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The book the publishers thought they would get was the long expected sequel to his very successful children's book "The Hobbit." What he supplied them with was a book for adults that was so long it had to be printed (and later filmed) in three parts. The book was actually a spin-off from a project of his to create a mythos for the Anglo-Saxon peoples, complete with religions, languages, a thousand years or more of history and a reinterpretation of much of Norse legend. But it did pickup on many of the characters and plot threads of the Hobbit and follow them up a generation or two later.
The story depicts a titanic multigenerational struggle between "good" and "evil" with good represented by certain races and evil by others, it is set in a faux medieval/dark ages, multi racial world where magic exists but conventional religion seems oddly absent (Tolkien was a staunch Roman Catholic but had set his world in a time before Jesus). In a further extolling of Conservative themes Good and especially good leadership is identified with certain hereditary bloodlines. Courage and skill in battle are emphasised in a way that when it was first published in the 20th Century, seemed more than a little familiar to residents of certain parts of central Europe.
A popular movie series based on the books was filmed in New Zealand, to reduce some of the inevitable flak about racism some key baddies were given markedly pink faces. The first film includes the greatest horse chase scene ever filmed.
Dungeons and Dragons the seminal role playing game was allegedly inspired by the books and particular the races, magic and (lack of) technology. Though they added Religion.
- Gandalf aka Mithrandir a Wizard
- Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit, and orphan - central character of the Hobbit, plays only a minor role in LOTR
- Frodo Baggins, a Hobbit, the orphaned nephew of Bilbo
- Strider aka Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, human orphan
- Samwise Sam Gamgee, Hobbit, a gardener
- King Theoden of the Rohirrim, king of Rohan, leader of an army of blonde horse riding warriors (in the film a large proportion of these are women with fake beards)
- Eomer, orphan and nephew and heir to Theoden
- Eowyn, Shield maiden of Rohan, orphan and niece of Theoden, one of only three significant female roles in an extremely male story
- Treebeard, an ent
Aside from some blatant racism that was unfortunately ubiquitous in the 1930s but deeply unacceptable today, the story depicts its struggle between good and evil in terms of light and dark, of the rural idyll of the Shire and the untamed forest of Fangorn under threat from the industry of Saruman and the dark lord. Mordor sends a great cloud to darken the skies over Minas Tirith, Sauron's Nazgul are black clad riders on black steeds. Hippies and counterculture types have drawn inspiration from Tolkien's celebration of the art and pleasure of smoking pipeweed, though as a respectable Oxford Professor he was probably thinking of nothing stronger than tobacco. Environmentalists and tree huggers not unreasonably see in him a kindred spirit.
As an orphan who defied all to marry his childhood love, who was herself a fellow orphan Tolkien had a clear preference for orphans as his principle heroes.
Though the story is very male focused, Tolkien was himself a true romantic, the three love stories within the book are all happily resolved. Whilst his posthumously published Silmarillion reveals the events that lead up to the events of ancient Numenor that lead in turn to the back story behind the Lord of the Rings; The romantic love of Beren and Luthien, the names which adorn his and his wife's gravestones.