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Cover of the 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien, which was later fitted as a trilogy. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier fantasy book The Hobbit, and soon developed into a much larger story. At publication, it was divided into The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, with much of it during World War II,[1] it was originally published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955. It has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into at least 38 different languages,[2] becoming one of the most popular works of twentieth-century literature.

The action in The Lord of the Rings is set in what the author conceived to be the lands of the real Earth, inhabited by humanity but placed in a fictional past, before familiar history but after the fall of his version of Atlantis, Númenor.[3] Tolkien gave this setting a modern English name, Middle-earth, a rendering of the Old English Middangeard.[4]

Main conflict

The story concerns peoples such as Hobbits, Elves, Men, Dwarves, Wizards, and Orcs (called goblins in The Hobbit), and centers on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. Starting from quiet beginnings in the Shire, the story ranges across Middle-earth and follows the courses of the War of the Ring. The main story is followed by six appendices that provide a wealth of historical and linguistic background material,[5] as well as an index listing every character, place, song, and sword.

Along with Tolkien's other writings, The Lord of the Rings has been subjected to extensive analysis of its literary themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story is merely the last movement of a larger mythological cycle, or legendarium, that Tolkien had worked on for many years since 1917.[6] Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology and religion, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I. The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great impact on modern fantasy, and the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" have been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.[7]

The immense and enduring popularity of The Lord of the Rings has led to numerous references in popular culture, the founding of many societies by fans of Tolkien's works, and a large number of books about Tolkien and his works being published. The Lord of the Rings has inspired (and continues to inspire) short stories, video games, artworks and musical works (see Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien). Numerous adaptations of Tolkien's works have been made for a wide range of media. Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings in particular have been made for the radio, for the theatre, and for film. The 2001–2003 release of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy saw a surge of interest in The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works.[8]


The back story begins thousands of years before the action in the book, with the rise of the eponymous Lord of the Rings, the Dark Lord Sauron, a malevolent reincarnated deity who possessed great supernatural powers and who later became the ruler of the dreaded realm of Mordor. At the end of the First Age of Middle-earth, Sauron survived the catastrophic defeat and chaining of his lord, the ultimate Dark Lord, Morgoth (who was formerly counted as one of the Valar, the angelic Powers of the world). During the Second Age, Sauron schemed to gain dominion over Middle-earth. In the disguise as "Annatar" or Lord of Gifts, he aided Celebrimbor and other Elven-smiths of Eregion in the forging of magical Rings of Power which conferred various powers and effects on their wearers. The most important of these were the Nine, the Seven and the Three (which he did not touch or know of the three.) called the Rings of Power or Great Rings.

However, he then secretly forged a Great Ring of his own, the One Ring, by which he planned to enslave the wearers of the other Rings of Power. This plan failed when the Elves became aware of him and took off their Rings. Sauron then launched a war during which he captured sixteen and distributed them to lords and kings of Dwarves and Men; these Rings were known as the Seven and Nine respectively. The Dwarf-lords proved too tough to be enslaved, although their natural desire for wealth, especially gold, increased; this brought more conflict between them and other races, and fed a dangerous greed. The Men who received the Nine rings were slowly corrupted over time and eventually became the Nazgûl, Sauron's most feared servants. The Three Rings Sauron failed to capture, and remained in the possession of the Elves (who forged these independently). The war ended as Men of the island-kingdom of Númenor helped the besieged Elves, and Sauron's forces were practically destroyed. At this time he still held most of Middle-earth, excluding the coasts, Imladris (Rivendell) and the Gulf of Lune.


A map of Númenor (called Andor by the Elves)

Over 1500 years later, word reached the King of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, that Sauron had claimed the title "King of Men". This provoked Ar-Pharazôn and gave him an opportunity to display the glory and strength of Númenor. He arrived in Middle-earth with such overwhelming force that Sauron's armies fled at the sight of the Númenóreans. Abandoned by his minions, Sauron surrendered to the Númenóreans, and was taken to Númenor as a "prisoner". Sauron then started to poison the minds of the Númenóreans against the Valar. Thus, Sauron set into motion events that brought about Númenor's destruction. He did this by corrupting the King's mind, telling him that the immortality of the Elves was his to take if he set foot upon the lands of Aman, the Blessed Realm, where Valinor, the realm of the Valar, was located. Fearing death, Ar-Pharazôn led an invasion of Aman and Valinor with the greatest host seen since the end of the First Age. However, upon reaching Aman, he and his army were buried by a landslide, and there they would remain until the Final Battle in Tolkien's eschatology. Manwë, the King of Arda, called upon Eru Ilúvatar (God), who opened a great chasm in the sea, destroying Númenor, and removed the Undying Lands from the mortal world. The destruction of Númenor destroyed Sauron's physical body and his ability to take a fair and handsome shape, but his spirit returned to Mordor and assumed a new form: black, "burning hot", and terrible.

Over 100 years later, he launched an attack against the Faithful Númenórean exiles (those who did not join Ar-Pharazôn's expedition), who managed to escape to Middle-earth. However, the exiles (led by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion) had time to prepare, and, after forming the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with the Elven-king Gil-galad, they marched against Mordor, defeated Sauron on the plain of Dagorlad, and besieged Barad-dûr, at which time Anárion was slain. After seven years of siege, Sauron himself was ultimately forced to engage in single combat with the leaders. Gil-galad and Elendil perished in the struggle, and Elendil's sword, Narsil, broke beneath him. However, Sauron's body was also overcome and slain,[3] and Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand with the hilt-shard of Narsil, and at this Sauron's spirit fled and he did not reappear for a millenium. Isildur was advised to destroy the One Ring by the only way it could be — by casting it into the volcanic Mount Doom where it was forged — but he refused, attracted to its beauty and kept it as compensation for the deaths of his father and brother (weregild).

