J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands. I smoke a pipe, like good, plain food, detest French cooking … I am fond of mushrooms, have a very simple sense of humor … go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”
The Hobbit sold pretty well, partly because C.S. Lewis gave it a big review when it came out. And so Tolkien’s publisher asked for a sequel. Tolkien decided the new book would be about Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, but for a long time he had no idea what sort of adventure.
Finally, he decided it would be about the magical ring, though the ring had not been such an important part of The Hobbit. Tolkien spent the next 17 years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was a professor at Oxford. He had to write in his spare time, usually at night, sitting by the stove in the study in his house.
He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. He hadn’t set out to write an allegory, but once the war began, he started to draw parallels between the war and the events in his novel: the land of evil in The Lord of the Rings, Mordor, was set east of Middle Earth, just as the enemies of England were to the east.
The book became more and more complicated as he went along. It was taking much longer to finish than he’d planned. He went through long stretches where he didn’t write anything. He thought about giving up the whole thing. He wanted to make sure all the details were right, the geography, the language, the mythology of Middle Earth. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of the story. His son Christopher also drew a detailed map of Middle Earth.
Finally, in the fall of 1949, he finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy himself sitting on a bed in his attic, typewriter on his lap, tapping it out with two fingers. It turned out to be more than a half million words long, and the publisher agreed to bring it out in three volumes. The publisher printed just 3,500 copies, but it turned out to be incredibly popular. It went into a second printing in just six weeks. Today more than 30 million copies have been sold around the world.