John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973). English linguist (born in Bloemfontein, South Africa), university professor (Leeds and Oxford), Anglo-Saxon historian, CBE, and writer. The man who brought High Fantasy (and, it could be argued, literary Speculative Fiction as a whole) to the modern public. His most famous complete works are his tales of "Middle-earth": The Lord of the Rings and its prefatory novel, The Hobbit. A later work, The Silmarillion, was published in 1977, shortly after he died. In 2007, a fourth book about Middle-earth was edited from many manuscripts to form a consistent narrative, and published as The Children of Húrin.Tolkien was a polyglot who spoke well over a dozen languages and had some comprehension of up to forty. He even made up a few of his own. Let's just say there aren't many authors who kept interfering with the foreign translations of their books (correctly, see for instance the article on translator Åke Ohlmarks) to point out how the translators aren't translating things properly into their native languages...Tolkien's LegendariumThe collective term for all the stories about the world of Middle-earth (not actually the world's name, but the name of a super-continent in a world generally referred to as "Arda" by the peoples therein; it is used here for convenience's sake, being the name far better known to the general reader).The earliest drafts of the great stories of the legendarium were written around the time of World War I, and continued to grow from there on. Tolkien worked on the legendarium for most of his life, continually exploring it further, developing and changing it again and again.The first book published, The Hobbit, actually wasn't intended as part of the legendarium, only to borrow some material. When Tolkien began writing the Hobbit-sequel that was to become The Lord of the Rings, he moved the story of both books into the Middle-earth setting. This fact is responsible for the seeming inconsistencies in tone and canon between The Hobbit and the other Middle-earth works; this is often mistaken for the world and story having matured up by those who do not know it existed before. He also made some minor changes in a later edition of The Hobbit to match better with The Lord of the Rings, while also providing an in-universe justification for the original discrepancies in the latter.The published books are:
Only the first four were published during his lifetime; the rest were published posthumously by his son Christopher. Of these, The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin consist of a single narrative edited together from Tolkien's texts, while the rest are collections of Tolkien's material (with commentaries and notes by his son), ranging from complete narratives to early and new drafts, to essays and small fragments.Additionally, there are several titles used for collective bodies of stories (which are used in the fictional world, and also real-world terms to include all relevant material independently of published books): the "Ainulindalë" and "Valaquenta" (the creation of the world), the (Quenta) Silmarillion (the First Age), and the "Akallabêth" (History and Downfall of Númenor in the Second Age).Other WorksHis other works include several shorter tales (including several written for his children) and his academic writings; among these works are.
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: This lecture redefined the importance of Beowulf as a poem, rather than "a relic of the past".
Translations of medieval Old and Middle English literature, including the best-known modern versions of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo.
The Fall of King Arthur
The collected Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien are a valuable source of information, both regarding Middle-earth and his personal life and views. Tolkien also aided in compiling the Oxford English Dictionary, and worked on the Jerusalem Bible, a respected Roman Catholic translation.His greatest fiction was based off his linguistic research and invention. His work on this subject filled well over a dozen volumes.Think you'd like to have a legacy like this guy's? Start here!
Always Chaotic Evil: Tolkien himself was troubled by the Unfortunate Implications, but having evil creatures warped by the Dark Lords was essential to the narratives he'd constructed. He never found a satisfactory explanation of what orcs were corrupted from and how they could all be evil.
To his credit, he managed to give each Orc that had a name a unique if still evil personality.
Attention Deficit Creator Disorder: Not so much because there were too many projects, but because Tolkien was a perfectionist and had a day job as a university professor. Christopher Tolkien is still publishing the works never released in his father's lifetime.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Frequently so in Middle-Earth. Most of the named characters are Warrior Princes or the equivalent for their culture. Even the hobbit protagonists are mostly the well-to-do ones, except Samwise.
Author Phobia: Tolkien was bitten by a poisonous spider when he was a toddler in South Africa and narrowly escaped death. Many of his works feature giant, malevolent arachnids, including the spiders of Mirkwood, Shelob, and Ungoliant. Nontheless he claimed he had nothing conscious against spiders, but used them that way because one of his sons is arachnophobic. (There was one upside to this event: the doctor that treated him is theorised to have been the basis of Gandalf.)
