Today we celebrate the birthday of J. R. R. Tolkien, the English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor whose contributions to English literature forever changed the way we imagine fantasy worlds.
Born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now a part of South Africa), J. R. R. Tolkien took his humble beginnings and fashioned from them something truly fantastic. In 1937 he published The Hobbit, the book that introduced the world to the world of Middle-Earth; a world of magic where the forces of good and evil were balanced precariously. It told the story of Bilbo Baggins, a homebody of a Hobbit that learns to embrace his more adventurous side during a quest to claim his share of a dragon’s horde.
The Hobbit led to The Lord of the Rings, the first of two planned volumes of Middle-Earth tales, which Tolkien’s publisher would split up into three novels – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. J.R.R.’s son Christopher published the second volume, The Silmarillion, several years after his father’s death in 1973, editing together unfinished poems and tales that only served to deepen the rich fantasy world his father had created.
Why celebrate his birthday? Setting aside the countless video games created using Middle-Earth as a backdrop, including Lord of the Rings Online and the upcoming The Lord of the Rings: War in the North from Snowblind Studios – the very notion of the role-playing game as it is known today owes much to Tolkien’s works. Games like the Wizardry, Ultima, and even the Final Fantasy series drew influence from Dungeons & Dragons, and D&D’s creators were inspired by Tolkien’s detailed recounting of heroic journeys that only ever happened in the mind of this great man.
We’re told Lord of the Rings fans like to raise a glass and speak a toast to J.R.R. Tolkien on this day, to remember all that the author has given them. Consider this ours. Feel free to add your own.