of J. R. R. Tolkien
, most notably The Lord of the Rings
(1954/55) have exerted considerable influence since their publication. A culture of fandom
sprang up in the 1960s, but reception by the establishment of literary criticism
has been more slow. Nevertheless, academic studies
on Tolkien's works have been appearing at an increasing pace since the mid 1980s.
Reviews of The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings
has received mixed reviews since its inception, ranging from terrible to excellent. Recent reviews in various media have been, in a majority, highly positive and Tolkien's literary achievement is slowly being acknowledged as a significant one. 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 its 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. W. H. Auden
, a huge admirer of Tolkien's writings, regarded 'The Lord of the Rings' as a 'masterpiece,' furthermore stating that in some cases it outdid the achievement of Milton's Paradise Lost
. Other supporters of the book from the literary world included Iris Murdoch
, Naomi Mitchison
, Richard Hughes
and C.S. Lewis
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. 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. Even within Tolkien's literary group, The Inklings, reviews were mixed. Hugo Dyson complained loudly at its readings, and Christopher Tolkien records Dyson as "lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, 'Oh God, no more Elves.' 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." Despite these reviews and its lack of paperback printing until the 1960s, The Lord of the Rings initially sold well in hardback.
Several other authors in the genre, however, seemed to agree more with Dyson than Lewis. Science-fiction author David Brin criticized the book for what he perceived to be its unquestioning devotion to a traditional elitist social structure, its positive depiction of the slaughter of the opposing forces, and its romantic backward-looking worldview. Michael Moorcock, another famous science fiction and fantasy author, is also critical 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. 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.
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. 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." In similar 2004 polls both Germany and Australia also found The Lord of the Rings to be their favourite book. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium.
The works of Tolkien have generated a body of academic research, studying different facets such as
A first avenue towards literary respectability of Tolkien's works was opened by Tom Shippey's 1982 The Road to Middle-earth. The pace of scholarly publications on Tolkien has increased dramatically in the early 2000s. The dedicated journal Tolkien Studies has been appearing since 2004.
Lobdell (2006) evaluating the reception of Tolkien in mainstream literary establishment (as opposed to dedicated Tolkien scholarship)
cites the widely quoted negative critique Edmund Wilson and the partly favourable one by Edwin Muir and conclues that
- "no 'mainstream critic' appreciated The Lord of the Rings or indeed was in a position to write criticism on it — most being unsure what it was and why readers liked it"
Richard C. West compiled an Annotated Checklist of Tolkien Criticism (2nd ed., Kent State University Press, 1981)
Marxist critics vilified Tolkien for his social conservativism, and for the "veiled geopolitics" implied in readings that interpret Sauron's Mordor and Sharkey's dictatorship in the Shire are parodies of Soviet Communism (Oberhelman 2006).
E.P. Thompson in 1981
blames the cold warrior mentality on "too much early reading of The Lord of the Rings".
Inglis (1983) modifies earlier accusation of fascism against Tolkien, but still maintains that the novel is an "political fantasy" for escapist middle-class readers in modern capitalist society. Griffin (1985) examines Tolkien in relation to Italian neofascism, again suggesting a proximity of Tolkien's ideals to those of the radical right. Ironically, these interpretations run directly counter to the adoption of The Lord of the Rings into alternative "hippie" counter-culture and the environmental movement.
Reception of non-fiction works
Tolkien was an accomplished philologist of Anglo-Saxon, but has left a comparatively meagre output of academic publications. His works on Anglo-Saxon philology which have received the most recognition is Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, a 1936 lecture on the interpretation of the Beowulf epic, and his identification of what he termed the "AB language", an early Middle English literary register of the West Midlands. Outside Anglo-Saxon philology, his 1939 lecture On Fairy Stories is of some importance to the literary genres of fantasy or mythopoeia. His 1930 lecture A Secret Vice addressed artistic languages at a time when the topic was of very limited visibility compared to the utilitarian projects of auxiliary languages. His 1955 valedictory lecture English and Welsh expounds his philosophy of language, notably his notion of native language and his views on linguistic aesthetics (c.f. cellar door). Smith (2007) is a monograph on Tolkien's philosophy of language.
Tolkien fandom is an international, informal community of fans
of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, especially of the Middle-earth legendarium
which includes The Hobbit
, The Lord of the Rings
, and The Silmarillion
Tolkien's The Hobbit, a children's book, was first published in 1937, and it proved popular. However, The Lord of the Rings, first published in 1954 through 1955, would give rise to the fandom as a cultural phenomenon.
Bootleg paperbacks published by Ace Books eventually found their way into colleges in the U.S.A. in the 1960s. In response, a revised, authorised edition was published by Ballantine Books. The "hippie" following latched onto the book, giving its own spin to the work's interpretation, such as the Dark Lord Sauron representing the United States military draft during the Vietnam War, to the chagrin of the author who stated that "Many American fans enjoy the books in a way which I do not".
