can only be considered a good thing, as one cannot claim to be a literary reader without exploring Tolkien's Middle-Earth at least once in their lives.

To outline the story seems almost redundant, but here goes: in the idyllic pastoral land of the Shire lives the hobbit Frodo Baggins, who is entrusted with an immense task. The magical Ring that his uncle brought back from his adventuring is revealed by the wizard Gandalf to be none other th... Read More

The Two Towers: Exploring Middle-Earth

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers is the second third of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, and begins right where the previous book left off: the Fellowship has been sundered, with the death of Boromir, the escape of Frodo and Sam, the capture of Merry and Pippen, and the chase that ensues on the part of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Like the other two installments in the series, The Two Towers is split into two books, in this case it is Book Three and Book Four.

Book Three alternates between the journey of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in their cross country race across forest and plain in order to rescue Merry and Pippen. Their pursuit takes them into Rohan, the province of King Theoden and his people, known as the Horse-Lords due to their skill and affinit... Read More

The Return of the King: Tolkien saved the best for last

The Return of the King by J.R.R Tolkien

There are many opinions and discussions that one could have on Tolkien's great epic, but one thing is for certain: he saved the best for last. Even Peter Jackson, the director of the film trilogy was heard to say: "I made the first two movies so that I could make the third." Everything that has been building in the first two installments now explodes across the pages: battles, intrigues, madness, escapes, disguises, rescues, chases — it's all here as the allied forces of Middle-Earth (Hobbits, Men, Elves, Dwarves and Ents) make their last desperate stand against the converging forces of evil.

Like the previous volumes, The Return of the King is divided into two books: Book Five and Book Six. Book Five concerns the reunion of most of the Fellowship and the lengths they take in order to draw the Dark Lord Sauron's eye away from Frodo and Sam. But th... Read More

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth: Fragments from Tolkien

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the first work that showed us how J.R.R. Tolkien's obsessive perfectionism was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gave us the wonderfully deep world and implied distances of THE LORD OF THE RINGS; and on the other hand it left us with a jumble of tales in various states of revision and development that had to be compiled by Tolkien's son Christopher into some form as The Silmarillion... a jumble of tales that, if they had been finished, would have given us a truly staggering body of work.

Just reading the fragment that makes up the entirety of "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" makes me weep for what might have been. Given the chance to expand even half of the partial tales from The Silmarillion into something equating the full treatment of THE LORD OF THE RINGS would have been a wonder indeed.

Even given th... Read More

The Book of Lost Tales 1: Recommended for hardcore Tolkien fans

The Book of Lost Tales 1 by J.R.R. Tolkien

My first attempt to read The Book of Lost Tales 1 was made way too early in my life and made certain that my response was to put it on the shelf and decide that all of this background stuff, especially taken from this early phase in Tolkien’s life as a writer, was way too different from the Middle-Earth stories that I loved for me to waste any time on it.

Looking at where the bookmark from my first attempt still sat when I picked it up again, I noticed that I didn’t even get much beyond the first several pages of the introductory chapter “The Cottage of Lost Play.” I remember thinking that it was just altogether too twee for me, what with the Eldar of Middle-Earth still being referred to as ‘faeries’ and the, to me, bizarre structure of a wanderer coming to a tiny cottage (bigger on the inside than the outside) peopled by dancing and singing children and adults who primari... Read More

The Book of Lost Tales 2: Framework for Tolkien’s fantasy epic

The Book of Lost Tales 2 by J.R.R.Tolkien

In volumes one and two of The Book of Lost Tales, we have a more or less full picture of the earliest work J.R.R. Tolkien did in the development of his personal mythology which later grew into the tales of Middle Earth. It was a mythology meant to provide England with something he felt it sorely needed: a foundation myth. Also, it was a vehicle which allowed him to explore and expand upon his own fascination with the world and stories of Faery, and his love for the invented languages of his youth. The frame of the entire mythology at this point centred on the character of an English mariner (initially called Eriol and later Aelfwine, each with varying origin stories) who was shipwrecked upon the isle of Tol Eressëa, the last bastion of the Elves who have all but fled the mortal world. Here are recounted to h... Read More

The Children of Húrin: A beautiful, somber book

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien

Long before Bilbo Baggins left his hobbit hole, the Men and Elves of Middle Earth struggled valiantly against the Great Enemy, Morgoth (the fallen Valar and master of Sauron, the eventual "Lord of the Rings"). One man in particular, Húrin, brazenly defied Morgoth, who imprisoned him and laid a dire curse upon his children.  First told — in a lesser form — in The Silmarillion, this tale chronicles their efforts, especially those of Húrin's son, Túrin, to defy the curse — driven largely by the malicious dragon Glaurung — and, perhaps, to escape it.