So began the Third Age of the Sun. Two years later, while journeying to Rivendell, Isildur and his soldiers were ambushed by a band of Orcs at the Disaster of the Gladden Fields. While the latter were almost all killed, Isildur escaped by putting on the Ring — which made mortal wearers invisible. However, the Ring slipped from his finger while he was swimming in the great River Anduin; he was killed by Orc-arrows and the Ring was lost for two millennia. It was then found by chance by a Stoor named Déagol. His relative and friend[3] Sméagol strangled him for the Ring and was banished from his home by his maternal grandmother. He fled to the Misty Mountains where he slowly withered and became a disgusting, slimy creature called Gollum.

In The Hobbit, set 60 years before the events in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien relates the story of the seemingly accidental finding of the Ring by another hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who takes it to his home, Bag End. Story-externally, the tale related in The Hobbit was written before The Lord of the Rings, and it was only later that the author developed Bilbo's magic ring into the "One Ring." Neither Bilbo nor the wizard, Gandalf, are aware at this point that Bilbo's magic ring is the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron.



Middle-earth during the Third Age

The Lord of the Rings takes up the story about 60 years after the end of The Hobbit. The story begins in the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo Baggins, Bilbo's adoptive heir, came into possession of Bilbo's magic ring. Bilbo's old friend, Gandalf the Grey, who got Bilbo involved in the adventures in The Hobbit that led to the discovery of the Ring, discovered that it was in fact the One Ring, the instrument of Sauron's power and the object for which the Dark Lord has been searching for most of the Third Age, and which corrupted others with desire for it and the power it held.

Sauron sent the sinister Nazgûl, in the guise of riders in black, to the Shire, Frodo's native land, in search of the Ring. Frodo escaped, with the help of his loyal gardener Samwise Gamgee and three close friends, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took, and Fredegar Bolger. While Fredegar acted as decoy for the Ringwraiths, Frodo and the others set off to take the Ring to the Elven haven of Rivendell. They were aided by the enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who saved them from Old Man Willow and took them in for a few days of feasting, rest, and counsel. At the town of Bree, Frodo's party was joined by a man called "Strider", who was revealed, in a letter left by Gandalf at the local inn for Frodo, to be Aragorn, the heir to the thrones of Gondor and Arnor, two great realms founded by the Númenórean exiles. Aragorn led the hobbits to Rivendell on Gandalf's request. However, Frodo was gravely wounded by the leader of the Ringwraiths, though he managed to recover under the care of lord Elrond, the Half-elf.

In Rivendell, the hobbits also learned that Sauron's forces could only be resisted if Aragorn took up his inheritance and fulfilled an ancient prophecy by wielding the sword Andúril, which had been forged anew from the shards of Narsil, the sword that cut the Ring from Sauron's finger in the Second Age. The treachery of Saruman, formerly head of the White Council and now in league with Sauron is also revealed. A high council, attended by representatives of the major races of Middle-earth; Elves, Dwarves, and Men, and presided over by Elrond, decide that the only course of action that can save Middle-earth is to destroy the Ring by taking it to Mordor and casting it into Mount Doom, where it was forged.

Frodo volunteered for the task, and a "Fellowship of the Ring" was formed to aid him — consisting of Frodo, his three Hobbit companions, Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir of Gondor, Gimli the Dwarf, and Legolas the Elf. Their journey took them through the Mines of Moria, where they began to be followed by the creature Gollum, whom Bilbo had met in the Goblin-caves of the Misty Mountains years before. (The full tale of their meeting is told in The Hobbit.) Gollum long possessed the Ring before it passed to Bilbo. Gandalf explained that Gollum belonged to a people "of hobbit-kind" before he came upon the Ring, which corrupted him. A slave to the Ring's evil power, Gollum desperately sought to regain his "Precious." As they proceeded through the Mines, Pippin unintentionally betrayed their presence and the party was attacked by creatures of Sauron. Gandalf battled an ancient demon, a Balrog, and fell into a deep chasm, apparently to his death. Escaping from Moria, the Fellowship, now led by Aragorn, go to the Elven realm of Lothlórien. Here, the Lady Galadriel showed Frodo and Sam visions of the past, present, and future. Frodo also saw the Eye of Sauron, a metaphysical expression of Sauron himself, and Galadriel was tempted by the Ring. By the end of the first volume, after the Fellowship has travelled along the great River Anduin, Frodo decided to continue the trek to Mordor on his own, largely due to the Ring's growing influence on Boromir; however, the faithful Sam insisted on going with him.

In the second volume, The Two Towers, a parallel story, told in the first book of the volume, details the exploits of the remaining members of the Fellowship who aid the country of Rohan in its war against the emerging evil of Saruman, leader of the Order of Wizards, who wanted the Ring for himself. At the start of the first book, the Fellowship was further scattered; Merry and Pippin were captured by Sauron and Saruman's Orcs, Boromir was mortally wounded defending them, and Aragorn and the others went off in pursuit of the Hobbits captors. The three meet Gandalf, who has returned to Middle-earth as "Gandalf the White": they found out that he slew the Balrog of Moria, and although the battle also proved fatal to Gandalf, he was then sent back and "reborn" as a more imposing figure. At the end of the first book, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli help defeat Saruman's armies at the Battle of the Hornburg while Saruman himself was cornered by the tree-like Ents and Huorns, accompanied by Merry and Pippin, who escaped from captivity, and the two groups are reunited.