Many fantasy series written in the period were created by fans of The Lord of the Rings, such as the Shannara books by Terry Brooks.
Although there were active Tolkien enthusiasts within science fiction fandom from the mid-1950s, true organized Tolkien fandom only took off with the publication of the second hardcover edition and the paperbacks in the 1960s.
Articles on The Lord of the Rings appeared regularly in the 1960s fanzine Niekas, edited by Ed Meskys. The first organized Tolkien fan group was "The Fellowship of the Ring", founded by Ted Johnstone at Pittcon, the 1960 Worldcon.
The Tolkien Society (U.K.) was founded in the U.K. in 1969, and remains active as a registered charity. The society has two regular publications, a bi-monthly bulletin of news and information, Amon Hen, and an annual journal, Mallorn, featuring critical articles and essays on Tolkien's work. They host several annual events, including a conference held at Oxford, Oxonmoot.
The Mythopoeic Society held its first Mythcon conference in 1970, which featured readings, a costume competition, an art show, and other events typical of science fiction conventions of the day.
The works of Tolkien have served as the inspiration to many
painters, musicians, film-makers and writers, to such an extent that Tolkien is sometimes seen as the "father" of the entire genre of "high fantasy
. The production of such derivative works is sometimes of doubtful legality, because Tolkien's published works will remain copyrighted until 2043. The film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit
and The Lord of the Rings
are owned by Tolkien Enterprises
, while the rights of The Silmarillion
and other material remain with The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Ltd.
Outside the Anglosphere
, The Lord of the Rings
has to a significant extent been received in in translation
. The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia
dedicates separate entries to the reception of Tolkien in various European linguistic spheres of influence
, viz. Germanic
; Hooker (2003) is a monograph on the history of reception in Russia
in particular), Romance
translation, besides reception in Japan
. A separate entry is dedicated to the reception of Tolkien in technological subcultures
A number of dedicated Tolkien Societies provide platforms for a combination of fandom and academic literary study in various countries. The most notable societies in the Anglosphere are The Tolkien Society (UK) and the Mythopoeic Society (USA).
The German translation of the The Hobbit
appeared in 1957 (translated by Walter Scherf), and that of The Lord of the Rings
in 1972 (translated by Margaret Carroux and Ebba-Margareta von Freymann).
The Deutsche Tolkien Gesellschaft (DTG) is a German association dedicated to the study of the life and works of J. R. R. Tolkien. Founded in 1997, it is based in Cologne.
The DTG has more than 500 members (as of 2005) and is organised in a widespread network of local chapters. It is the main driving force of Tolkien reception in the German speaking countries (c.f. Honegger (2006); a Swiss Tolkien Society was founded in 1986, but dissolved in 2006; an Austrian Tolkien Society was founded in 2002). The DTG organized a seminar on Tolkien studies in Cologne in 2004, in Jena in 2005 and in Mainz in 2006. The conference proceedings are published in their Hither Shore yearbook.
The Tolkien Society of Sweden
is world's first J. R. R. Tolkien society started in Gothenburg
in 1968 by members of Club Cosmos
. They published the member magazine Långbottenbladet
. Originally it was just called "The Tolkien Society
" but when the British society of the same name was created the members added "of Sweden
" to its name.
The Tolkien Society Forodrim was founded in Sweden in 1972 and is one of the oldest Tolkien fan organizations. Forodrim was founded in a public toilet during a science fiction convention (possibly SF-Kongressen 1973) as a name change of Sam J Lundwall's Hyboria. Co-founders were Jörgen Peterzén and Anders Palm.
Forodrim has an especially active group interested in Tolkienian linguistics, Mellonath Daeron.
Forodrim is Sindarin for "People of the North". The society is based in Stockholm, but has spawned daughter-organizations in Gothenburg and Malmö.
In Denmark, Tolkien became well known in the 1970s and has considerably influenced Danish language fantasy literature since. In 1977, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
illustrated The Lord of the Rings
A The Hobbit
appeared in Norwegian translation in 1972, and The Lord of the Rings
followed in 1973 to 1975 (Tiden Norsk Forlag
). Both translations were harshly criticized for errors and inconsistencies, and complaints resulted in a new translation of LotR
, published 1980/81. By the late 1980s, Tolkien's works were well known to the Norwegian public. A translation of the Silmarillion
appeared in 1994. The unsatisfactory Hobbit
translation was replaced only in 1997. By the mid 1990s, the popularity of Tolkien had risen to a level that made viable translations of his minor works. The Tolkien Society of Norway was founded in 1981.
Kontu Internet Community
(Verkkoyhteisö Kontu ry
) is a registered society
based in Finland
, founded in December 19
. The main focus of the society is to improve the knowledge of J. R. R. Tolkien and his works in Finland as well as maintain the virtual community
and thus the website
the society originated from. The many parts of the website contains a discussion forum
, a wiki
and an irc
channel. KontuWiki has been credited in several Finnish Tolkien related publications since 2007. The society also organises meetings and other events for Tolkien fans from all over the country, one of these being The Children of Húrin
releasing party in Tampere
, Finland in May 25
Kontu is the Finnish translation of "The Shire".
