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Creator / J. R. R. Tolkien

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"How, given little over half a century of work, did one man become the creative equivalent of a people?"

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973). English linguist (born in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State), 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. He is mainly known for his tales of "Middle-earth", most famously The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings.

Most of his fiction in this setting has been published posthumously, despite most of it being written earlier than his most well-known books. The myth cycle called The Silmarillion — which Tolkien considered his "main" work, with the other two books as just spinoffs, yet never completed to his satisfaction — was edited from decades' worth of manuscripts to form a consistent narrative. Later books published over the years have instead presented his concepts and stories as they evolved, along with editorial commentaries. The Children of Húrin is an exception, a standalone narrative expanding on one of the Silmarillion stories.

Tolkien, known to most friends and family as Ronald, had somewhat of a troubled background. His father died when he was just three years old, soon after his mother had brought their family to England on what was supposed to be just an extended visit, and there they stayed for good. His mother struggled to raise Ronald and his brother alone, as she was ostracized by her family after becoming Roman Catholic. This deeply affected Tolkien, who remained a devout Catholic for life. He was also deeply affected by the countryside where he grew up in happiness but relative poverty, and later with the contrast it made with the industrial towns where he attended King Edward's School. When he was 12, his mother died and a Catholic priest became his legal guardian, though he lived with relatives and in boarding houses. In one such boarding house he met his future wife Edith, three years older, and his priest guardian, fearing a romance would distract from his studies, forbade the relationship until he was of legal age. They were finally married during World War I shortly before he was shipped off. A signaller in the Lancashire Fusiliers, he was on the front lines for several months and fought in the deadly Battle of the Somme. He contracted severe trench fever and was shipped home, which probably saved his life as the war claimed all but one of his friends at the time. He began the first versions of his Middle-earth stories in his sickbed.

Exactly how many languages Tolkien knew is up for debate. As far as speaking, in addition to English, he spoke German fluently, and had some limited fluency in French. He had reading proficiency in up to a dozen other languages (including dead or extinct languages like Latin, Middle English, Old English, and Old Norse), and dabbled in yet a few more.

He even made up a few of his own. They were never "complete," by his own admission, and most of his invented languages consist of only a few fragments. Nevertheless they were labours of love, and, in contrast to many other invented languages, were highly complex.

Tolkien's languages and Middle-earth Legendarium were all written primarily for his own amusement. He was never a professional author (someone whose only job is to write books, plays etc.) His actual job was as a linguist and professor of philology and literature at Oxford University. He was also highly accomplished at his day-job and was particularly fond of Beowulf, an Old English Epic Poem which he liked to recite to his students.note  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 own languages...

He was a friend of fellow academic and writer C. S. Lewis, who he met shortly after returning to Oxford in the 1920s. At Oxford, Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams and others formed an clique called The Inklings; they would meet on Thursday evenings, usually in Lewis' rooms at Magdalen, note  and read discuss their writings with each other.

Tolkien's Legendarium

The collective term for all the stories about the world of Middle-earth (which is not actually the world's name, but the name of a super-continent within the 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 Middle-earth books are:

Only the first four were published during his lifetime; the rest were published posthumously by his son and literary executor Christopher, except The History of The Hobbit which was handled by John Rateliff and The Nature of Middle-earth, which was edited by Carl F. Hostetter. Of these, The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin consist of a single cohesive narrative edited together from Tolkien's texts, while the rest are collections of Tolkien's material (with commentaries and notes), 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 works

His other works include several shorter tales (including several written for his children) and his academic writings, some published posthumously. 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". In Tolkien's day, the critical consensus was mostly a sense of embarrassment that the oldest surviving example of Old English verse was a fantasy about monster-slaying instead of a history; he argued that the poem's fantastic nature did not negate its literary value. Tolkien himself also translated the poem for personal use, in prose and later in alliterative verse. Only snippets of the alliterative version have been published, but the prose version was released in full in May, 2014 with several notes on the text from his lectures along with Sellic Spell, a sort of thought experiment by Tolkien to show what the original legend of Beowulf may have looked like without the historical elements.
  • On Fairy-Stories: 1939 essay discussing fairy tales as a genre.
  • A Secret Vice: lecture and essay discussing the creation of languages for purely artistic purposes. (More on it here.)
  • Farmer Giles of Ham
  • The Father Christmas Letters
  • Leaf by Niggle: a haunting parable of his own creative process.
  • The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún: Unfinished retelling of the Norse Saga of the Volsungs.
  • Mr. Bliss
  • Roverandom
  • Smith of Wootton Major
  • 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 Arthur: An unfinished poem of King Arthur's downfall.
  • The Story of Kullervo: A short story retelling the Finnish legend that was a major source of inspiration for The Children of Hurin.
  • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun: A poem about a childless lord and a treacherous fairy ("the Corrigan"), in the style of a Breton lay.

