Samuel Johnson is credited with saying that “A book should teach us to enjoy life or to endure it.” J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings teaches both. It also fits the dictum of another writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, who said, “And this is the particular triumph of the artist—not to be true merely, but to be lovable; not simply to convince, but to enchant.” Tolkien has been compared to Lodovico Ariosto and to Edmund Spenser. Indeed, he belongs to the tradition of writers of epic and romance going back to the days of Homer. His work is deeply rooted in the great literature of the past and seems likely itself to be a hardy survivor resistant to time. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, Celeborn the Elf King (no doubt speaking for his author) warns against despising the lore that has survived from distant years, for old wives’ tales may be the repositories of needful wisdom.
Although The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy, each volume of which bears a different title, it is really a single, continuous tale. The author is in complete control of his copious material. He creates a consistent world with a sharply realized geography that includes maps; he works out a many-centuried time scheme and summarizes the chronology in an appendix to the third volume, The Return of the King (1955). With fertile inventiveness, Tolkien launches an amazing number of...
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