Fought in the Somme during World War I until trench fever made him unfit for further combat duty. He started writing about what would become The Silmarillion while recuperating.
He didn't actually fight in World War II, unlike some of his children. But he did accept a tentative offer from British military intelligence to advise their cryptography department — though it turned out they never needed his services. Does this mean Tolkien almost got a shot at cracking Enigma? Tolkien was also a Lieutenant in the Signal Corps. While as such he didn't participate in the actual bang-bang fighting, he was deployed at the front line and lived in the trenches. He later stated we all were Orcs and modelled the Orc mode of fighting after the human wave attacks in WWI.
Canon Welding: He originally created Middle-Earth, The Hobbit, and Tom Bombadil as separate, unrelated works. Then he decided to weld them all together using The Lord of the Rings as catalyst.
Cash Cow Franchise: With all of the books about Middle-Earth out, along with several movies (with a live-action, three-part Hobbit coming in 2012/13), several games, and tons of merchandise based on films and books, quite a bit of money has been made on Tolkien's world.
Con Lang: How many he made depends on where you draw the line between them, and what counts as "a language" vs. "a few words," but the number is large. See here for an essay discussing just how many.
His academic paper "A Secret Vice" discusses the use of Con Lang as an art form, which hadn't been seriously studied before then. He also claimed his writings about Middle-earth were "primarily linguistic in inspiration."
Creation Myth: The Silmarillion begins with one, called "Ainulindalë", or "The Music (literally "singing") of the Ainur". The Ainur are basically the equivalent of the angels in Christianity.
Cryptic Background Reference: The Lord of the Rings is full of these, an The Hobbit has a fair few as well. Until you read The Silmarillion, they might be totally opaque. Many do refer to things Tolkien fleshed out somewhere, though some are entirely mysterious despite all the posthumous publications.
Cue the Sun: The first rising of the newly-created sun in the west, after the outer world had lain in darkness for eons, is described with great drama, and suitably frightens the evil forces of the Dark Lord. In later events, especially when dealing with trolls as in The Hobbit, the timely arrival of the sun can be dramatic and very welcome.
Dark Is Evil / Light Is Good: A repeated theme throughout the legendarium. Well, they usually are, though there are exceptions.
Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.
Determinator: Tolkien was positively in love with this Trope; nearly every protagonist in his books is an indefatigable force for Good who refuses to give up no matter what the odds. And most of the time they succeed. To a degree the Professor himself was one: a shell-shocked war veteran who will go to great lengths to win his One True Love.
Doorstopper: The Lord of the Rings isn't a trilogy, it's a single book too large for most publishers to bind in a single volume. When you add The Hobbit and all the posthumously published material on top, Middle-Earth will fill a whole shelf of a bookcase.
Easter Egg: All of Tolkien's works about Middle-earth, as well as the many volumes of unpublished works edited by his son, have inscriptions (usually on the title page) that can be transliterated from his fictional alphabets.
Ungoliant in The Silmarillion. She's some sort of gigantic, light-devouring, shadow-belching, vaguely spider-shaped thing. She might be a Fallen Angel, maybe, or she might be something that crawled out of the Void at the dawn of time. Or something. Nobody knows! At least she's dead now... we think. Probably.
The "watcher of the water" in The Lord of the Rings — nobody, not even Gandalf, has a clue what it is.
"Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day." *shudder* That is all we ever learn of them.
Fair Folk like traits do occur in some of the lesser known works, notably the Lingerers(elves who stayed on Earth and whose spirit burned up most of their body) and the Unbodied(ghosts of elves who refused to stand judgement before Mandos). The first are good but mysterious, and the second are dangerous and sometimes evil(including doing things like trying to steal the bodies of mortals so they can have their own.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: With the exception of the Shire itself, which was modeled on the idealized 19th-century English countryside, the cultures of Middle-Earth are roughly equivalent to those of Dark Age Europe based on political situations and cultural aspects.
The political situation of Gondor and Arnor may remind one of Byzantium and Rome, who faced threats from the East (Huns, Ottomans, etc.) at various times in their history. Strangely, when Tolkien was asked about this comparison, he said that he regarded Gondor as being closer to Ancient Egypt.