The second book of the volume tells of Frodo and Sam's exploits on the way to Mount Doom. They managed to capture and "tame" Gollum, who then showed them a way to enter Mordor secretly (as opposed to the Black Gate), albeit through the dreaded realm of Minas Morgul. At the end of the volume, Gollum betrayed Frodo to the great spider, Shelob, and though he survived, he was captured by Orcs. Meanwhile, Sauron launched an all-out military assault upon Middle-earth, with the Witch-king (leader of the Ringwraiths) leading a fell host from Minas Morgul into battle against Gondor, in the War of the Ring.

In the third volume, The Return of the King, the further adventures of Gandalf, Aragorn and company are related in the first book of the volume, while Frodo and Sam's are related in the second, as with The Two Towers. As told in the first book, the Fellowship assisted in the final battles against the armies of Sauron, including the siege of the city of Minas Tirith in Gondor and the climactic life-or-death battle before the Black Gate of Mordor, where the alliance of Gondor and Rohan fought desperately against Sauron's armies in order to distract him from the Ring, hoping to gain time for Frodo to destroy it.

In the second book, Sam rescued Frodo from captivity. After much struggle, they finally reached Mount Doom itself, tailed by Gollum. However, the temptation of the Ring proved too great for Frodo and he claimed it for himself. However, Gollum struggled with him and managed to bite the Ring off. Crazed with triumph, Gollum slipped into the fires of the mountain, and the Ring was destroyed.

Finally, Sauron was defeated, and Aragorn was crowned king. However, all was not over, for Saruman managed to escape and scour the Shire before being overthrown. At the end, Frodo remained wounded in body and spirit and went west accompanied by Bilbo over the Sea to Valinor, where he could find peace.

According to Tolkien's timeline, the events depicted in the story occurred between Bilbo's announcement of his September 22, 3001 birthday party, and Sam's return to Bag End on October 6, 3021. Most of the events portrayed in the story occur in TA 3018 and TA 3019, with Frodo heading out from Bag End on September 23 3018, and the destruction of the Ring six months later on March 25, 3019.


For character information see: List of characters

Good (excluding most minor characters)




The Lord of the Rings
Volume I - Volume II - Volume III

The Lord of the Rings in conception was meant as a sequel The Hobbit, his tale for children published in 1937.[9] The popularity of The Hobbit led to demands from his publishers for more stories about Hobbits and goblins, and so that same year Tolkien began writing what would become The Lord of the Rings - not to be finished until 12 years later in 1949, not be fully published until 1955, by which time Tolkien would be 63 years old.

Tolkien did not originally intend to write a sequel to The Hobbit, and instead wrote several other children's tales such as Roverandom. As his main work, Tolkien began to outline the history of Arda, telling tales of the Silmarils, and many other stories forming the vast background to The Lord of the Rings and the Third Age. Tolkien died before he could complete and put together all of this work cohesively, but his son Christopher Tolkien edited his father's work, filled in gaps, and published it in 1977 as The Silmarillion.[10] Some Tolkien biographers regard The Silmarillion as the true "work of his heart",[11] as it provides the historical and linguistic context for the more popular work and for his constructed languages, and had occupied most of Tolkien's adult life. As a result The Lord of the Rings ended up as the last movement of Tolkien's legendarium and, to him, the "much larger, and I hope also in proportion the best, of the entire cycle".[3]

Persuaded by his publishers, he started 'a new Hobbit' in the third week of December 1937.[12] After several false starts, the story of the One Ring soon emerged, and the book mutated from being a sequel to The Hobbit, to being, in theme, more a sequel to the unpublished Silmarillion. The idea of the first chapter (A Long-expected Party) arrived fully-formed, although the reasons behind Bilbo's disappearance, the significance of the Ring, and the title The Lord of the Rings did not arrive until the spring of 1938.[9] Originally, he planned to write another story in which Bilbo had used up all his treasure and was looking for another adventure to gain more; however, he remembered the ring and its powers and decided to write about it instead.[9] He began with Bilbo as the main character but decided that the story was too serious to use the fun-loving hobbit and so Tolkien looked to use a member of Bilbo's family.[9] He thought about using Bilbo's son, but this generated some difficult questions, such as the whereabouts of his wife and whether he would let his son go into danger. Thus he looked for an alternate character to carry the ring. In Greek legend, it was a hero's nephew that gained the item of power, and so the hobbit Frodo came into existence.[9]

"As the high Legends of the beginning are supposed to look at things through Elvish minds, so the middle tale of the Hobbit takes a virtually human point of view - and the last tale [The Lord of the Rings] blends them."
Tolkien on The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings respectively[13]

Writing was slow due to Tolkien's perfectionism and a wartime shortage of paper. It was frequently interrupted by his obligations as an examiner, and other academic duties.