Interest in Russia awoke soon after the publication of The Lord of the Rings
in 1955, long before the first Russian translation.
A first effort at publication was made in the 1960s, but in order to comply with literary censorship in Soviet Russia
, the work was considerably abridged and transformed. The ideological danger of the book was seen in the "hidden allegory 'of the conflict between the individualist West and the totalitarian, Communist East.'" (Markova 2006), while, ironically, Marxist readings in the west conversely identified Tolkien's anti-industrial ideas as presented in the Shire with primitive communism
, in a struggle with the evil forces of technocratic capitalism
. Russian translations of The Lord of the Rings
were published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union
, but then in great numbers, no less than ten official Russian translations appeared between 1990 and 2005 (Markova 2006). Tolkien fandom in Russia grew especially rapidly during the early 1990s at Moscow State University
. Many unofficial and partly fragmentary translations are in circulation. The first translation appearing in print was that by Kistyakovskij and Muraev (volume 1, published 1982).
appeared in Japanese translation in 1965 (Hobitto no Boken
and The Lord of the Rings
from 1972 to 1975 (Yubiwa Monogatari
), both translated by Teiji Seta
(1916-1979), in 1992 revised by Seta's assistant Akiko Tanaka
. In 1982, Tanaka translated the Silmarillion
(Sirumariru no Monogatari
Teiji Seta was an expert in classical Japanese literature
and a haiku
poet, and Arduini (2006) regards the Seta and Tanaka translations as "almost perfect".
Shiro No Norite ("The White Rider") is a Tokyo-based group of fans, established in 1981. But reception of Tolkien's work among the Japanese public remained rather limited until the appearance of Jackson's films, after which there was a surge of interest.
and Lord of the Rings
were published in Greek language by Kedros
during the 1970s, each by different translators. In the mid-90s Aiolos
and Unfinished Tales
In 2001, shortly before the release of the movies, the first Greek on-line community was formed in a promotional web site which in 2002 founded an official group of fans under the name The Prancing Pony. The group is unofficially divided in two 'smials', in Athens and Thessaloniki.
During and after the release of the movies, further Tolkien-related literature was published in Greek language (both original and translations) including biographies, reading companions etc.
- The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006), Routledge, Drout (ed.) has entries:
- Mike Foster: America in the 1960s: Reception of Tolkien
- Jared Lobdell: Criticism of Tolkien, Twentieth Century
- Anna Skyggebjerg: Denmark, Reception of Tolkien
- Finland, Reception of Tolkien
- France, Reception of Tolkien
- Thomas Honegger: Germany, Reception of Tolkien
- Greece, Reception of Tolkien
- Hungary, Reception of Tolkien
- Italy, Reception of Tolkien
- Roberto Arduini: Japan, Reception of Tolkien
- Rene van Rossenberg: Netherlands, Reception of Tolkien
- Nils Ivar Agøy: Norway, Reception of Tolkien
- Poland, Reception of Tolkien
- O. Markova: Russia, Reception of Tolkien
- Spain, Reception of Tolkien
- Sweden, Reception of Tolkien
- Lisa L. Spangenberg: Technological subcultures, Reception of Tolkien
- Jared Lobdell: Lord of the Rings: Success of
- David D. Oberhelman: Marxist readings of Tolkien
- Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes, Walking Tree Publishers (2003), ISBN 3-9521424-7-6.
- Tolkien in Translation, Walking Tree Publishers (2003), ISBN 3-9521424-6-8.
- Thomas Honegger and Frank Weinreich (eds.), Tolkien and Modernity, 2 vols., Walking Tree Publishers (2006), ISBN 978-3-905703-02-3, ISBN 978-3-905703-03-0
- Adam Lam and Nataliya Oryshchuk (eds.), How We Became Middle-earth, Walking Tree Publishers (2007), ISBN 978-3-905703-07-8.
- Allan Turner (ed.), The Silmarillion: 30 years on, Walking Tree Publishers (2007), ISBN 978-3-905703-10-8.
- Tolkien Studies (ISSN 1547-3155)
- Ross Smith, Inside Language, Walking Tree Publishers (2007).
- The Rise of Tolkienian Fantasy Open Court: Chicago (2005).
- Isaacs and Zimbardo, Tolkien and the Critics
- Robert Giddings (ed.) J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land, London: Vision Press, 1983.
- Otty, Nick. "A Structuralist's Guide to Middle-earth.", 154-78
- Walmsley, Nigel. "Tolkien and the '60s", 73-86.
- Inglis, Fred. "Gentility and Powerlessness", 25-41.
- Griffin, Roger. "Revolts against the Modern World: The Blend of Literary and Historical Fantasy in the Italian New Right." Literature & History 11, no. 1 (1985): 101-23.