Although he regarded himself as an amateur artist,note  many of his story notes were accompanied by drawings and paintings. His focus was on landscapes and maps of the setting. He allowed many of his works to be published with his books, including the cover art, maps, and full-page illustrations for the early editions of The Hobbit. One of the best collections of his artwork can be found in J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, published in 1995. In 2019, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York presented an exhibition of his art, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth.

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 on his linguistic research and invention. His work on this subject filled well over a dozen volumes.

He ended at #92 in One Hundred Greatest Britons.

In 2012 disclosed documents revealed that C. S. Lewis nominated Tolkien for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but the committee rejected him on the grounds that his prose "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality."

Lewis also loosely based the lead of his Space Trilogy, Dr. Elwin Ransom, on Tolkien (Elwin being a modern form of Anglo-Saxon Ælfwine, "Elf-friend"). Since his death, he has also appeared as a Historical Domain Character in a few fictional works like The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and Legends of Tomorrow. A Biopic based on his life called Tolkien focused on his university student and World War I years, starring Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as his future wife Edith Bratt was released May 10, 2019.

Think you'd like to have a legacy like this guy's? Start here!


  • All There in the Manual:
    • The Appendices made up nearly half of The Return of the King.
    • The Silmarillion is basically the manual for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
    • The History of Middle-earth is basically a multi-volume manual of his creative process, covering the evolution of the Middle-earth setting over several decades. Full of rejected, superseded and abandoned details and plot threads, it shows What Could Have Been all too often. For instance, he started but ultimately abandoned a sequel to The Lord of the Rings with the Working Title of The New Shadow. Tolkien made three attempts at developing the story, but eventually dropped it entirely due to a lack of interest.
    • His collected Letters include more Word of God details about Middle-earth found nowhere else.
  • Always Chaotic Evil:invoked Tolkien himself was troubled by the Unfortunate Implications,note  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, and Elrond mentions that all living beings save for elves were found on both sides in the final battle against Sauron. This presumably includes Orcs and trolls. Sometimes after the publication, the Professor admitted that miserable living conditions turn people evil, based on his World War I experience.
    J.R.R. Tolkien: We were all Orcs in the Great War.
  • Artifact of Doom: The One Ring, and the Nine Rings to a lesser extent.
  • Artist Disillusionment:invoked Although Tolkien's works were huge with the Counterculture of The '60s, he cared very, very little for the numerous fans he came in contact with and who considered his works as representative of said movement.
  • 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 only retired in 2018 after around four decades of publishing the works never released in his father's lifetime. He himself died two years later at the age of 95.
    • Tolkien also famously wrote the opening lines for The Hobbit in an examination booklet while grading tests.
  • Author Appeal:
    • In case you missed it, Tolkien likes linguistics, trees, music, Norse Mythology, and dark-haired grey-eyed women.
    • A Traditionalist Catholic, Tolkien regarded his work as representative of his faith.
    • Pipe smoking and blowing smoke rings. Tolkien absolutely loved doing this, so naturally, just about every character smokes a pipe from time to time. Except the villains.
  • Author Avatar:
  • 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. Nonetheless he claimed he had nothing conscious against spiders, routinely jarring and releasing those he found in the bathtub, 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.)
    • Tolkien credits his survival immediately following the spider bite to his black nanny, who snatched him up and sucked out the poison.
  • Author Usurpation: Of all of Tolkien's works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings get the most attention and discussion. His other books aren't talked about nearly as much, and his academic writings get ignored.
  • Badass Santa: Father Christmas
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: He used this trope to show to which extent corruption could change people, when related with power.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Half of the endings. The other half are just plain depressing.
  • Black Speech: The Lord of the Rings is the Trope Namer.