Gondor was a direct descendant of Númenor, whose culture sounds Punic. The fact they were bilingual (speaking both a Semitic-like Adûnaic language and Elvish Sindarin), were a seafaring people, and worshipped an evil god named originally Melkor ("He who arises in might") match Ancient Carthage: speaker of both Punic and Greek, seafaring, worshipped a powerful and occasionally evil god who demanded human sacrifices and was named Melqart (an elision of Milk-Qart, "King of the City").note It is important to note that the Punic Melkart was one god among many, the sacrifices were mostly conducted in times of crisis, and the people sacrificed were the small children of the ruling nobles as a token of shared sacrifice—like Rome, Carthage was an aristocratic republic, but unlike Rome, it didn't have an elaborate set of institutions formalizing relations among them. This made it important to emphasize the shared sacrifice in dangerous times.
Umbar is a more direct equivalent of Carthage: a maritime power of Numenorean descent locked in a bitter rivalry with Arnor and Gondor. As the Third Age goes on, the Umbar-Gondor rivalry almost mirrors that of Venice and Byzantium. Castamir the Usurper's takeover of Gondor with the help of Umbar has some similarities to the Venice-led Sack of Constantinople in the 13th Century.
The Rohirrim have aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, and have been compared to Vikings that rode horses rather than ships. Their Eotheod ancestors are based on the then-perception of Goths as a people of Germanic horse-warriors. The Rohirrim military is still this while their language has developed into the later Germanic language of Anglo-Saxon. The fact they had been a people of warrior-peasants whose entire culture ran around the horse and who lived on plains (as opposed to the hilly landscape of the British Isles) also makes them comparable 16th-19th century Russian Cossacks.
The Southrons are a vague, nonspecific representation of African peoples, as in the medieval writings Tolkien emulated, which always spoke of these in exotic terms. Similarly, the Easterlings are a vague representation of nomadic peoples from the East (i.e. Huns, Tartars, Mongols). However, the Easterlings of Khand are called Variags, a term used for Viking mercenaries in Constantinople.
The Dwarvish language is inspired by Semitic languages and their displacement throughout Middle-Earth draws comparisons with the Jewish diaspora, but the Dwarvish culture resembles more that of Early Middle Ages Germanic peoples: metalworkers, builders, axe-armed.
Note that the languages he based his invented languages on do not necessarily determine the cultural equivalence of the people who use them. Sindarin was based on Welsh, and Quenya on Finnish, but Grey Elves aren't Welsh, and High Elves aren't Finns.
Fantasy Pantheon: The Valar resemble Norse deities in a lot of ways, though they are in fact a Council of Angels, and the usually avoid interfering directly in most events, since when they do continents tend to blow up or sink.
Fantasy World Map: Tolkien started making these for Middle-Earth not long after he started writing the stories.
Franchise Zombie: As explained above, The Lord of the Rings came into existence only because the publishers wanted a sequel for the immensely popular Hobbit while Tolkien was more interested in working on his legendarium. Tolkien avoided the negative effects of this trope by incorporating both LOTR and The Hobbit into his mythos that was part of the (then unpublished) Silmarillion.
Friend to All Children: By all accounts, Tolkien was a doting parent and a grandfatherly figure. His academic colleague George Sayer once discovered the professor surrounded by a group of neighborhood children; Tolkien explained quite seriously, "We're playing trains. I'm Thomas the Tank Engine. Puff, puff."
Hidden Elf Village: Elves often end up surviving only in these — in Beleriand they were killed everywhere until the last survivors were holed up in places such as Doriath, Gondolin, Nargothrond, and the Isle of Balar. In the Third Age, the few High Elves who hadn't abandoned Middle-Earth to sail West were hiding in Rivendell, Lothlórien, and the Grey Havens.
Howl of Sorrow: In Farmer Giles of Ham. When Giles rides off to slay a dragon, his dog Garm howled all night because he thought Giles would be killed.
Humans Are Warriors: All humans except the men of Bree are warriors. Hobbits also avoid warfare, but even these get a few good blows in from time to time. The Edain, the three main human tribes allied to the Elves, fit this exactly. They got to Elven country by hacking their way through Morgoth's servants. They were allowed land in exchange for fighting for the Elves, which they did with great vigor.
I Am X, Son of Y: The standard form of Warrior Prince self-address in the Tolkien universe. Hobbits seem to be the only race in Middle-earth that consistently adopt surnames.
