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Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel)

children epic oxford hobbit

(British, 1892–1973)

Born in South Africa, Tolkien came to Britain at the age of 3 and was educated in Birmingham and then at Oxford, where he later enjoyed a long and distinguished career as Professor of Anglo-Saxon (1925–45) and Merton Professor of English (1945–59). During the 1930s Tolkien was a member of the literary society ‘The Inklings’ whose other members included fellow Oxford academic and children's writer C. S. Lewis.

His book The Hobbit (1937) originated from stories Tolkien had told his children at bedtime and follows the adventures of the hobbit (an amiable type of gnome) called Bilbo Baggins, who is reluctantly recruited by a gang of dwarves to defeat a dragon. On his journeys he encounters both friends and foes drawn from northern European folklore and epic poetry. These include the Orcs, a vicious breed of goblin, and the benign if manipulating wizard, Gandalf.

The book's setting, Middle-earth, and many of its characters reappear in The Lord of the Rings (3 vols., 1954–5), a much longer and more ambitious work that more or less invented the genre of sword and sorcery fantasy. It tells of a fellowship of dwarves, elves, men, and hobbits (including Bilbo's nephew, Frodo Baggins) and their endeavours to stop the Ruling Ring of Power from falling into the hands of evil. It is an epic tale in which seemingly insignificant creatures change the fate of an entire world, and is engaging as adult allegory as well as a children's fable.

C. S. Lewis, David Eddings, Mervyn Peake. See FANTASY  RP

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