  • Canon Welding: Up until after beginning to write The Hobbit, Tolkien considered the mythology of The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion as a completely separate project. Only while writing that book did he pick up the idea that Bilbo's quest took place in the same world as the War of the Silmarils. The Lord of the Rings first dubbed this world "Middle-earth" and furthermore integrated Tom Bombadil, another unconnected character invented much earlier.
  • Cash-Cow Franchise: With all of the books about Middle-earth out, along with two movie trilogies, and several games and tons of merchandise mostly based on the movies, quite a bit of money has been made on Tolkien's world. Most of it, based on the movies, has not gone to Tolkien's estate or heirs, who actually had to take New Line to court to get even a small percentage. Christopher Tolkien was extremely bitter and sarcastic about this commodification of his father's immense contribution to world culture, which to him was once just bedtime stories told to entertain. (It's not just about the money, however - Christopher felt that the movies "removed the essence" of his father's stories, rather literally translated as "eviscerated" but the French he used is more subtle).
  • Casts No Shadow:
    • The man in the poem "Shadow Bride."
    • Inverted by The Hobbit, where an invisible Bilbo still casts a faint shadow.
  • Clever Crows: Often show up as symbolic birds — crows are generally a bad omen, though ravens are good guys (and can talk) in The Hobbit.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: He could come across as this at times. Among other things, he once chased a neighbor with an axe while dressed as a Saxon warrior, and he and C.S. Lewis went to a (non-costume) party dressed as bears. He also had a habit of trolling his students, and as one later said, he "could turn any lecture theater into a mead hall." Part of his courtship with his future wife consisted of sitting on the second-floor balcony of a tea shop and throwing sugar lumps into the hats of passersby below (when the sugar bowl was empty, they moved to another table, and kept going). In his elder years he would hand inattentive clerks his false teeth instead of money.
  • Conlang: 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 Conlang 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."
  • Constructed World: Arda, the world containing Middle-earth and the Blessed Realm.
  • 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, and 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Showed signs of this. For example, when writing about a potential The Lord of the Rings screenplay that would have messed everything up, he had the following comment about the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm:
    ''Z[immerman] may think he knows more about Balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him.
  • Dear Negative Reader: In his introduction to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings:
    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 had already gone to great lengths to win his One True Love.
  • Development Hell: Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion for over fifty years. And even then, it wasn't published until after his death.
  • Direct Line to the Author: 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 
  • Doing It for the Art: He wrote his books for his own pleasure and because he wanted to read the kind of books that he would like. He never thought that people would like his stories, let alone his fabricated languages.
  • 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.
  • Drives Like Crazy: He wrote and illustrated the humorous story of Mr. Bliss, based on his own driving mishaps. Reputedly the Professor was a poor yet brave driver whose creed was "Charge 'em and they scatter!" Later he turned against automobiles because internal combustion engines were killing the environment. He literally said "all the world is dying" from their use. Dude was way ahead of his time. He gave up driving altogether and turned to cycling.
  • Dub Name Change: He was deeply annoyed when the first translations of his works altered names from his carefully constructed languages haphazardly, in particular the Swedish translation that retitled The Hobbit as.... Hompen. To prevent this happening again he wrote detailed translation guides for other languages.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • 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.
  • Enchanted Forest: Forests in Tolkien's works — Mirkwood, the Old Forest, Fangorn, Taur-nu-Fuin — are primordial places home to reclusive beings and ancient holdovers from the prior ages of the world, and rarely welcome intruders. Although he loved trees, Tolkien knew the mythic trope of the pathless, ominous forest.
  • End of an Age:
    • The Silmarillion ends with the utter destruction of Angband... and Beleriand. All Elven Kingdoms and two Dwarf Realms disappeared forever, and most of the elves that survived the War of the Jewels sailed for Valinor.