In this instance, it is worth reviewing both the story and the form in which it is published. With regard to the former, the tragedy of Túrin is a beautiful and powerful tale, told as by a master-bard in a classical, omniscient voice well-suited to descriptions of nature and events that span decades. Although ... Read More

Tales from the Perilous Realm: Glimpses and Echoes of LOTR

Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien

There is a passage in one of the stories collected here that accurately sums up the content of the book itself. In "Leaf By Niggle," J.R.R. Tolkien describes a painting that the artist Niggle has been working on:

It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots... Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture. Soon the canvas became so large that he had to get a ladder, and he ran up and down it, putting in a touch here, and rubbing out a patch there.

If the great tree on the canvas is Tolkien's master-work, The Lord of the Rings, then the other little p... Read More

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun: Tolkien’s Norse Eddic poetry

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, the "new" book by J.R.R. Tolkien put together by his son Christopher, is a translation-slash-"unifying" of  the great Norse story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and what happens to his wife and his murderers after his death. The story is told in verse form, two "lays" surrounded by commentary that Christopher Tolkien has taken from his father's notes and lectures dealing with the Norse legend. Christopher also adds some of his own commentary, placing the translations into some context with regard to his father's writing as well as adding some historical and literary/critical context, often dealing with the source material Tolkien used.

The fact that the story is in verse will, I'm sure, be off-putting to many fantasy readers. Even more of an obstacle, though, is that the form isn't simply verse but an attempt to be faithful ... Read More

The Wisdom of the Shire: Remembering Hobbit wisdom in the 21st century

The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith

Hobbits constantly surprise Elf kings, dragons, and Dark Lords with their courage and valiant spirit, but we rarely associate them with wisdom. Thankfully, Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life exists to correct our mistake. Wisdom of the Shire is one part self-help book and one part homage to Hobbit wisdom.

Smith divides his work into a series of essays, with titles like “How Snug is Your Hobbit-hole?” and “Your Own Personal Gollum.” The chapters often begin with a summary of Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures (sometimes Gandalf gets a mention and there’s even a chapter on “The Lore of the Ents”) in Middle-earth, which ends with a concise summary of the essay’s lesson.

Unfortunately, the essays rarely led to a startling revelation for me, perhaps ... Read More

The Fall of Arthur: An unfinished poem by Tolkien

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fall of Arthur is another one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unfinished works made available to the public via his son and editor, Christopher Tolkien. Between its unfinished nature, its form (alliterative verse in Old English style — though not actually in Old English), and its brevity, the book is really mostly, perhaps solely, of interest to diehard Tolkien “completists” or those with a semi-academic interest in the form.

The poem, as mentioned, was never finished. Tolkien managed to complete five cantos, totaling in this edition about 40 pages (with a goodly amount of white space). The rest of the slim text, just over 200 pages, is made up of the following:

A forward by Christopher Tolkien briefly explaining the history of the poem, his thoughts on its context in his father’s work, and a short description of the afterword sections
A few pages of notes on the tex... Read More

Beowulf: Tolkien’s translation

Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien (author) & Christopher Tolkien (editor)

The last few years has seen the release by the Tolkien Estate of several hybrid books that combined original retellings/translations of ancient hero legends (Sigurd, Arthur) with further commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien (on the source material) and Christopher Tolkien (on his father’s work). The latest in this series is Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, which has perhaps incurred greater interest since outside of his fiction, Tolkien is perhaps best known for his famed essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” As with the prior two, one’s enjoyment of this new work will be dependent on one’s delight in /toleration of some pretty arcane scholarship. Personally, I enjoyed all of them, including this latest, but then, I’m a huge Tolkien fan, I’m an English teacher who owns several copies of Beowulf translations and teaches the legend every year, I love ... Read More

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 by Joseph Loconte

During a stressful stretch at work, and the persistently weighty negativity tied to the 2016 U.S. election campaign season, I found myself turning to ‘comfort reading.’ The negative vibes, for me, carried through Election Day and I looked toward J.R.R. Tolkien for relief. I knew I wouldn’t have time to return to the warm depths of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, so instead I read something I’d downloaded a few months earlier: A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friends, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18, by Joseph Loconte.

