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The Origins of Tolkien's Middle-earth For Dummies

J.R.R. Tolkien made his literary mark on 20th century readers and contemporary audiences with the rich characters, language, geography, and history of his fascinating world of Middle-earth. Explore the author's own origins, check out his list of notable works, and meet a cast of beings that abound in masterful fantasy storytelling.

Background on J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was one of the most beloved authors of the 20th century. He was born in South Africa in 1892 of British parents. When he was 2, his mother brought him and his brother back to England, to a village named Sarehole. The idyllic landscape there later inspired his vision of the Shire, home of the hobbits in Middle-earth.

By the time he was 12, both of his parents had died, and he was raised under the guardianship of a priest. He remained a devout Catholic the rest of his life. After graduating from Exeter College at Oxford, Tolkien entered the military and served as a lieutenant in World War I, where he took part in the Battle of the Somme.

During this time he began working on an invented mythology that later became The Silmarillion. After the war, he helped edit the Oxford English Dictionary and taught English literature at the University of Leeds. He joined the faculty of Oxford University in 1925, where he was a professor first of Anglo-Saxon and then of English Language and Literature until 1959.

He studied and spoke more than a dozen languages, and invented several more for his fantasy world of Middle-earth. In 1937, he published The Hobbit. He continued the story of hobbits and other Middle-earth beings in the much larger and more complex The Lord of the Rings, which became a best-seller in the decades that followed and is now recognized as a brilliant literary classic. After a long and successful career of writing, scholarship, and teaching, he died in 1973.

Works of Literature by J.R.R. Tolkien

Best known for his epic fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien earned rank in 2009 as Forbes 5th among the magazine's selected "top-earning dead celebrities." Tolkien's literary accomplishments during his 1892–1973 lifetime include the following:

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
Farmer Giles of Ham
The Father Christmas Letters*
Finn and Hengest*
The History of Middle-earth (12 volumes, edited by Christopher Tolkien)
The Hobbit
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
Leaf by Niggle
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien*
The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King)
Mr. Bliss*
The Monsters and the Critics & Other Essays*
On Fairy Stories
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien*
The Road Goes Ever On (with Donald Swann)
Roverandom*
The Silmarillion*
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo*
Smith of Wootton Major
Unfinished Tales*

* Published posthumously

Houghton Mifflin is Tolkien’s authorized publisher; paperback editions are also available from Ballantine Books.

Who Lives in Tolkien's Middle-earth?

From heart-warming hobbits to chilling Ringwraiths, the diverse and wonderful characters that populate the many lands and worlds of Middle-earth reveal J.R.R. Tolkien's genius at its finest. Note: Characters in bold type are members of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Hobbits

Bilbo Baggins: "Uncle" to Frodo, finds Sauron's One Ring of Power in Gollum's lair under Misty Mountains

Frodo Baggins: "Nephew" and heir to Bilbo, bearer of the Sauron's One Ring of Power, takes up quest to destroy the Ring at Mount Doom

Gollum/Sméagol: Murdered friend to gain One Ring of Power, leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor, perishes with the Ring

Merry Brandybuck: Friend to Frodo, squire to King Théoden, slays the Lord of the Ringwraiths

Pippin Took: Second cousin to Frodo, serves in court of Denethor (Steward of Gondor), becomes Thain of the Shire

Samwise Gamgee: Faithful servant and friend to Frodo all the way to Mount Doom, becomes Mayor of the Shire

Men

Aragorn: Heir to throne of Gondor and Arnor, raised by Elrond, wed to Arwen, also known as Strider and Elessar

Boromir: Son of Denethor (Steward of Gondor), headstrong brother of Faramir

Éowyn: Niece of Théoden, Shield-Maiden of Rohan, wed to Faramir

Faramir: Brother of Boromir, Ranger of Ithilien, wed to Éowyn

Théoden: King of Rohan, uncle of Éowyn, leads Battle of Helm's Deep

Elves

Arwen: Daughter of Elrond, wed to Aragorn, Queen of Reunited Kingdom, gives up immortality

Elrond: Father of Arwen, Master of Rivendell, chooses immortality

Fëanor: Legendary creator of Tengwar writing script, the palantíri, and the Silmaril jewels

Galadriel: Queen of Lothlorien, keeper of Nenya, the Elven-Ring of Water

Legolas: Son of Thranduil (king of the Woodland Realm in Mirkwood Forest), friend to Gimli the Dwarf

Dwarves

Gimli: Son of Glóin, friend to Legolas the Elf, preserves Glittering Caves

Thorin Oakenshield: Leader of Dwarves in retrieving rightful treasure from Smaug the dragon

Wizards and Divinities

Ainur: "The Holy Ones," powerful angelic beings who live in the Blessed Realm of Aman

Eru Ilúvatar: "The One All-father," Creator of Middle-earth and rest of Arda

Gandalf the Grey: One of the Maiar, sent as wizard to Middle-earth to help the free peoples in struggle against Sauron, becomes Gandalf the White

Maiar: The "Lesser" of the Holy Ones, deities who serve higher deities

Saruman the White: Wizard and once leader of Gandalf's order, betrays free peoples of Middle-earth, enters into allegiance with Sauron

Villains

Balrog: Powerful demon of fire, battles Gandalf in Moria

Melkor/Morgoth: Most powerful of the Ainur, destroyed the Two Lamps and the Two Trees, tutored Sauron in evil

Ringwraiths: Ghouls who serve Sauron, once lords of Men, also called Nazgûl

Sauron: One of the Maiar, Enemy of Middle-earth, served Melkor, forges One Ring of Power to rule over free peoples

Smaug: Last of the fire-breathing dragons of Middle-earth, jealously hoards the Dwarves' treasure under the Lonely Mountain

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