    • The Lord of the Rings ends up with the end of the domain of the Elves and the beginning of the Age of the Men. The High Elves left Middle-earth forever. The knowledge and lore of the Ancient World became lost, and gradually the last remnants of that world disappeared and were forgotten altogether.
  • The Everyman: Hobbits, who also double as the Audience Surrogate in a world of mighty wizards and brave warriors.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Flip-flopped. Morgoth turned the northern arctic region freezing cold by delving his evil underground lairs there: the Nazgul, too, seem to induce or prefer cold and have an explicit fear of fire. On the other hand, certain other evil entities, such as Balrogs and Dragons, are closely affiliated with deadly heat.
  • Evil Overlord: Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman, etc.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Sauron's Barad-dûr.
  • Exploring the Evil Lair: In The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
  • The Fair Folk:
    • Tolkien's treatment of the High Elves was a reaction to the way elves were dealt with in contemporary fiction — either as this or as childish fairies. In Tolkien, by the Third Age, only ignorant Men like Boromir regard Elves as The Fair Folk. However, Tolkien's conception then caught on among later fantasy writers and in the end people like Terry Pratchett reacted by turning back towards The Fair Folk, which in turn caught on with other fantasy writers like Jim Butcher.
    • 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).
    • It is also worth noting that there are fair folk traits in those who aren't High Elves, such as the Galadhrim and Elves of Mirkwood, who are described as "less wise, and more fierce". Such traits are particularly prominent in the First Age, with the likes of Feanor and his sons, and the Avari, the so-called 'Dark Elves', who refused to go to Valinor, the latter teaching early humans the rudiments of survival, but also being... strange.
  • Fairy Tale: In the lecture/essay "On Fairy-Stories", Tolkien put forth his view on the genre of fairy tale.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • With the exception of the Shire itself, which was modelled 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 - though he did acknowledge the Byzantine comparison.
    • Arnor in its decline also invokes the Carolingian Empire. Its final fate, being divided into three squabbling lesser kingdoms, mirrors what happened to Charlemagne's empire after his death.
    • 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 
    • Umbar is a more direct equivalent of Carthage: a maritime power of Númenórean 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 as part of the 4th Crusade in the early 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, and to the Mongol and Plains Indian peoples.
    • 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. Also Orcs were said by Tolkien in his Letter No. 210 to be a degraded and repulsive version of the Mongol invaders from the past.
    • 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.
  • Fix Fic:
    • The march of the Ents was inspired by the scene in Macbeth when "Birnam Wood doth come to Dunsinane." When he first saw the play as a young boy, he expected that the trees themselves would attack Dunsinane, and was very disappointed when that wasn't the case.
    • Macbeth also contributed to the creation of Éowyn, due to his disappointment with the play's resolution to the "no man of woman born" prophecy.
  • 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.
  • Fur Against Fang: Both races -vampires and werewolves- work for the same masters -Dark Lords Morgoth and Sauron-, but they can not stand each other. Werewolves despised vampires, considering them “rats with wings” and vampires regarded wolves like big bullies. It is not so evident in The Silmarillion, but when you read the Lay of Beren and Lúthien and the meeting with Carcharoth, the text makes clear that Carcharoth is shocked of seeing a vampire and wolf together and wolves hate vampires.
  • Giant Spiders: Ungoliant in The Silmarillion, her daughter Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, and her descendants in Mirkwood in The Hobbit. All of them are hideous, evil, and sentient.
  • God Is Good: In his stories, God is always a benevolent force of good that loves his children and wants the best for them. He tolerates the presence of Evil because he gave free will to His creations and because evil and destruction also contribute to improving the world despite themselves. During the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings he was manipulating events in little ways to ensure Sauron's defeat.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: The Lord of the Rings is the Trope Namer, naturally.
  • Good Is Boring: It was going to play a part in "The New Shadow", the abandoned sequel for The Lord of the Rings:
