When I was working on a short story a few months ago, I also wrote a backstory. I drew pictures of my characters. I jotted down their motivations. I described where the characters lived. But when J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his books, he did far more. He invented languages. He wrote books about the ancestors of his characters. He drew detailed maps. And perhaps all of this preparation is what drew me so strongly to his books.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first part of The Lord of the Rings, written by J. R. R. Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins (see The Hobbit) is old and wants to see the Misty Mountains one last time. He departs from his home, and he leaves Bag End (his house), most of his possessions, and a peculiar ring to his nephew Frodo. But when the wizard Gandalf visits Frodo, a dangerous discovery leads them on a journey from which they might never return.
Aragorn is one of eight companions who travel with Frodo. He goes by many names—Dúnadan, Longshanks (!), Estel, Stider—and yet few know what he does. He is a Ranger, a sort of incredibly skilled tracker. But underneath that somewhat simple skin is a troubled soul. His father was killed by Orcs and, as a young boy, Aragorn hid in a tiny elf kingdom. For many years he wandered in the wild, protecting innocent people without their even knowing it. But when he joins Frodo, he knows his time to take back the throne has come.
When I was flipping through the enormous appendix at the end of the final book of the Lord of the Rings, I chanced upon a section on Sindarin and Quenya, two elven languages. My interest was immediately captured. The more I read, the more I was amazed. Tolkien, a professor in philology, had invented these languages from scratch, even describing how Sindarin branched out from Quenya. It is breathtakingly beautiful and complex—proof in itself that Tolkien was well prepared when he began to write his masterpiece.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a brilliant book full of profound characters. Every time I read it I feel a familiar thrill go through me. Thanks to Tolkien’s immense preparation, The Fellowship of the Ring has become more than an enchanter (like The Hobbit)—it is a legend.
Middle-grade fantasy, ages 12 and up.
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