The first sentence of The Hobbit was in fact written on a blank page which a student had left on an exam paper which Tolkien was marking — "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."[14] He seems to have abandoned The Lord of the Rings during most of 1943 and only restarted it in April 1944.[9] This effort was written as a serial for Christopher Tolkien and C.S. Lewis — the former would be sent copies of chapters as they were written while he was serving in Africa in the Royal Air Force. He made another push in 1946, and showed a copy of the manuscript to his publishers in 1947.[9] The story was effectively finished the next year, but Tolkien did not finish revising earlier parts of the work until 1949.[9]

A dispute with his publishers, Allen & Unwin, led to the book being offered to HarperCollins in 1950. He intended The Silmarillion (itself largely unrevised at this point) to be published along with The Lord of the Rings, but A&U were unwilling to do this. After his contact at Collins, Milton Waldman, expressed the belief that The Lord of the Rings itself "urgently needed cutting", he eventually demanded that they publish the book in 1952. They did not do so, and so Tolkien wrote to Allen and Unwin, saying "I would gladly consider the publication of any part of the stuff."[9]


For publication, due largely to post-war paper shortages, but also to keep the price of the first volume down, the book was divided into three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring: Books I and II, The Two Towers: Books III and IV, and The Return of the King: Books V and VI plus 6 appendices. Delays in producing appendices, maps and especially indices led to these being published later than originally hoped — on 21 July 1954, 11 November 1954 and 20 October 1955 respectively in the United Kingdom, slightly later in the United States. The Return of the King was especially delayed. Tolkien, moreover, did not especially like the title The Return of the King, believing it gave away too much of the storyline. He had originally suggested War of the Ring, which was dismissed by his publishers.[15]

LotR book1968

Dust jacket of the 1968 UK edition

The books were published under a 'profit-sharing' arrangement, whereby Tolkien would not receive an advance or royalties until the books had broken even, after which he would take a large share of the profits. An index to the entire 3-volume set at the end of third volume was promised in the first volume. However, this proved impractical to compile in a reasonable timescale. Later, in 1966, four indices, not compiled by Tolkien, were added to The Return of the King. Because the three-volume binding was so widely distributed, the work is often referred to as the Lord of the Rings "trilogy." In a letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien himself made use of the term "trilogy" for the work (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #163) though he did at other times consider this incorrect, as it was written and conceived as a single book (Letters, #149). It is also often called a novel; however, Tolkien also objected to this term as he viewed it as a romance (Letters, #329; "romance" in this sense refers to a heroic tale).

A 1999 (Millennium Edition) British (ISBN 0-261-10387-3) 7-volume box set followed the six-book division authored by Tolkien, with the Appendices from the end of The Return of the King bound as a separate volume. The letters of Tolkien appeared on the spines of the boxed set which included a CD. To coincide with the film release, a new version of this popular edition was released featuring images from the films, such as:

  • I - Frodo climbing the steps to Bag End
  • II - Aragorn and Arwen in Rivendell
  • III - Gandalf in Moria
  • IV - A swan boat from Lothlórien
  • V - A Black Rider from the 'Flight to the Ford' sequence
  • VI - The tower of Cirith Ungol (although this image featured in many of the promotional books (e.g. the 'FotR Photo Guide') from the first film, it did not feature in the films until Return of the King)
  • App. - Frodo's hand holding the One Ring

This new imprint (ISBN 0-00-763555-9) also omitted the CD. The individual names for books in this series were decided posthumously, based on a combination of suggestions Tolkien had made during his lifetime and the titles of the existing volumes — viz:

  • T Book I: The Return of the Shadow
  • O Book II: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • L Book III: The Treason of Isengard
  • K Book IV: The Journey to Mordor
  • I Book V: The War of the Ring
  • E Book VI: The Return of the King
  • N Appendices

The name of the complete work is often abbreviated to 'LotR', 'LOTR', or simply 'LR' (Tolkien himself used L.R.), and the three volumes as FR, FOTR, or FotR (The Fellowship of the Ring), TT or TTT (The Two Towers), and RK, ROTK, or RotK (The Return of the King).

Note that the titles The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard and The War of the Ring were used by Christopher Tolkien in The History of The Lord of the Rings.

Publication history

The three parts were first published by Allen & Unwin in 1954–1955, several months apart. They have since been reissued many times by multiple publishers, as one, three, six or seven volume sets. The two most common current printings are ISBN 0-618-34399-7 (one-volume) and ISBN 0-618-34624-4 (three volume set). In the early 1960s, Donald A. Wollheim, science fiction editor of the paperback publisher Ace Books, realized that The Lord of the Rings was not protected in the United States under American copyright law because the US hardcover edition had been bound from pages printed in the United Kingdom, with the original intention being for them to be printed in the British edition. Ace Books proceeded to publish an edition, unauthorized by Tolkien and without royalties to him. Tolkien took issue with this and quickly notified his fans of this objection. Grass-roots pressure from these fans became so great that Ace books withdrew their edition and made a nominal payment to Tolkien, well below what he might have been due in an appropriate publication. However, this poor beginning was overshadowed when an authorized edition followed from Ballantine Books to tremendous commercial success. By the mid-1960s the books, due to their wide exposure on the American public stage, had become a true cultural phenomenon. Also at this time Tolkien undertook various textual revisions to produce a version of the book that would have a valid US copyright. This would later become known as the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings.

