J.R.R. Tolkien stories are set in the world of fairytale with intricate tales of exciting heroic fantasy. This week we are shining the light on this beloved author and are sharing our six favourite Tolkien books (with a few fabulous collector editions).
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 and spent his childhood in the English countryside and his sensibility to the rural landscape can clearly be seen in his writing and his detailed illustrations.
His mother died when he was twelve and both he and his brother were made wards of the local priest and sent to King Edward’s School in Birmingham, where Tolkien shone in his classical work. After completing a First in English Language and Literature at Oxford, Tolkien married, fought in the battle of the Somme and then began to write the mythological and legendary cycle which he originally called The Book of Lost Tales but which eventually became known as The Silmarillion.
Tolkien wrote for his children and told them the story of The Hobbit. It was his publisher, Stanley Unwin, who asked for a sequel to The Hobbit and gradually Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, an epic tale that took twelve years to complete and which was not published until Tolkien was approaching retirement. After retirement Tolkien and his wife lived near Oxford, but then moved to Bournemouth. Tolkien returned to Oxford after his wife’s death in 1971. He died in 1973 leaving The Silmarillion to be edited for publication by his son, Christopher.
Okay, so we know that The Lord of the Rings is actually three books, but they are just so good that we overlooked this minor detail.
Since it was first published in 1954, The Lord of the Rings has been a book people have treasured. Steeped in unrivalled magic and otherworldliness, its sweeping fantasy and epic adventure has touched the hearts of young and old alike. Over 150 million copies of its many editions have been sold around the world, and occasional collectors’ editions become prized and valuable items of publishing. This one-volume hardback edition contains the complete text, fully corrected and reset, which is printed in red and black and features, for the very first time, thirty colour illustrations, maps and sketches drawn by Tolkien himself as he composed this epic work. These include the pages from the Book of Mazarbul, marvellous facsimiles created by Tolkien to accompany the famous ‘Bridge of Khazad-dum’ chapter. Also appearing are two removable fold-out maps drawn by Christopher Tolkien revealing all the detail of Middle-earth. Sympathetically packaged to reflect the classic look of the first edition, this new edition of the bestselling hardback will prove irresistible to collectors and new fans alike.
The Hobbit is one of the world’s most popular classic stories, appealing to adults as much as to the children for whom J.R.R. Tolkien first wrote the book. Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again.
The Hobbit became an instant success when it was first published in 1937, and more than 60 years later Tolkien’s epic tale of elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins, myth, magic and adventure, with its reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins, has lost none of its appeal.
Now, the classic hardback edition is available once again, featuring the distinctive cover illustration painted by Tolkien himself.
The Silmarillion takes fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-Earth. The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated in The Lord of the Rings. This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-Earth.
Yep, we may have stretched the definition of book again. This special collector’s edition features all 12 parts of the series bound in three volumes. Each book includes a silk ribbon marker and is quarter-bound in black, with grey boards stamped in gold foil, and the set is presented in a matching black slipcase.
While J.R.R. Tolkien is famous the world over for his unique literary creation, exemplified in the titles we mentioned above, what is less well known is that he also produced a vast amount of further material that greatly expands upon the mythology and numerous stories of Middle-Earth, and which gives added life to the thousand-year war between the Elves and the evil spirit Morgoth, and his terrifying lieutenant, Sauron.
It was to this enormous task of literary construction that Tolkien’s youngest son and literary heir, Christopher, applied himself to produce the monumental and endlessly fascinating series of twelve books, The History of Middle-Earth.
Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts, this is the first complete, standalone Middle-earth book by J.R.R. Tolkien since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is a legendary time long before The Lord of the Rings, and Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwells in the vast fortress of Angband in the North; and within the shadow of the fear of Angband, and the war waged by Morgoth against the Elves, the fates of Turin and his sister Nienor will be tragically entwined. Their brief and passionate lives are dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bears them as the children of Hurin, the man who dared to defy him to his face. Against them Morgoth sends his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire, in an attempt to fulfil the curse of Morgoth, and destroy the children of Hurin. Begun by J.R.R., Tolkien at the end of the First World War, the Children of Hurin became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s ”Unfinished Tales” is a collection ranging from the time of ”The Silmarillion” the Elder Days of Middle-earth to the end of the War of the Ring in ”The Lord of the Rings”. Its many treasures include Gandalf’s lively account of how he came to send the Dwarves to the celebrated party at Bag-End, the emergence of the sea-god Ulmo before the eyes of Tuor on the coast of Beleriand, and a description of the military organisation of the Riders of Rohan.
