Question: How many copies of JRR Tolkien’s classic book, The Lord of the Rings, have been sold?
Answer: 150 million – It is the 2nd best-selling work of fiction ever. Only Charles Dickens A Tale Of Two Cities has sold more.
Were he still alive, today would be the 123rd birthday of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – the man who created Middle Earth. Most people today are more familiar with the film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit than with Tolkien’s books, which in my opinion is a tragedy, as they are literary gems.
Tolkien was influenced by Norse mythology and his own Roman Catholic faith. Whilst serving in the trenches during World War I he began to write a series of legends. These told of the world’s creation by Iluvatar (God), the Ainur (angels) and Melkor, the mightiest of the Ainur who fell and became Morgoth (the Devil). They also included tales of elves, trolls, dragons, the first men and Tolkien’s own creation – the orcs. These legends were not published until after Tolkien’s death in 1973. Together they are known as The Silmarillion and they contain the equivalent of a whole culture’s mythology – and all from the mind of one man.
Tolkien was not a professional author. He worked as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University and wrote for his own amusement. One day in 1932 he was marking papers when suddenly he wrote on the back of one:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Later that year The Hobbit was finished. It was a book for children set in the same world as his, by now, vast mythology and it was published in 1937. All copies were sold within 4 months.
The popularity of The Hobbit led to requests for a sequel and so Tolkien began working on his most famous book, The Lord of the Rings. It was a tale that grew in the telling, becoming an epic with almost 500,000 words. It started off as a children’s story in the same vein as The Hobbit but soon developed dark and threatening themes and is most certainly not a book for young children!
As well as these three books set in Middle Earth, Tolkien also wrote several other works mostly for children, such as Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Mr. Bliss. He also wrote modern translations of Norse myths like The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, medieval English tales like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and poems as well.
If you’d like to test your knowledge of JRR Tolkien’s life and works, then have a look at our quizzes on books. You’ll find a quiz for all of the most famous authors together with ones on fictional characters and settings as well as for each of the different genres. And if you haven’t already read The Lord of the Rings, I recommend that you do – it’s so much better than the films!