The books have been translated, with various degrees of success, into dozens of other languages.[16] Tolkien, an expert in philology, examined many of these translations, and had comments on each that reflect both the translation process and his work. To aid translators, Tolkien wrote his Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings. Because The Lord of the Rings is said to be a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, translators have an unusual degree of freedom when translating The Lord of the Rings. This allows for such translations as Elf becoming Elb in German — Elb does not carry the connotations of mischief that its English counterpart does and therefore is more true to the work that Tolkien created. In contrast to the usual modern practice, names intended to have a particular meaning in the English version are translated to provide a similar meaning in the target language: in German, for example, the name "Baggins" becomes "Beutlin," containing the word Beutel meaning "bag."

In 1990 Recorded Books published an unabridged audio version of the books, and hired British actor Rob Inglis, who had starred in a one-man production of The Hobbit, to read. Inglis performs the books verbatim, using distinct voices for each character, and sings all of the songs. Tolkien had written music for some of the songs in the book. For the rest, Inglis, along with director Claudia Howard wrote additional music. The current ISBN is 1402516274.

Amazon-com-The Lord of the Rings (One-Volume)-TRoP tie-in

Cover of the The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power tie-in One-Volume Edition


The Lord of the Rings began as a personal exploration by Tolkien of his interests in philology, religion (particularly Roman Catholicism), fairy tales, as well as Norse and Celtic mythology, but it was also crucially influenced by the effects of his military service during World War I.[17] Tolkien detailed his creation to an astounding extent; he created a complete mythology for his realm of Middle-earth, including genealogies of characters, languages, writing systems, calendars and histories. Some of this supplementary material is detailed in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, and the mythological history woven into a large, biblically-styled volume entitled The Silmarillion. However many parts of the world he crafted, as he freely admitted, are influenced by other sources.

Tolkien's largest influences in the creation of his world were his Catholic faith and the Bible.[18] Tolkien once described The Lord of the Rings to his friend, the English Jesuit Father Robert Murray, as "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision."[3] There are many theological themes underlying the narrative including the battle of good versus evil, the triumph of humility over pride, and the activity of grace. In addition the saga includes themes which incorporate death and immortality, mercy and pity, resurrection, salvation, repentance, self-sacrifice, free will, justice, fellowship, authority and healing. In addition the Lord's Prayer "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" was reportedly present in Tolkien's mind as he described Frodo's struggles against the power of the One Ring.[3]

Non-Christian religious motifs also had strong influences in Tolkien's Middle-earth. His Ainur, a race of angelic beings who are responsible for conceptualising the world, includes the Valar, the pantheon of "gods" who are responsible for the maintenance of everything from skies and seas to dreams and doom, and their servants, the Maiar. The concept of the Valar echoes Greek and Norse mythologies, although the Ainur and the world itself are all creations of a monotheistic deity — Ilúvatar or Eru, "The One". As the external practice of Middle-earth religion is downplayed in The Lord of the Rings, explicit information about them is only given in the different versions of Silmarillion material. However, there remain allusions to this aspect of Tolkien's mythos, including "the Great Enemy" who was Sauron's master and "Elbereth, Queen of Stars" (Morgoth and Varda respectively, two of the Valar) in the main text, the "Authorities" (referring to the Valar, literally Powers) in the Prologue, and "the One" in Appendix A. Other non-Christian mythological elements can be seen, including other sentient non-humans (Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and Ents), a "Green Man" (Tom Bombadil), and spirits or ghosts (Barrow-wights, Oathbreakers).

Cover lotr green gandalf

Gandalf the "Odinic wanderer", from a book cover by John Howe

The mythologies from northern Europe are perhaps the best known non-Christian influences on Tolkien. His Elves and Dwarves are by and large based on Norse and related Germanic mythologies.[citation needed] The figure of Gandalf is particularly influenced by the Germanic deity Odin in his incarnation as "the Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff; Tolkien states that he thinks of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer" in a letter of 1946.[3] Finnish mythology and more specifically the Finnish national epic Kalevala were also acknowledged by Tolkien as an influence on Middle-earth and a story he wrote called The Story of Kullervo.[citation needed] In a similar manner to The Lord of the Rings, the Kalevala centers around a magical item of great power, the Sampo, which bestows great fortune on its owner but never makes its exact nature clear. Like the One Ring, the Sampo is fought over by forces of good and evil, and is ultimately lost to the world as it is destroyed towards the end of the story. In another parallel, the latter work's wizard character Väinämöinen also has many similarities to Gandalf in his immortal origins and wise nature, and both works end with their respective wizard departing on a ship to lands beyond the mortal world. Tolkien also based his Elvish language Quenya on Finnish.[19]

In addition The Lord of the Rings was crucially influenced by Tolkien's experiences during World War I and his son's during World War II. The central action of the books — a climactic, age-ending war between good and evil — is the central event of many world mythologies, notably Norse, but it is also a clear reference to the well-known description of World War I, which was commonly referred to as "the war to end all wars." After the publication of The Lord of the Rings these influences led to speculation that the One Ring was an allegory for the nuclear bomb.[20] Tolkien, however, repeatedly insisted that his works were not an allegory of any kind. However there is a strong theme of despair in the face of new mechanized warfare that Tolkien himself had experienced in the trenches of World War I. The development of a specially bred Orc army, and the destruction of the environment to aid this, also have modern resonances; and the effects of the Ring on its users evoke the modern literature of drug addiction as much as any historic quest literature.

