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Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy (LOTR) - The Masterpiece of High Fantasy Books
When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King), he did the world a great service. Fantasy was changed forever and the world has never been the same since. Before Tolkien, some work had been done in myths and legends and some early science fiction and fantasy. Jules Verne, Orson Wells, and a few others had written early science fiction. Wagner’s Ring, stories of King Arthur, fairy tale-type stories by George McDonald and some other proto-fantasy were around, but modern fantasy started with The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s blend of Norse, Celtic, and Germanic myths and legends, along with an enormous amount of his own brilliant imagination, has produced the greatest fantasy series ever written.
Middle Earth - The Land of the Ring
The world of Middle-Earth has ties to other fantasy and to our own world (“Middengard” [Middle Earth] – earth in Early English) and may have been influenced slightly by the Celtic concept of the “otherworld”. It is a land of extremes – high snowy mountains and dark waterless lands, the wilds of the west and the comfortable pastoral home of the hobbits. There is something in wilderness - in high mountains and rushing streams, in trees, rivers, waterfalls, wide prairies and woodlands that makes many of us pine for something different – something outside our experiences or even outside of this world. A world that is fresh and clean, full of danger, but also of much good like Middle Earth. That is Heaven for those of us who are Christians, although we may not recognize it as such, but also a desire for the outside, for adventure and for rugged outdoor life. Middle Earth provides a safe escape, as does Narnia or the Wheel of Time world. The continents are basically the same as our world, and even the cultures are similar. Rohan is a combination of the Vikings and early Anglo-Saxon culture. Gondor is like that of late Middle Ages Europe. The hobbit’s homeland of the Shire is England as it should be, so to speak, or pre-industrial England - Tolkien was not a fan of mechanization.The Shire was England's countryside as Tolkien remembered it from his boyhood.
The Peoples of the Ring
Middle Earth is a hard world, yet a very good world and its inhabitants share in those characteristics. While other authors have created wonderful creatures since Tolkien, none have been able to create so rich a world – full of good and evil and the range of human (and non-human passions). Loyalty, love, power, greed and anger are on their best display. Elves, dwarves, hobbits, men, wizards, ents, and orcs make a wonderful backdrop and they are all necessary to the story. The majesty of the elves and the Kings of Men, the stolid durability and strength of the dwarves, and the cheerfulness and perseverance of the hobbits make the story a wonder to read. A tale of men alone could never have caught the imagination and desire like the other races did. Each plays an essential part in the outcome as Bilbo learns in The Hobbit. Tom Bombadil is one of the delights of The Fellowship of the Ring, and is one of my favorite parts of the book. He should never have been left out of the movie!
The Best in Fantasy
Some excellent fantasy has come out since Tolkien. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is one of the best, but all of it rests on the foundation of Tolkien’s work. If you have any interest in fantasy or just love a good story, please read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings! If you have watched the movies, but have never read the books, do yourself a huge favor and read! The movies are very well done, but cannot match the majesty and glory of The Lord of the Rings.