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The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by English academic J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien's earlier fantasy book, The Hobbit, and soon developed into a much larger story. It was written in stages between 1937 and 1949, with much of it being created during World War II. It was originally published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955 (much to Tolkien's annoyance, since he had intended it to be a single volume), and has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into at least 38 languages, becoming one of the most popular works in 20th-century literature.
The action in The Lord of the Rings is set in what the author conceived to be the lands of the real Earth, inhabited by humanity but placed in a fictional past, before our science but after the fall of his version of Atlantis, which he calls Númenor. Tolkien gave this setting a modern English name, Middle-earth, derived from the Old English Middangeard, the realm where humans live in Norse and related Germanic mythologies.
The story concerns peoples such as Hobbits, Elves, Men, Dwarves, Wizards, and Orcs and centres on the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. Starting from quiet beginnings in The Shire, the story ranges across Middle-earth and follows the courses of the War of the Ring. The main story is followed by six appendices that provide a wealth of historical and linguistic background material, as well as an index of characters, place names, and terms of note.
Along with Tolkien's other writings, The Lord of the Rings has been subjected to extensive analysis of its literary themes and origins. Although a major work in itself, the story is merely the last movement of a larger cycle, or legendarium, that Tolkien had worked on for many years since 1917. Influences on this earlier work, and on the story of The Lord of the Rings, include philology, mythology, Industrialization, and religion, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I. The Lord of the Rings in its turn is considered to have had a great impact on modern fantasy, and the impact of Tolkien's works is such that the use of the words "Tolkienian" and "Tolkienesque" have been recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in "The Hobbit". In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose. The Fellowship was scattered. Some were bracing hopelessly for war against the ancient evil of Sauron. Some were contending with the treachery of the wizard Saruman. Only Frodo and Sam were left to take the accursed Ring of Power to be destroyed in Mordor - the dark Kingdom where Sauron was supreme. Their guide was Gollum, deceitful and lustfilled, slave to the corruption of the Ring. As the Shadow of Mordor grows across the land, the Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, has joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and takes part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escape into Fangorn Forest and there encounter the Ents. Gandalf has miraculously returned and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman. Sam has left his master for dead after a battle with the giant spider, Shelob; but Frodo is still alive - now in the foul hands of the Orcs. And all the while the armies of the Dark Lord are massing as the One Ring draws ever nearer to the Cracks of Doom.