Nevertheless, Tolkien states in the introduction to the books that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one,[21] and it would be irresponsible to dismiss such direct statements on these matters lightly. Tolkien had already completed most of the book, including the ending in its entirety, before the first nuclear bombs were made known to the world at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

While Tolkien plausibly denied any specific 'nuclear' reference, it is clear that the Ring has broad applicability to the concept of Absolute Power and its effects, and that the plot hinges on the view that anyone who seeks to gain absolute worldly power will inevitably be corrupted by it. Some also say there is also clear evidence that one of the main subtexts of the story — the passing of a mythical "Golden Age" — was influenced not only by Arthurian legend but also by Tolkien's contemporary anxieties about the growing encroachment of urbanisation and industrialisation into the "traditional" English lifestyle and countryside. The concept of the "ring of power" itself is also present in Plato's Republic and in the story of Gyges' ring (a story often compared to the Book of Job). Many, however, believe Tolkien's most likely source was the Norse tale of Sigurd the Volsung. Some locations and characters were inspired by Tolkien's childhood in Sarehole (then a Worcestershire village, now part of Birmingham) and Birmingham.

Critical response

Tolkien's work has received mixed reviews since its inception, ranging from terrible to excellent. Recent reviews in various media have been, in a majority, highly positive. On its initial review the Sunday Telegraph felt it was "among the greatest works of imaginative fiction of the twentieth century". The Sunday Times seemed to echo these sentiments when in their review it was stated that "the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them." The New York Herald Tribune also seemed to have an idea of how popular the books would become, writing in its review that they were "destined to outlast our time."[22]

Not all original reviews, however, were so kind. New York Times reviewer Judith Shulevitz criticized the "pedantry" of Tolkien's literary style, saying that he "formulated a high-minded belief in the importance of his mission as a literary preservationist, which turns out to be death to literature itself." [23] Critic Richard Jenkyns, writing in The New Republic, criticized a perceived lack of psychological depth. Both the characters and the work itself are, according to Jenkyns, "anemic, and lacking in fiber."[24] Even within Tolkien's social group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson was famously recorded as saying, during one of Tolkien's readings to the group, "Oh no! Not another fucking elf!"[25] However, another Inkling, C.S. Lewis, had very different feelings, writing, "here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart."

Several other authors in the genre, however, seemed to agree more with Dyson than Lewis. Science-fiction author David Brin criticized the books for what he perceived to be their unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure, their positive depiction of the slaughter of the opposing forces, and their romantic backward-looking worldview.[26] Michael Moorcock, another famous science fiction and fantasy author, is also a fervent detractor of The Lord of the Rings. In his essay, "Epic Pooh," he equates Tolkien's work to Winnie-the-Pooh and criticizes it and similar works for their perceived Merry England point of view.[27] Incidentally, Moorcock met both Tolkien and Lewis in his teens and claims to have liked them personally, even though he does not admire them on artistic grounds.

More recently, critical analysis has focused on Tolkien's experiences in the First World War; writers such as John Garth in 'Tolkien and the Great War', Janet Brennan Croft and Tom Shippey all look in detail at this aspect and compare the imagery, mental landscape and traumas in Lord of the Rings with those experienced by soldiers in the trenches and the history of the Great War. John Carey, formerly Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, speaking in April 2003 on the BBC "Big Read" programme which voted Lord of the Rings "Britain's best-loved book", said that "Tolkien's writing is essentially a species of war literature; not as direct perhaps as Wilfred Owen, or as solid as some, but very, very interesting as that — the most solid reflection on war experiences written up as fantasy."

The Lord of the Rings, despite not being published in paperback until the 1960s, sold well in hardback.[28] In 1957 it was awarded the International Fantasy Award. Despite its numerous detractors, the publication of the Ace Books and Ballantine paperbacks helped The Lord of the Rings become immensely popular in the 1960s. The book has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys.[29] In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's Best-loved Book". Australians voted The Lord of the Rings "My Favourite Book" in a 2004 survey conducted by the Australian ABC.[30] In a 1999 poll of customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium".[31] In 2002 Tolkien was voted the ninety-second "greatest Briton" in a poll conducted by the BBC, and in 2004 he was voted thirty-fifth in the SABC3's Great South Africans, the only person to appear in both lists. His popularity is not limited just to the English-speaking world: in a 2004 poll inspired by the UK’s "Big Read" survey, about 250,000 Germans found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite work of literature.[32]


Main article: Adaptations of The Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings has been adapted for film, radio and stage multiple times.

The book has been adapted for radio three times. In 1955 and 1956, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) broadcast The Lord of the Rings, a 12-part radio adaptation of the story, of which no recording has survived. A 1979 dramatization of The Lord of the Rings was broadcast in the United States and subsequently issued on tape and CD. In 1981 the BBC broadcast, The Lord of the Rings, a new dramatization in 26 half-hour installments.

Three film adaptations have been made. The first was J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1978), by animator Ralph Bakshi, the first part of what was originally intended to be a two-part adaptation of the story (hence its original title, The Lord of the Rings Part 1). It covers The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers. The second, The Return of the King (1980), was an animated television special by Rankin-Bass, who had produced a similar version of The Hobbit (1977). The third was director Peter Jackson's live action The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, produced by New Line Cinema and released in three installments as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). The live-action film trilogy has done much in particular to bring the book into the public consciousness.[8]

There have been four stage productions based on the book. Three original full-length stage adaptations of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) were staged in Cincinnati, Ohio. A stage musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (2006) was staged in Toronto, Canada.