I Gave My Word: Many characters in Middle-Earth are very serious about keeping their sworn word ... even when they've sworn to do something horrible that they know is wrong and want to avoid doing.
I Have Many Names: Tolkien's love of language extended to creating (and changing, and replacing, over and over) names, titles, and epithets for his characters. Some of them have just one or two names, but others have half a dozen or more. And since most actually meant something in one or another Con Lang, every time he changed some words in a language he'd go and fiddle with the etymology or spelling of several names, or just invent new ones.
Inhumanly Beautiful Race: Elves in Tolkien's works are almost invariably described as being good looking. The three best looking females in Middle-Earth are all Elves. The Valar and Maiar also count, although they cheat, since their bodies are artificial and custom-made, so their beauty is limited only by ego and imagination.
Inter-people Romance: Aegnor/Andreth (Star-Crossed Lovers), Finduilas/Túrin (one-sided, Type 5 with Gwindor->F->T), Lúthien/Beren (married and mortal), Idril/Tuor (married and immortal), Arwen/Aragorn (married and mortal), Mithrellas/Imrazôr (married until she pulled a Missing Mom), Melian/Thingol (angel and immortal elf — Thingol died, but we can assume he was probably reincarnated).
Left-Justified Fantasy Map: The Middle-earth focus on the northwest coast of the largest continent, which equals Europe. The Great Sea is the Atlantic. (And yes, it actually is Europe and the Atlantic, despite Tolkien's failure to make the landmass resemble the real world.)
Literary Agent Hypothesis: In-universe, the Middle-Earth books are translations of the writings of Bilbo (who wrote The Hobbit and translated The Silmarillion out of Elvish), Frodo and Sam (who wrote The Lord of the Rings), and the Anglo-Saxon sailor Ælfwine (who stumbled upon Tol Eressëa in the Middle Ages and learned of the Elder Days from the Elves).note Ælfwine was written out of the published Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien, but since he appears in JRRT's writings after LotR, he apparently never abandoned the idea.
The Lost Woods: Mirkwood and the Old Forest especially, but also Taur-nu-Fuin and to some extent Fangorn as well. Though he loved trees, Tolkien knew the mythic trope of the pathless, ominous forest.
Manly Tears: Tolkien showed no shame about having Badass characters weep when the situation merited it.
Our Elves Are Better: Very much not, even if many people mistakenly think so. Yes, Elves are in many ways more powerful, "magical" and skilled than mortals (they had better be, as they have long enough to practice), and they are less susceptible to corruption, but corrupted they can be. They are quite capable of stupidity, chauvinism, and screwing up monumentally –- possibly more than humans in fact, as greater power can have bigger results. In addition, humans were created to be Immune To Fate, with the ultimate destiny of ourselves and the world left undetermined.
Doubters are referred, for a start, to the story of Fëanor, the greatest creative genius in the history of the Elves, whose stubbornness and selfishness led to the centuries-long exile of almost his entire clan of the High Elves, the Noldor, from the Blessed Realm, to civil war in that same Blessed Realm between two of the three clans of the High-elves, to the destruction of the Elven kingdoms of Beleriand and of Beleriand itself, to civil war between elves in Beleriand who should have been allies, and to the deaths of himself and almost all his sons.
Elves do, however, appear to be this in The Lord of the Rings, since it isn't concentrating on Elvish history, and so most of their bigger mistakes are found elsewhere. Besides, most of the especially wicked, stupid, and foolish elves had gotten themselves killed before the end of the Third Age. The elven leaders in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — Elrond (Rivendell), Thranduil (Mirkwood), Galadriel and Celeborn (Lothlórien), and Círdan (Grey Havens) — have all lived to see the decline of their race in Middle-Earth, and are trying to do what is best for their people while offering what assistance they can to the other races. Also, considering that Galadriel, Celeborn, and Círdan lived through the entire war against Morgoth that destroyed Beleriand, and that Elrond saw what the folly of his people could do (he lived through one of the elven civil wars as a small child, and witnessed Sauron co-opting Eregion), they had all probably wisened up to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Now, since the trilogy is the most popular and well-known of Tolkien's works, this means it's easy for people to get the wrong impression. This being said, Galadriel is shown to be just as susceptible to the One Ring's power as anyone, although she is one of the handful who resist its power. And Celebrimbor's mistakes in Eregion are briefly discussed at the Council of Elrond.
