Happy Birthday to the late J.R.R. Tolkien, who remains the most well-known father of modern fantasy, whose imagination ran to untold areas and galaxies and lands which have created an empire with many of his books, filmed adaptations of those books, and a subculture of rabid fans through generations starting in the early parts of the 20th Century to the current day, especially with his Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit.
Although he died 40 years ago this year (September 2nd to be exact) the Tolkien universe and all he created in it remains almost like a public utility in terms of its success and adoration. All ages, from children to septuagenarian kids at heart, have delighted and dabbled, read, re-read, and re-re-read all from the world that Tolkien has to offer. His works transcend just high fantasy literature; they stretch into many cores of pop culture, an unexpectedly key example being when progressive rock and roll found its full flower and fruition. Many bands, especially Led Zeppelin, used some of its imagery and visual styles in its music and its lyrics.
The Peter Jackson-helmed filmed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings series also remains a firm, for-all-ages-and-eras franchise. The third installment even snared an Academy Award for Best Picture (the trilogy also picked up technical Oscars along the way as well), something which seemed unthinkable in prior years, that a fantasy film, regardless of its dazzling art production, high rent production values, and special effects would ever have had a chance to snare the award. But it did, and it just cemented the legend of the works of Tolkien even more upon doing so, putting him not in an upper echelon as a grand writer of this genre, but almost and arguably alone on his own massive mountain range, high atop the world, universe, and galaxy.
The English born Tolkien (the J.R.R. stands for John Ronald Reuel) used his influences growing up, mythology, poetry, literature, tomes like Beowulf (an essay he penned on this became the firm basis and foundations for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series), and Norse sagas, and parlayed all of it into a big metaphoric mixing bowl to create his own original style. He was not the first to do fantasy works by any means, but he became the most well-known and arguably the best at it. He also wrote children’s books as well, the most popular being The Hobbit, which was originally printed in 1936 and became an unexpected success, and that success shocked Tolkien most of all more than anyone. It became the firm catalyst for the genesis of The Lord of the Rings series, which were originally published in the mid 1950s, and as the next decade hit, became a popular series.
The aforementioned books have had countless reprints and are finding new generations of voracious readers at every clip. The books are now considered absolute literary folklore in their respective genre. All around the world, there are plenty of memorials and plaques dedicated to the craft of Tolkien the man and Tolkien the author. His influence runs so high that the Oxford English Dictionary has even immortalized the man in its pages with the words “Tolkienian” and “Tolkienesque,” which is to define if something is like the genuine articles work, which of course, the works of thousands upon thousands of literary fantasy writers have been in his wake, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
So let’s celebrate the life of J.R.R. Tolkien today — there’s plenty of media to do so: relive the classic filmed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, go see The Hobbit in your local theater, grab your dog-eared much-read favorite books of his. Either way, it celebrates the life and the man who grabbed generations and brought them all together with his wondrous imagination, which seemed awe-inspiring and influential, soul-touching, and delightful, bringing readers to uncharted territories, much like the works themselves.