Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: Notes

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: Notes

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: Notes

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: Notes


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background.


  • Life and Background of the Author
  • Introduction to the Works
  • Critical Commentaries
  • List of Characters and Names
  • Critical Essays
  • Essay Topics and Review Questions
  • Selected Bibliography

    Before one begins to read an unfamiliar work of literature, it is often helpful to know what kind of work it is--that is, what genre it belongs to. If we know what expectations we should have, we are less likely to misunderstand what the author is trying to accomplish. The Lord of the Rings is a work of fiction written in the middle of this century about a world that greatly resembles medieval times in Europe. It is unmistakably a novel, yet the real significance of the events and the characters will be clearer to readers who know something about the literary tradition, or genre, called the epic, and who have read, for example, The Odyssey or Beowulf. Moreover, there is a special kind of pleasure in the recognition of familiar patterns of events and characterization which are varied and even deliberately reversed. The skillful interplay of the familiar and the surprising is one of the marks of a great storyteller like Tolkien.

    No one, of course, knows exactly what the Middle Ages were really like, but the reader gets an illusion in The Lord of the Rings of being in an ancient world which is in some mysterious way part of the history of our own world. Then, after the fashion of the epic tradition, one will expect that the story will follow the movements of a particular person who is of heroic stature (physically and mentally) and who embodies the ideals and values of a particular people. The hero will, like the heroes in The Odyssey and Beowulf, go on a journey and experience a variety of adventures, which the hero will survive after many hardships and will then return to his own home...

  • Excerpt

    J. R. R. Tolkien was born January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His father died when he was very young. Tolkien’s mother had earlier returned home to England, and Tolkien was reared and educated in Birmingham, one of the country’s largest cities. When his mother died when he was twelve, he was cared for by a Roman Catholic priest.

    Tolkien’s university career at Oxford was interrupted by World War I, and a year after he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers, he married and served throughout the war until the Armistice was signed. He returned to college and received his M.A. degree in 1919.

    Always curious about languages, Tolkien was privileged to be chosen to work on the well-known Oxford English Dictionary. Afterward, he began a lifelong career of teaching and writing. His particular field of interest was Middle English, and, not surprisingly, his first publications and his last focused on that area.

    For some twenty years, Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College at Oxford. Eventually, he became a Fellow of the College and was also distinguished by receiving an Honorary Fellowship from Exeter College. During these years, he continued his study of medieval lore and published works on Chaucer and Beowulf. In middle age, when he was forty-five, Tolkien published a novel for children, The Hobbit. It was an immediate success. The critics were lavish with their praise of Tolkien’s “wholly original story of adventure,” citing the “solidly delightful” portraits of dwarves, elves, goblins, and a dragon. The American edition was equally successful, continuing in print and growing in popularity through the years.

    Tolkien related in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that during the writing of The Hobbit, “glimpses” had come to him “unbidden” of matters more profound, both for good and evil, than had been treated in The Hobbit. Though he had been working on an elvish language for many years and had provided it with a context of feigned history, he now turned to the “discovery,” as he put it himself, of the meaning of what he was beginning to envision. Thus was begun The Lord of the Rings, which occupied him from 1936 until 1949.

    The first volume was not published until 1954, with the second and third volumes appearing in the next two years. Since that time the sales have been in the millions. When the American paperback edition was published in 1965, The Lord of the Rings sparked something like a cult on college and high school campuses across the country. Tolkien clubs and publications sprang up and continue to flourish.

    Professor Tolkien died in 1973, leaving behind a massive manuscript containing some materials which he had worked on years before The Hobbit. It comprises the story of the creation of Middle-earth and provides the full history of much that is only hinted at in The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion is certain to provide for years to come the materials for numerous commentaries on the ways in which the history of Middle-earth is itself a commentary on our own times.

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