Oxbridge: Quite possibly the most widely-read writer to come out of Oxford's walls.
Palantir Ploy: The Palantír devices in The Lord of the Rings are the trope-namers.
To cite just one example: Aragorn is so overwhelmed with grief at the death of Boromir, weeping bitterly over the latter's body, that when Gimli and Legolas come upon the scene, they think at first that Aragorn himself has been perhaps mortally wounded.
Also, Gandalf encourages Sam, Pippin, and Merry to weep when Frodo is going away forever.
"I will not say 'do not weep', for not all tears are an evil."
Recurring Dreams: Tolkien had his 'Atlantis dream', featuring a huge wave coming over the land. He stated that it had a part in inspiring the Downfall of Númenor.
Royal Blood: Tolkien firmly used this trope in his legendarium. Whatever his views in real life, in Middle-earth Royal Blood often Equals Asskicking, rightful authority, great skill, longevity, and so forth — though not necessarily wisdom or goodness (see Fëanor & sons, and Ar-Pharazôn)
In response to a letter from a potential German translator/publisher of The Hobbit, who wished to know whether Tolkien was of "Arisch" extraction (which infuriated him considerably):
I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.
Tolkien wrote two letters, one tactful, the other less so, and told his publisher to send whichever he liked. The tactful letter was sent and later lost, leaving only the more combative version to survive.
The Time of Myths: The vague/imaginary time in the real world's prehistory during which the stories of the legendarium take place — so long ago that even the continents have been rearranged since then.
Tragic Hero: Several in Middle-Earth, such as Túrin Turambar.
Translation Convention: None of our real-world languages exist in the Middle-Earth stories, and so the common Translation Convention applies. When not convention-translated, names and speech make use of either Tolkien's constructed languages, or of a real-world language used as stand-in for a fictional one. The latter ones are not chosen randomly, but to represent the relation between the respective "proper" languages, or a certain image. Languages regularly replaced by stand-in languages in the text are: "Westron" a.k.a. the "Common Speech" is always rendered as English (as it is the Third-Age-novel's POV-character's language), the Rohirric language by Anglo-Saxon a.k.a. Old English (to appear vaguely familiar to the hobbits' Westron-English), and the language used by the Dwarvesnote i.e. not Dwarvish as such, which is much more like an Afro-Asiatic/ Semitic language. The Dwarves refuse to speak their own language in the presence of outsiders, except for the occasional battle cry and place name. They even use names derived from the language of Dale rather than let non-Dwarves know their True Names and the Men of Dale by Old Norse. Information on the "translation" and what these languages "really" look like, can be found in various appendices and additional texts.
Tolkien once proposed coauthoring a scholarly book on linguistics with his academic colleague and friend C. S. Lewis. Lewis started the manuscript, but unfortunately they never got around to finishing it. 
For that matter, it's hard to keep from feeling wistful when reading the many fragments of unfinished stories and poems collected by his son Christopher in The History of Middle-earth. There's even a whole volume of them entitled Unfinished Tales. So much was left unwritten or severely cryptic, or abandoned years before The Lord of the Rings and never revised. Much will remain unknown about Middle-earth and its characters.
When Trees Attack: The Ents were created because Tolkien had seen a production of Macbeth as a child and was disappointed when it turned out that the forest itself didn't actually attack.
World Building: Tolkien not only loved this and spent a lifetime doing it, he had theological theories about the processs.
World Shapes: Arda, the world containing Middle-Earth, started out flat. Only after the downfall of Númenor (Atlantis) was it made round. Later Tolkien decided this was stupid because Middle-Earth is supposed to be the real world, but his attempts to write a round-world creation story were consistently less beautiful than the flat-world versions.
World Tree: The Two Trees of Valinor, the long-lost sources of the holiest light, were sacred trees of vast size, on whose branches the sun and moon were eventually grown as one fruit and a single flower, and their light kindled the Evening Star (a.k.a. Venus). They are closely tied to the repeated uses of trees and light as symbols of goodness in the legendarium, and of the tragic loss of the beauty of the ancient world.