Return of the King: The Book of the Millennium

On October 20, 1955, the third volume of The Lord of the Rings, entitled Return of the King, was published. Following the publication of the first two volumes, Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, during the previous year, the third book was very popular. However, the series did not explode in notoriety until the 1960s when young adults latched onto the fantastical world and heroic adventures of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings is the best-selling fantasy series of all time. It has even been considered by many as “the book of the millennium.”

J.R.R. Tolkien penned the famous The Lord of the Rings series while working as a professor at Oxford University. In 1937, Tolkien had released his first novel, The Hobbit, as a children’s story. It was incredibly popular, and his publishers looked to him for a sequel. Thus, was The Lord of the Rings born. The 1,100-page book was meant to be one story but was released in three volumes for logistical and financial reasons. Famous poet, W.H. Auden wrote of the series, “If one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A.D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration. No fiction I have read in the last five years has given me more joy . . .”

The Lord of the Rings was the first fantasy book of its kind. It included detailed maps, original languages, unique creatures, and alternate history. This is, perhaps, why the books took off as they did. Readers could immerse themselves in a different world, even learning some of Tolkien’s made-up languages. This type of fantasy world has since become very popular, many modern fantasy novels include maps and family trees. The Chairman of the Tolkien Society said, in 2015, that Tolkien created “the archetypal fantasy story with Gandalf, Gollum, hobbits, the Ring now being all-pervasive in popular culture—it’s no wonder that so many authors have followed in his wake.”

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