    Tolkien: I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless — while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors — like Denethor or worse.
  • Götterdämmerung: The Silmarillion includes a prophecy about how the world will end, complete with some kind of final battle against the forces of evil that will vanquish them utterly.
  • Green Aesop: He loved nature and stated that the 'infernal combustion' engine was mankind's most evil invention. The destruction of nature by industry is a common theme in his work.
  • Happily Married:
    • Tolkien got married to his first love, Edith Bratt, and they remained happily married until her death. They discovered early on that they really didn't have that much in common (she was more of an urban socialite, whereas he famously preferred the quiet countryside. They ended up compromising), but the love was real and Tolkien thought that a marriage took work to be happy and fulfilling, and his works have plenty examples (Beren and Lúthien, Aragorn and Arwen, Faramir and Eowyn, Thingol and Melian...). John Ronald and Edith are buried together in Wolvercote Cemetery at Oxford. Their headstone reads: Edith Mary Tolkien. Lúthien. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Beren.
    • Subverted many times in his books (Finwe and Indis's, Feanor and Nerdanel, Aldarion and Erendis...) and outright aversionsnote . A lot of times, he's working from ancient mythology, which often portrays such relationships.
  • Healing Hands: "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer."
  • 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.
  • High Fantasy: Often consider the Trope Codifier, though in reality the "magic" in the Middle-earth legendarium is exceedingly subdued compared to the likes of Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time, or Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Hobbits: The Trope Namer, if not the Trope Maker.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: A phrase Tolkien used that is reflected in his works is "Hope without guarantees". It basically means that since no one knows for certain what the future will be, despair is a moral and logical mistake. Even if things seem grim, we should always hope for a better future, even if very thinly, and fight for that hope.
  • 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 Conlang, 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.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Aegnor/Andreth (Star-Crossed Lovers), Finduilas/Túrin (one-sided love triangle, 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).
    • Tolkien had been once asked if Men and Elves are separate species and he answered: the difference lies in their spiritual side, the fact that Men can die and Elves are bound to the world not only for their long life, but forever; but their bodies are biologically identical, otherwise they couldn't reproduce together.
  • 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 not making the landmass resemble the real world.)
  • Manly Tears: Tolkien showed no shame about having Badass characters weep when the situation merited it.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted frequently.
    • 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 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."
  • Mithril: The Trope Namer.
  • Mordor: The Trope Namer.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: invokedPart of Tolkien's aim in devising the Elvish languages and the Black Speech. He deliberately tried to make one sound beautiful and the other sound ugly, at least to his own aesthetic senses.
  • Mysterious Backer: Eru and the Valar in all of his works.
  • Old Shame: One of his earliest poems, "Goblin Feet," exemplified the twee cutesy style of fantasy that the mature Tolkien abhorred. Of it he said: "I wish the unhappy little thing, representing all that I came (so soon after) to fervently dislike, could be buried for ever."
  • Only Known by Initials: Full name is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
  • Only One Name: While I Am X, Son of Y and I Have Many Names are more common, some (usually minor) characters are known only by a single name, or only by their parentage.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Being both a linguist and perfectionist, Tolkien worked hard to avoid using words that did not have a European root in his legendarium. Despite this, he still let a few of them slide when there was no reasonable alternative, such as "potato." (Potato comes from the Taino word "batata".)
  • Our Elves Are Different: Rightly or not, Tolkien codifies the stereotype that elves are a bunch of proud Superior Species.
    • 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 at least partly via three separate incidents of genocide, 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, while the rest have mellowed out. 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, surviving the last Kinslaying, and witnessed Sauron co-opting Eregion), they had all probably wised up to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

