The Lord of the Rings | Study Guide

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Lord of the Rings | 10 Things You Didn't Know


J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954–55, is an iconic work of the fantasy genre. Featuring The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, Tolkien's work is a mythological epic following the journey of a hobbit named Frodo Baggins. Tolkien describes the battles fought by men and elves, the monstrous creatures of Middle-earth, and the powerful magic of wizards and villains, but he always keeps the story centered on Frodo, an unlikely hero carrying a terrible burden.

The enormous impact The Lord of the Rings has had on fantasy cannot be overstated. Numerous literary works, films, and video games cite Tolkien as a primary influence, and many of the races he describes inhabiting Middle-earth have become staples of the genre. The Lord of the Rings also inspired Peter Jackson's three blockbuster films, which have been praised as one of the greatest screen accomplishments of the 21st century.

1. The Beatles tried to make The Lord of the Rings into a movie.

The four musicians wanted to script and star in a film based on Tolkien's novel. John Lennon wanted to appear as Gollum, with Paul McCartney as Frodo, Ringo Starr as Sam, and George Harrison as Gandalf. Tolkien himself was unenthused by the idea, nixing the project before it began.

2. Tolkien created at least two languages for The Lord of the Rings.

To make Middle-earth as immersive a universe as possible, Tolkien crafted the languages spoken by nonhuman races in his books. In particular, he designed the ancient Elven language Qenya based on Latin and Finnish and used Welsh as the inspiration for Sindarin, another Elven tongue.

3. The Lord of the Rings was sold as three books because of paper shortages after World War II.

Post-World War II paper shortages caused the publisher, George Allen & Unwin, to divide Tolkien's manuscript for The Lord of the Rings into three separate books. This way, the printing costs for the first novel, The Fellowship of the Ring, were lowered, and the book could be sold at a cheaper price. When he was informed that the novel would be divided and that he needed to create titles for the separate volumes, Tolkien wanted to name the third installment The War of the Ring, since he felt that the title The Return of the King revealed too much of the plot.

4. It took Tolkien 14 years to complete The Lord of the Rings.

Considering the amount of time Tolkien devoted to world building, creating languages, and crafting character development, it may come as no surprise that The Lord of the Rings was a 14-year endeavor. When completed, the manuscript was more than 1,200 pages in length.

5. Before writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote entries for the Oxford English Dictionary.

Tolkien was one of the staff of the dictionary between 1919 and 1920. He was assigned to write entries for a long list of words beginning with W. His first assigned entry was for the word waggle, which he defined as, "to move (anything held or fixed at one end) to and fro with short quick motions, or with a rapid undulation; especially to shake (any movable part of the body)." Perhaps most notably, the draft of his entry for the word walrus has been preserved at a library in Oxford.

6. Battles in The Lord of the Rings were heavily influenced by Tolkien's experiences in World War I.

Tolkien drew from his experiences as a soldier in World War I and transferred the horrors of modern combat to a fantasy setting. The mechanized war contraptions of the orcs, the harrowing calls of the Nazgul, and the friendships that developed between soldiers were all based on what Tolkien saw during combat.

7. Peter Jackson's third film of The Lord of the Rings series won 11 Academy Awards.

At the 76th Academy Awards in 2004, The Return of the King, Jackson's final installment in the series, won 11 Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Picture, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects). This tied the film with Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic (1997) for the most wins for a single film.

8. More than 50 million copies of The Lord of the Rings series were sold after the release of the films.

Although Tolkien's books have been popular since their publication, the early-2000s films contributed to a great resurgence in the series's fame. Of the more than 150 million copies sold of the books, 50 million of the sales occurred since the first film's debut.

9. The Lord of the Rings series was written to provide a unique mythology for England.

One reason Tolkien was so meticulous in crafting the world of Middle-earth was that he intended it to serve as a mythology for England, which he felt was deprived of the ancient legends of other European cultures. He once stated,

I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story ... which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country.

10. The original manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings are housed in a university library collection—in the United States.

The J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at the library of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, houses the manuscripts. In addition, the collection contains original maps of Middle-earth, first editions of the books, and an epilogue that was rejected.

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