On this day - 21st July

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The 21st of July 1954

Some 17 years after The Hobbit arrived charmingly in our national consciousness, J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of the follow-on story, Lord of the Rings. The gap is explained by his work as an English Professor at Pembroke and later Merton College in Oxford; but also it appears by the disorganised way in which he wrote, requiring much revision.

His spat with publishers George Allen & Unwin didn't help either — the book begun shortly after The Hobbit was finished was only completed in 1949, but they were not keen on publishing the companion work The Silmarillion (incomplete at that time) as the writer wished so he went over to Collins. When Collins suggested Lord of the Rings be extensively edited down Tolkien went back to Allen & Unwin, who given the vastness of the work decided to publish in three volumes spaced over a year and more. The first, The Fellowship of the Ring, came out on July 21 1954.

Opinion on the work is sharply divided: it is (improbably) credited with inventing the whole fantasy genre, and generations of devotees will hear no word against it; but others find the writing turgid — they are strongly advised to avoid the Silmarillion — and share the view of one of the Inklings, the literary group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, who during a reading of one chapter exclaimed: "Not another fxxxing elf."

It cannot be denied, however, that the story if not the style is gripping. It is equally hard to disagree with the Collins view of its need for shortening.

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