      Now, since The Lord of the Rings 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 (who is noted as having had a very strong ambitious streak in her youth) 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.
  • Palantir Ploy: The Palantír devices in The Lord of the Rings are the trope-namers.
  • The Power of Language: Tolkien was a noted linguistics freak, notorious for creating his own Con Langs and Artificial Scripts. His works tend to reflect this interest in the form of Central Themes.
  • Prophecy Twist: No man can kill the Lord of the Ringwraiths? Good thing men aren't the only ones with swords, then. (As with When Trees Attack below, this came from his disappointment with Macbeth.)
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Common in his works, as part of his belief that War Is Hell. You may be able to defend yourself through war, and may even defeat your enemy, but it will always come at very high cost. A few specific examples:
    • The War of Wrath in The Silmarillion ends with Morgoth's defeat, but the continent of Beleriand was laid waste in the battle and sank under the sea. (Also as a result, the Valar and Maiar decide to no longer use their power to directly intervene in the war against evil, making the later battles against Sauron all the more difficult.)
    • The Last Alliance managed to defeat Sauron, but lost so many people that the kingdoms of Elves and Men ended up depopulated and ripe for attack by Sauron's human allies, which led to the destruction of Arnor and the reduction of the Elves to just a few small settlements.
    • The Battle of Five Armies—and its precursor, the death of Smaug—result in the Goblin and Warg forces being decimated. Gandalf also mentions that Smaug might have allied with Sauron later, and so that is a great threat gone. This comes at the cost of many lives from many different peoples.
    • The final victory over Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. The destroying of the Ring led to the final waning of 'magic' in Middle-earth and the departure of the remaining Elves to the West.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin:invoked Both Arwen and Lúthien were described as not only having dark hair, pale skin, and grey eyes, but also as the most beautiful women of their eras. This is mainly because Tolkien's wife Edith had these features, and he was open in expressing his love towards her.
  • Real Joke Name: After The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien received a letter from a real person named Sam Gamgee, who hadn't read the book but heard that there was a character who shared his name. Tolkien was delighted and sent Mr. Gamgee a signed copy of the novel. However, he later remarked in a letter, "For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed 'S. Gollum'. That would have been more difficult to deal with."
  • Ridiculous Procrastinator: Tolkien was rather guilty of this. A number of potential academic collaborations ended up going nowhere. He once predicted in 1937 he'd have the Hobbit sequel finished by spring next year. It would not be completed until 1949 with the appendixes still being edited in 1955 and a proposed index of names never finished. In Tolkien's case it was less because he delayed and more because he got sidetracked by new ideas and avenues of exploration instead of focusing on the main point. The Silmarillion was never finished in his lifetime as he kept tinkering with the underlying philosophy and core concepts until his death.
  • Rightful King Returns: A frequently-recurring Trope. The Return of the King is the most obvious use. It can also be found in the The Hobbit, with Thorin Oakenshield reclaiming his ancestral kingdom of Erebor, and the people of Lake-town naming Bard the Bowman, descendant of the original ruling line of Dale, as their King.
  • Ring of Power: Not the Trope Maker, but perhaps the Trope Codifier for non-mythology-fans.
  • 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).
  • Saved from Development Hell: The Silmarillion, finally published in 1977 by his son Christopher.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Where it lands on the scale depends on the piece.
    • The Lord of the Rings is more on the idealistic end of the scale, though the heroes have to go to hell and back to Earn Your Happy Ending. That said, it's nonetheless a Bittersweet Ending, as much of the beauty of Middle-earth is fading forever with the departure of the Elves and the depowering of the Three, and Frodo is unable to find peace in the Shire he suffered so much pain to save.
    • The Hobbit despite being somewhat Lighter and Softer than Rings is a little more balanced of optimism and cynicism. It's also more of a Grey-and-Gray Morality story rather than a typical one of good vs evil.
    • The Silmarillion however is as a whole leaning more towards the cynical end but it depends heavily on which story you're talking about:
      • The Tale of Túrin Turambar is one of the bleakest, most cynical stories in the entire corpus. Túrin is a Tragic Hero, and by the end Everybody Dies. It might be the most cynical thing Tolkien has ever written.
      • Beren and Lúthien on the other hand is the most optimistic. Like The Lord of the Rings it blends Earn Your Happy Ending with Bittersweet Ending. Beren and Lúthien literally go to hell and back, as both perish on their quest but come Back from the Dead when Lúthien moves the unmovable Mandos to pity. However this is not without a price; Lúthien must sacrifice her immortality to do so, so when she dies a second time (and she dies long before her time because she possessed a Silmaril) her spirit passes forever from the world. Oh, and their son is later murdered for his Silmaril.
      • The incomplete story of the Fall of Gondolin starts cynically, what with it being the collapse of the last great Elven kingdom in Beleriand still standing against Morgoth and all. However it ends up being an Earn Your Happy Ending with hope for the future: Tuor and Idril successfully led much of the people to safety, and together founded one of the most important lineages in Middle-earth through their grandsons, Elrond and Elros (who became the first King of Númenor). Also, their son, Eärendil, brought a Silmaril back to Valinor and finally got the Valar off their butts to deal with Morgoth. And Tuor became the only Man welcomed in Valinor when he took to the sea with Idril (speculated upon in the writings, but also confirmed by Word of God). So pretty optimistic in the end.
