When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien began telling stories to his children, he had no idea it would lead to the creation of one of the world’s most famous fantasy novels. An English language and literature professor at Oxford University, Tolkien used his knowledge of mythology and languages to write The Hobbit, which became a bestseller. However, it took him a further seventeen years to produce its epic sequel, The Lord of the Rings (1954-55).
Tolkien’s story of light and darkness, heroism and greed is full of biblical references. It was set in an imaginary place called Middle-earth, which was populated by a mix of human and mythological creatures, including elves, dwarves, trolls, and orcs (or goblins). Most memorable are the shy, courageous hobbits, who inhabit The Shire. At the start, the hobbit Frodo watches his uncle Bilbo Baggins bring his birthday speech to a dramatic end.
“‘I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!’
He stepped down and vanished. There was a blinding flash of light, and the guests all blinked. When they opened their eyes Bilbo was nowhere to be seen. One hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits sat back speechless...”
“«Me ne vado. Parto subito. Addio!».
Scese dalla sedia e scomparve. Una luce accecante abbagliò per un attimo gli invitati. Quando aprirono gli occhi, non c’era più nessuna traccia di Bilbo. Centoquarantaquattro Hobbit stralunati caddero a sedere.”
Bilbo possesses a magical ring, which has special powers, including making the wearer invisible. It also, however, corrupts. Sauron, the evil Dark Lord of Mordor, wants it for himself, so that he can use it to dominate the world. Frodo is given the ring, but is instructed by Gandalf the wizard to take it to the Fire-mountain and destroy it.
“‘I really do wish to destroy it!’ cried Frodo. ‘...I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’
‘Such questions cannot be answered’, said Gandalf... ‘But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.’”
“«Certo che desidero distruggerlo, e con tutte le mie forze!», gridò Frodo. [...] «Non sono affatto amante delle imprese perigliose. Cosa darei per non aver mai visto quest’Anello! Perché è toccato a me? Come mai sono stato scelto io?».
«Queste sono domande senza risposta», disse Gandalf. [...] «Ma sei stato scelto tu, ed hai dunque il dovere di adoperare tutta la forza, l’intelligenza ed il coraggio di cui puoi disporre.»”
Frodo sets out on a long and difficult journey — finding courage and companionship along the way. He is joined by a loyal band of hobbits, elves, dwarves and men who must survive unimaginable challenges if they are to succeed. The power of their enemy is great, as the warriors Boromir and Gimli discover when they become trapped by a terrible snowstorm.
“‘I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy’, said Boromir. ‘They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies.’
‘His arm has grown long indeed,’ said Gimli, ‘if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here...’
“«Non so se si tratta di un’ingegnosa trovata del Nemico», disse Boromir. «Nel mio paese corre voce che sia in grado di comandare le tempeste nelle Montagne dell’Ombra che si ergono ai confini di Mordor. Ha strani poteri, e molti alleati».
«Il suo braccio è diventato lungo», disse Gimli, «se riesce a trascinare giù dal Nord la neve per importunarci a trecento leghe di distanza.»”
MAGIC ELF DUST
Through more than a thousand pages of adventure, battle, magic and moral dilemmas, Tolkien keeps the reader guessing. Will the ring be destroyed? Can Sauron be defeated? And will The Shire remain a green and pleasant land? The destruction wreaked by Sauron gravely damages the Earth’s environment. Fortunately, hobbits like Sam, Frodo’s loyal companion, have magic elf dust to salvage the situation.
“Sam planted saplings in all the places where specially beautiful or beloved trees had been destroyed, and he put a grain of the precious dust in the soil at the root of each... Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty.”
“Così Sam piantò degli alberelli in tutti i luoghi in cui erano state distrutte piante particolarmente belle o amate, e mise un granello della preziosa polvere alla radice di ognuno. [...] La primavera superò ogni sua più ardita speranza. Gli alberi incominciarono a germogliare e a crescere; il tempo sembrava aver fretta, come se un anno contasse per venti.”
J. R. R. Tolkien was sixty-two when The Lord of the Rings was published in 1955. By the turn of the 21st century, it had sold more than fifty million copies worldwide. Tolkien died in 1973 but his son, Christopher, edited The Silmarillion (1977) as a companion volume to The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s acclaimed trilogy of film adaptations (2001-2003) secured the book’s place in literary history and its popularity with generations to come.