The unique relationship between two of Europe’s most influential writers o... Read More

The Story of Kullervo: One for the completists/diehard fans only

The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger)

Over the past few years we’ve seen several releases of J.R.R. Tolkien’s retellings of ancient tales combined with scholarly notes/lectures by him: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf. At some point (for all I know, we’ve already reached it) the posthumously published material is going to be greater than what appeared in his lifetime. I have no idea how he himself would react to that, but as a fan, I’m pretty much in the “keep ‘em comin’” mode. The newest one is The Story of Kullervo, edited and annotated by Verlyn Flieger, and it falls more to the side of the Arthurian tale in that it’s probably best for Tolkien c... Read More

The Oxford Inklings: The influence of a circle of friends

The Oxford Inklings by Colin Duriez

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had an influence on modern fiction, especially speculative fiction, that is still felt to this day. In their prime, at Oxford, they saw themselves as champions of myth and meaning, bringing back the “old Western” literary values, elevating myth and “fairy stories” into a place of prominence in an academic world that was increasingly valuing modernism. The two friends surrounded themselves with British writers and thinkers of the time, a group they nick-named the Inklings, and that group’s influence on the writing of the time still cannot be calculated. The Inklings capture our imaginations just as deftly as LORD OF THE RINGS or Out of the Silent Planet do. Colin Duriez’s no... Read More

Beren and Lúthien: For the diehard Tolkien fan

Beren and Lúthien ed. by Christopher Tolkien

In the very early pages of Christopher Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, his exploration of how his father’s grand love story of the two star-crossed lovers developed, he notes that, “This book does not offer a single page of original and unpublished work. What then is the need, now, for such a book?”

It’s a fair question, and one that I’m not sure all readers will find a ready answer for. The last half-dozen or so posthumous Tolkien books (from now on I will refer to J.R.R. Tolkien as simply “Tolkien” and his son/editor as “Christopher”) run a spectrum from those, such as The Story of Kullervo, probably only enjoyed by the most diehard of Tolkien fans/completists and those such as The Children of Húrin Read More

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen: Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen by Daniel Falconer

Getting a glimpse behind the scenes of a favorite film is always exciting — it’s rather like pulling the curtain back and, rather than seeing a humdrum old snake oil salesman, actually discovering a great and powerful wizard. David Falconer’s Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen gives credit to the several hundred wizards hard at work re-creating and re-inventing J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS novels and The Hobbit into two sets of visual feasts.

Everything from aerial photography, to miniaturized or life-size sets and props, to CGI artistry went into those six films, and each page of this guide pays tribute to the very hard work and ingenuity of th... Read More

The Fall of Gondolin: A welcome addition to Christopher Tolkien’s close looks at his father’s work

The Fall of Gondolin by Christopher Tolkien

Last year, when Christopher Tolkien published Beren and Lúthien, an exploratory history/retelling of one of his father’s three “great tales” of the First Age, he noted that due to his 93 years of age, “it is (presumptively ) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writing.” That parenthetical qualifier turned out to be a good idea, as here we are a year later, and he’s back with The Fall of Gondolin. With this text, along with Beren and Lúthien, and the prior publication of The Children of Húrin, the three great tales have all been published in stand-alone format, and it is perhaps this as much as his age (now 94) that ha... Read More

A Tolkien Bestiary: As engrossing as Tolkien’s novels

A Tolkien Bestiary by David Day

David Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary may be the greatest companion book ever. Even if it’s not, it’s still my favorite. Day provides an overview of people, places, races, and Middle Earth’s history. Although Day explains why he refers to the work as a bestiary, I usually think of it as an awesome encyclopedia.

In A Tolkien Bestiary, readers can lose themselves for hours at a time. I have encountered this book in many places — classrooms, libraries, and, of course, my childhood bedroom when visiting my parents during the holidays. Each time that I see it, I can’t resist opening it, thinking to learn more about the Istari or Elrond or Strider. Then, I go on to spend the better part of an hour reading about Melkor or the Valar or Gollum.