Influences on the fantasy genre

Following the massive success of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien considered a sequel entitled The New Shadow, in which the Men of Gondor turn to dark cults and consider an uprising against Aragorn's son, Eldarion. Tolkien decided not to do it, and the incomplete story can be found in The Peoples of Middle-earth. Tolkien returned to finish his mythology, which was published in novel form posthumously by Christopher Tolkien in 1977, and the remaining information of his legendarium was published through Unfinished Tales (1980) and The History of Middle-earth, a twelve volume series published from 1983 to 1996, of which The Peoples of Middle-earth is part.

Nonetheless, the enormous popularity of Tolkien's epic saga greatly expanded the demand for fantasy fiction. Largely thanks to The Lord of the Rings, the genre flowered throughout the 1960s. Many other books in a broadly similar vein were published (including the Earthsea books of Ursula K. Le Guin, the Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen R. Donaldson), and in the case of the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake, and The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison, rediscovered.[citation needed]

It also strongly influenced the role playing game industry which achieved popularity in the 1970s with Dungeons & Dragons. Dungeons & Dragons features many races found in The Lord of the Rings most notably the presence of halflings, Elves, Dwarves, Half-elves, Orcs, and dragons. However, Gary Gygax, lead designer of the game, maintains that he was influenced very little by The Lord of the Rings, stating that he included these elements as a marketing move to draw on the then-popularity of the work.[33] The Lord of the Rings also has influenced Magic: The Gathering. The Lord of the Rings has also influenced the creation of various video games, including The Legend of Zelda,[34] Baldur's Gate, Everquest, The Elder Scrolls, Neverwinter Nights, and the Warcraft series,[35] as well as video games set in Middle-earth itself.

As in all artistic fields, a great many lesser derivatives of the more prominent works appeared. The term "Tolkienesque" is used in the genre to refer to the oft-used and abused storyline of The Lord of the Rings: a group of adventurers embarking on a quest to save a magical fantasy world from the armies of an evil "dark lord," and is a testament to how much the popularity of these books has increased, since many critics initially decried it as being "Wagner for children" (a reference to the Ring Cycle) — an especially interesting commentary in light of a possible interpretation of the books as a Christian response to Wagner.[36]

The work has also had an influence upon such science fiction authors as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. In fact, Clarke (who compared it to Frank Herbert's Dune[37]) makes a reference to Mount Doom in his work 2061: Odyssey Three.[citation needed] Tolkien also influenced George Lucas' Star Wars films.[38]

Pop culture references

Main article: Middle-earth in popular culture

The Lord of the Rings has had a profound and wide-ranging impact on popular culture, from its publication in the 1950s, but especially throughout the 1960s and 1970s, where young people embraced it as a countercultural saga. Its influence has been vastly extended in the present day, thanks to the Peter Jackson live-action films. Well known examples include "Frodo Lives!" and "Gandalf for President", two phrases popular among American Tolkien fans during the 1960s and 1970s,[39] "Ramble On", "The Battle of Evermore", and "Misty Mountain Hop", three compositions by the British rock band Led Zeppelin that contain explicit references to The Lord of the Rings (with others, such as "Stairway to Heaven", alleged by some to contain such), "Rivendell", a song about the joys of a stay at the Elven haven by the band Rush (found on their album Fly by Night, 1975), "Lord of the Rings" and "Gandalf the Wizard" by the German power metal band Blind Guardian (who have also produced a Silmarillion-inspired album, Nightfall in Middle-earth), nearly the entire discography of Austrian black metal band Summoning (who have also looked to other Tolkien works for inspiration)[40] Rock band Marillion also take their name from Tolkien's Silmarillion. The Lord of the Rings-themed editions of popular board games (e.g., Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition, chess and Monopoly),[41] and parodies such as Bored of the Rings, produced for the Harvard Lampoon.

Further reading

  • Carpenter, Humphrey (2000). J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-05702-1
  • Ready, William (1981). The Tolkien Relation, New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-30110-8
  • O'Neil, Timothy (1979). The Individuated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 039528208X