Lovers of Tolkien’s mythology will also be fascinated to read the only story from the long ages of Numenor before its downfall, and all that is known of such matters as the Five Wizards, the Palantiri, and the legend of Amroth.
The collection has been edited by Christopher Tolkien, who provides a commentary placing each of the Tales in the context of his father’s work.
Let us know in the comments below which Tolkien story is your favourite.
For some readers, fantasy means pure escapism – getting away from the stresses, constraints and issues of the everyday. For others, the opposite can apply – fantastical settings allow us to examine and explore everyday issues with extra clarity. Immerse yourself in the intricate and richly diverse genre of fantasy, and let your imagination soar – here are a few recent favourites to get you started.
Get two fantasy greats for the price of one with Good Omens, which is having a revival thanks to a celebrated TV adaptation (quality assured by Neil Gaiman’s role as showrunner). Good Omens is a story about the Apocalypse – which happens to be coming sooner than what Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon) would like. Aziraphale and Crowley have been representing their respective sides on Earth for 6000 years, and have come to enjoy each other’s company (and their lives on Earth). Unhappy with the thought of their cozy lives being upended, Crawley and Aziraphale team up to avert the Apocalypse. Good Omens is a mix of urban fantasy, absurdist humour and political/workplace satire that is as gleeful and relevant today as ever.
You may have met Geralt of Rivia through the Netflix series or through the popular video games – both have been lovingly created from the writings of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. Discover why Witcher fans are so passionate about this world, with this short story collection that introduces the Continent, its witchers (superhuman monster hunters), monsters, epic sword fights, and magic. Once you know the background, head to The Blood of Elves, the first full-length novel of the series, which is about Geralt and Princess Ciri, whose fates are bound together.
The End of the World is Bigger than Love came out last year, where its dreamy, post-apocalypse setting resonated eerily with the silence of lockdown. Identical twin sisters, Summer and Winter, live alone on an island, trying to survive the aftermath of a monumental environmental disaster. Soon we discover these twin narrators to be unreliable – how, then, do we interpret what’s happening? Reviews (and the string of awards and nominations) have been universally positive. The End of the World is Better than Love is category-defying and unforgettable – it is complex, ambiguous, sometimes confusing, and always rich in language and emotions – a book that invites repeat reading.
So. Much. Fun. Carry On started as a spin-off of Rainbow Rowell’s previous success, Fangirl, but this funny, exuberant and romantic story has gained a life of its own, growing into an action-packed trilogy. Carry On is about Simon Snow, a teen wizard at a magical boarding school, who is known to be the Chosen One, but still struggling to learn to control and understand his powers. Sounds familiar? While Rainbow Rowell states that Carry On is informed by a number of “Chosen One” stories, it has invited passionate debates about its relationship to the Harry Potter universe. I am really looking forward to the third and final book, Any Way the Wind Blows, due for release next month.
Madeline Miller, author of Circe and Song of Achilles, has actively contributed to our current interest in the Greek classics. (Also check out recent retellings by Stephen Fry , Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes.) Circe is a witch-goddess from Greek Mythology, best known to readers through Homer’s Odyssey, where she encounters Odysseus during his long voyage. Here she narrates her life, reinterpreting a number of myths from her perspective. Madeline Miller has fleshed out Circe satisfyingly – with a heart, an independent mind and a sharp tongue. This feminist retelling reclaims Circe from her traditional portrayal as a wicked witch, and reimagines her as a woman doing her best to overcome the odds.
Guy Gavriel Kay is a hidden gem of an author. In 30+ years of writing, he has spun tales that are intriguing, immersive and often gutwrenching, creating fantasy worlds based on the histories of ancient China, Arthurian legends, the Byzantine Empire, the Moors, and Mediaeval Europe. A Brightness Long Ago is an epic story of war, destiny, ambition and love, set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. Through the reminiscences of Danio, an old and powerful man who rose above his humble origins, we see how chance encounters, and the seemingly unimportant lives and actions of ordinary people, can nonetheless impact upon major historical events. The intricate weaving and interconnectedness of the large cast is pure Guy Gavriel Kay; it also offers a poetic meditation on fate, choice and the power of memory.
What do Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, Avatar’s Na’vi, Star Trek’s Klingon and LOTR’s Elvish have in common? They’re all fantasy constructed languages. This Ted Talk explains why these invented languages captivate fans.