  • Speak Friend and Enter: The Lord of the Rings is the Trope Namer.
  • Standard Fantasy Races: His works are the Trope Codifier, establishing the way humans (or as he calls them, "men"), elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, goblins, trolls and ents are portrayed in modern fantasy.
  • Supporting Leader: Former Trope Namer (The Aragorn) and possibly Trope Maker.
  • Take That!:
    • 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. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
    • 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.
    • invoked Tolkien also sent a Strongly Worded Letter to A. A. Milne, complaining about the Adaptation Decay from The Wind in the Willows in Toad of Toad Hall and saying that his children were appalled. Somewhat Hilarious in Hindsight as Tolkien fans are famously equally stringent about Adaptation Decay in Tolkien's own works.
  • Tender Tears: Tolkien is rare amongst Western artists for creating consistently sensitive and soft-hearted men who do not see crying as shameful or dishonorable.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Narn i Hin Húrin, Fall of Gondolin, Akallabêth
  • Theme Naming, various kinds: Theme Family Naming (including Theme Twin Naming and Alphabetical Theme Naming), naming conventions along a dynasty (be they birth or ruling names), or general ones (e.g. the hobbit tradition of naming girls after flowers or gemstones).
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: Tolkien was not a fan of the liturgical changes that occurred in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and would give the Mass responses loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation responded in English. In spite of this, he saw deliberately enduring irreverent liturgies as a form of penance.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Fingolfin does this to Morgoth himself in The Silmarillion.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: It's called galvorn. The black swords of The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin are made from it.
  • Time Abyss: The Valar, Maiar, and Tom Bombadil are all either as old as the entire world, or older. See also Eldritch Abomination
  • 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 the sun and moon don't enter the picture until halfway through the First Age.
  • 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  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.
  • Turn the Other Cheek:invoked Several of his characters (Fingolfin, Bilbo, Frodo...) try to be forgiving and merciful even when their lives are threatened. This is directly discussed by Gandalf when remarking on how Bilbo spared Gollum - and in the end, he was proven right to do so, as Gollum was, inadvertently, critical to the destruction of the Ring.
  • Villain Decay: Tolkien's conception of evil is that it is intrinsically a diminishing, self-destructive force. Most of his villains begin with far-reaching plans or even noble goals, but they end up wasting their power with petty, useless acts of destruction. Morgoth goes from wanting to steal Creation to just trying to make everybody's lives miserable. Sauron goes from wanting to conquer the world in order to repair it to a power-hungry tyrant. Saruman goes from being an older-than-Earth angelic being that plotted to take over Middle-earth with his cunning, technology, and a massive army to employing ruffians to harass hobbits out of spite.
  • Walk into Mordor: The Movie of The Lord of the Rings is the Trope Namer. The phrase doesn't appear in the book, however.
  • War Is Hell:
    • This is a constant theme, since Tolkien was a World War I veteran. He did not consider war "romantic" at all, and his own psychological Written-In Infirmity plays a part. He escaped the horrors of World War I with his body intact but his experiences, particularly as a veteran of the Battle of the Somme, along with losing nearly all his boyhood friends, left him scarred mentally, which he worked through partly by writing.
    • Faramir, who Tolkien himself said was his favorite character and the one most like him, may sum up Tolkien's beliefs the best:
    Faramir: "War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend."
  • Warrior Prince: By the bucketload. Most named characters in The Silmarillion are these, and boatloads more show up in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • 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. [1]
    • If it hadn't been for Lewis, Tolkien would never have published anything at all, not thinking it fit for a wider audience:
    The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not "influence" as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my "stuff" could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought the L. of the R. to a conclusion.
    • Tolkien and Lewis once challenged each other to produce a Science Fiction story. Lewis ended up producing The Space Trilogy, unfortunately Tolkien would never finish his own effort The Lost Road which gave his own take on the Atlantis legend via the past life dreams of the modern protagonist and his son. However elements from it such as the island of Númenor and the character of Elendil would become key parts of his main mythos.
    • A second attempt at the time travel story was the Norton Club Papers which concocted an entire fictitious history of the titular group. It used a similar premise of the protagonist's dream of a past life in Númenor, but was dropped before the narrative could go to Númenor.
    • 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.
  • Worldbuilding: 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 events that led to the downfall of Númenor (the world's Atlantis equivalent) 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.
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants:
    • For The Lord of the Rings, as shown by The History of Middle-earth. For instance, Faramir's introduction was completely unplanned, and Aragorn was going to be paired with Eowyn until Arwen was created.
    • The Ringwraiths provide a frightening example. They just showed up without being planned in the third draft of The Fellowship of the Ring, and he had to work to incorporate them into his existing lore.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Gandalf's speech in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, while a slightly paraphrased variation of the speech in the book, is the Trope Namer.

He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.
"It's a gift!" he said.