Barrow Wights by Ian Miller

To ... Read More

Bandersnatch: The Inklings as writers group

Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Diana Pavlac Glyer abridged her academic book The Company They Keep and published the abridgement as Bandersnatch. In it, she studies the Oxford circle of writers and thinkers that included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams through the lens of a creative community. Glyer chose the title Bandersnatch from of a quote by C.S. Lewis about Tolkien, that “No-one ever influenced Tolkien — you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.” In fact, the book goes on to explore in depth just how deeply and broadly Tolkien was influenced by the Inklings and by the creative currents that swirled around the group. The Inklings influenced each other, helping each ot... Read More

SHORTS: Jingfang, Rivera, Tolkien, Vajra

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu (2015, free at Uncanny Magazine, $3.99 Kindle magazine issue). Nominated for 2016 Hugo award (novelette).

Lao Dao, a humble man who works in a waste processing plant in “Third Space” Beijing, sorting recyclable trash, finds a bottle with a message offering what f... Read More

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth: The wise speak only of what they know

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth by David Rowe

The Proverbs of Middle-Earth is a smart, readable literary analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of proverbs in his worlds of Middle-Earth, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and (less so) The Silmarillion. If you’re a passionate fan of Tolkien, you’ll absolutely adore this book. Period. If you love the Peter Jackson films, this book will provide an enjoyable layer of depth to your understanding of the story and the ... Read More

The Battle for Middle Earth: Tolkien’s divine design in LOTR

The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge may be the ideal critic of The Lord of the Rings. An ardent student of English literature, an orthodox (Episcopal/Anglican) priest, and a gifted writer, she brings to bear impressive resources in analyzing an often- or over-analyzed work. In doing so, she builds an impressive case in support of a seldom-heard conclusion: Tolkien's masterpiece is a masterpiece not only of storytelling, but also of theology and, perhaps, evangelism.

In making this case, Rutledge relies not only on her careful reading of the text (including its prequel, The Hobbit), but also on Tolkien's letters (as indicated by extensive and informative footnoting). In particular, she challenges commonly held ideas about the epic, including but not limited to the following: (1) it is a tale of pure good versu... Read More

Hobbits, Elves and Wizards: The Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”

Hobbits, Elves and Wizards: The Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" by Michael N. Stanton

There are very few better qualified to write an introductory book on J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings than Michael Stanton, a scholar who has studied and taught the trilogy for twenty-five years. He's obviously a great fan of the book (that is, he does not seem to be simply trying to cash in on the recent popularity that the movies have caused) and writes in a simple, chatty style that is easy for most non-academics to understand. For those who are more experienced in reading essays and critiques, Hobbits, Elves and Wizards may come across as either too simplistic or repetitive, and I admit that there was very little here that I hadn't already come across in more comprehensive essays on this subject.

But Stanton is well awar... Read More

Tolkien and the Great War: An exploration of Tolkien’s early influences

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

Tolkien and the Great War is an obviously well-researched book that goes into explicit (at times I must admit tedious) detail on J.R.R. Tolkien’s involvement in World War I and its possible impact on his then-current and later writings. We begin by observing Tolkien’s earliest close friendships formed at St. Edward’s Grammar School under the auspices of the “TCBS” (an acronym for Tea Club, Barrovian Society) where the core group of Tolkien, Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and G.B. Smith became close artistic confidantes, encouragers and critics of each other’s work. Convinced that they were a group that would change the world with their work, their dreams were turned to harsh reality with the advent of “the war to end all wars”.

We spend the majority of Tolkien and the Great War following ... Read More

David Rowe chats PROVERBS OF MIDDLE-EARTH. Win an autographed copy!

David Rowe is the Director of Contemporary Music, Social Media and Communications at St. John's Parish in Johns Island, South Carolina. From Sheffield, England David has a degree in Biblical Studies and cultivates his passion for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien on his popular Twitter feed: @TolkienProverbs. The Proverbs of Middle-earth is his first book.

One random U.S. commenter will receive an autographed copy of The Proverbs of Middle-earth. See below for details.

Jason Golomb: In addition to your job at St. John's, you've worked internationally for Christian missions. Religion is clearly integral to your life. J.R.R. Tolkien was a deeply Christian person and religion is embedded within his writings (though one could argue he handles it rather ... Read More