See also


  1. The Fellowship of the Ring
  2. The Two Towers
  3. The Return of the King


External links

Cover art


Foreign Language Translated name
Afrikaans Die Here van die Ringe
Albanian Kryezoti i Unazave
Alemannic German Der Herr der Ringe
Amharic ቀለበቶች ጌታ
Aragonese O Sinyor d'os Aniellos
Armenian Մատանիների տիրակալը
Arabic سيد الخواتم
Assamese আঙঠিৰ প্ৰভু
Asturian El Señor de los Aniellos
Awadhi द लर्ड अफ द रिङ्ग्स
Azerbaijani Üzüklərin Hökmdarı
Basque Eraztunen Jauna
Belarusian Cyrillic Уладар Пярсцёнкаў
Bengali দ্য লর্ড অব দ্য রিংস
Bosnian Gospodar prstenova
Breton Aotrou ar Gwalennoù
Bulgarian Cyrillic Властелинът на пръстените
Burmese လက်စွပ်များ၏ အရှင်သခင်
Cambodian ព្រះអម្ចាស់នៃកងដែល
Cantonese 魔戒
Catalan El Senyor dels anells
Cebuano Ang Ginoo sa mga Singsing
Chinese (Min Nan) Chhiú-chí Ông
Chinese (Simplified) 魔戒
Chinese (Wu) 指环王
Colognian Dr Herr dr Ringe
Cornish An Arlodh a'n Bysowyer
Croatian Gospodar Prstenova
Czech Pán prstenů
Danish Ringenes Herre
Dutch In de Ban van de Ring
Esperanto La Sinjoro de la Ringoj
Estonian Sõrmuste Isand
Faroese Ringanna Harri
Filipino Ang Panginoon ng Singsing
Finnish Taru Sormusten Herrasta
French Le Seigneur des Anneaux
Frisian A Her faan A Ringer (Northern) Master fan alle Ringen (Western)
Galician O Señor dos Aneis
Georgian ბეჭდების მბრძანებელი
German Der Herr der Ringe
Greek Ο άρχοντας των δαχτυλιδιών
Hausa Ubangijin Zobba
Hebrew שר הטבעות (טרילוגיית ספרים)
Hindi द लार्ड ऑफ द रिंग्स
Hungarian A gyűrűk ura
Icelandic Hringadróttinssaga
Indonesian Raja Segala Cincin
Italian Il Signore degli Anelli
Irish Gaelic An Tiarna na bhFáinní
Japanese 指輪物語
Javanese Pangeran saka cincin
Kannada ದಿ ಲಾರ್ಡ್ ಆಫ್ ದಿ ರಿಂಗ್ಸ್
Kazakh Сақиналар әміршісі (Cyrillic) Saqïnalar ämirşisi (Latin)
Korean 반지의 제왕
Kurdish شای ئەنگوستیلەکان (Sorani) Begê Gustîlan (Kurmanji)
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Теңир шакеги
Laotian ພຣະຜູ້ເປັນເຈົ້າຂອງແຫວນໄດ້
Latin Dominus Anulorum
Latvian Gredzenu pavēlnieks
Lithuanian Žiedu Valdovas
Lombard El Scior di Anei
Luxembourgish Den Här vun de Réng
Macedonian Cyrillic Господарот на Прстените
Maithili द लर्ड अफ द रिङ्ग्स
Malayalam ദ ലോർഡ് ഓഫ് ദ റിങ്സ്
Malaysian Raja Segala Cincin
Maltese Il-Ħakkiem ta 'l-anelli
Maori Te Ariki o nga Mowhiti
Marathi द लॉर्ड ऑफ द रिंग्स
Mongolian Cyrillic Бөгжний эзэн
Montenegrin Gospodar Prstenova
Nepalese द लर्ड अफ द रिङ्ग्स
Norwegian Ringenes Herre (Bokmål)

Ringdrotten (Nynorsk)

Occitan Lo Senhor dels Anèls
Old English Se Hlāford þāra Hringa
Pashto د کړۍ_ګانې رب
Persian ارباب حلقه ها
Polish Władca Pierścieni
Portuguese O Senhor dos Anéis (Brazil)

A Irmandade do Anel (Portugal)

Punjabi لارڈ آف دا رنگز (Western Punjabi) ਦ ਲਾਰਡ ਆਫ਼ ਦ ਰਿੰਗਸ
Quechua Siwikunap Apun
Querétaro Otomi Ar 'ño̲ho̲ ya anillos
Romanian Stăpânul Inelelor
Russian Властелин колец
Sardinian Su Sennore de sos Aneddos
Scottish Gaelic Tha Tighearna nam Fàinnean
Serbian Господар прстенова (Cyrillic) Gospodar Prstenova (Latin)
Sicilian Lu Signuri dî Anelli
Sinhalese මුදුවේ අධිපති
Slovak Pán Prsteňov
Slovenian Gospodar Prstanov
Spanish El Señor de los Anillos
Sundanese Gusti tina Cingcin
Swahili Bwana wa Mapete
Swedish (old)

Swedish (new)


Ringarnas Herre

Tajik Cyrillic Парвардигори зиреҳҳои
Tatar Йөзекләр Хуҗасы
Telugu ఆ లార్డ్ ఆఫ్ ది రింగ్స్
Tamil த லோட் ஒவ் த ரிங்ஸ்
Thai เดอะลอร์ดออฟเดอะริงส์
Turkish Yüzüklerin Efendisi
Turkmen Ýüzükleriň Padşasy
Ukrainian Cyrillic Володар перснів
Urdu دی لارڈ آف دی رنگز
Uzbek Узуклар Ҳукмдори (Cyrillic) Uzuklar Hukmdori (Latin)
Vietnamese Chúa tể những chiếc nhẫn
Welsh Yr Arglwydd y cylchoedd
Yiddish דער האר פון די פינגערלעך
J.R.P.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium
The one ring animated The Lord of the Rings Wiki Featured articles The one ring animated
People: Faramir · Sauron · Witch-king of Angmar · Gollum · Elrond · Frodo Baggins · Samwise Gamgee · Meriadoc Brandybuck · Peregrin Took · Gandalf · Aragorn II · Legolas · Gimli · Boromir · Galadriel · Elves · Hobbits
Locations: Middle-earth · Gondor · Mordor · Rohan
Other: Mithril · Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game · The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings · Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien · The Lord of the Rings · The Lord of the Rings (1978 film) · Ainulindalë · Tolkien vs. Jackson · Tengwar · Quenya



  • Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954 [2005]). The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin. 

paperback: ISBN 0-618-64015-0

  • Tolkien, J.R.R. (1937 [2002]). The Hobbit. Houghton Mifflin. 

paperback: ISBN 0-618-26030-7

  • Tolkien, J.R.R. (1977 [2004]). The Silmarillion. Houghton Mifflin. 

paperback: ISBN 0-618-39111-8

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