J.R.R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien
Airdate March 9, 2011
Curriculum English
Social Studies

J.R.R. Tolkien is a BrainPOP English/Social Studies video launched on March 9, 2011.


Moby walks into Tim's bedroom, and Tim finds a decoder ring. His voice then turns into that of Gollum's as he calls the ring his "precious".

After talking about J.R.R. Tolkien, the author for The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Moby puts the ring on and turns invisible. Tim suddenly realizes that Moby now has the Ring of Power, and tries to look for him.


Transcript and QuizEdit


  • Tim and Moby re-enact scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Moby dresses up as Gandalf, while Tim pretends to be Gollum.


In Depth Edit


J.R.R. Tolkien was a scholar before he was an author, and his knowledge of the literature, languages, and ancient cultures of Northern Europe influenced his own fictional works. Here are some of his biggest literary inspirations!

Beowulf (pictured): This Old English epic poem (a long poem that tells a story) was probably written in the 7th century. Beowulf is a warrior who saves a kingdom from a monster named Grendel and later returns home to fight a dragon. Tolkien gets credit as the first scholar to treat it as literature, instead of just an historical artifact. Meanwhile, Tolkien borrowed several elements from the poem that showed up in The Hobbit.They include the evil but intelligent dragon Smaug and the naming of Bilbo’s sword Sting, based on an ancient Anglo-Saxon custom of naming legendary swords.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Written in Middle English, this 14th century poem tells the story of one of the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Tolkien translated the poem into modern English, and one of its main themes—resisting temptation—plays a big role in The Lord of the Rings.

The Poetic Edda: A collection of Scandinavian poems from the medieval era. The name Gandalf and the names of the dwarves in The Hobbit can all be traced to these poems.

Kalevala: An epic poem published in 1849 that combines many of the most important legends from Finnish mythology. Like The Lord of the Rings, it features a magical item of great power, as well as a wizard character similar to Gandalf.

Language Edit


J.R.R. Tolkien loved languages. In fact, one of his greatest passions wasphilology, the study of language within literature and history.

He certainly got an early start! His mother taught him Latin, French, and German, and over the course of his schooling, he picked up Greek, Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Middle English, Old English, Old Norse, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. His specialty was Germanic languages, and he was familiar with many of them.

This vast trove of linguistic knowledge came in handy for one of Tolkien’s favorite activities: language construction, or glossopoeia (a term he coined). Over the course of his life, Tolkien created more than twenty unique languages, each with its own grammar and vocabulary!

Many of these languages found expression in his fantasy novels. In fact, Tolkien believed that the creation of languages was a necessary step in the development of mythology. “The stories were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse,” he wrote. “To me a name comes first and the story follows.”

Among the languages that appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the elvish language Quenya, which was inspired by Finnish, and the dwarvish language Khuzdul. And many of the names that appear in the books can be traced to real languages. For example, the name “Sauron” comes from an Old Norse word for “filth,” and the term “Middle-earth” is similar to “middan-geard,” the name given to the Earth in Old English poetry.

Arts And Entertainment Edit


From the time The Lord of the Rings trilogy was first published in 1954-1955, fans clamored for movie versions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary masterpieces. But bringing these books to life on the silver screen always seemed impossible — until Peter Jackson came along!

An animated version of The Lord of the Rings was produced in 1978, but nobody had ever tried to do a live-action adaptation. The spectacular landscapes of Middle-earth, the exotic creatures, and the numerous scenes involving incredible acts of sorcery were some of the biggest obstacles.

Jackson, a director from New Zealand, began work on a live-action adaptation in 1997. Over the next few years, the project overcame many bumps in the road, including a switch in studios and an expansion from two planned movies to three. By 1999, filming for all three movies began and lasted for more than a year!

During the production of the movies, a New Zealand-based special effects company called Weta Workshop developed costumes, make-up, and cutting-edge computer-generated imagery to design the sprawling world of Middle-earth. Respected actors like Sir Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood were hired to bring beloved characters like Gandalf and Frodo to life. And Jackson worked his magic to transfer Tolkien’s words into breathtaking images.

The results exceeded all expectations! The Fellowship of the RingThe Two Towers, and The Return of the King were released from 2001-2003, and the film trilogy quickly became one of the highest-earning and most critically-acclaimed franchises in movie history. It earned almost 3 billion dollars at the box office, as well as numerous awards, including 17 Oscars.

And the journey didn't end there: a trio of movies based on The Hobbit were released from 2012-2014!

Trivia Edit

  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s family name either comes from the German word “tollkühn,” which means “foolhardy,” or the village of Tolkynen in East Prussia.
  • As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider in his family’s garden, but he denied that this was the source of the scary spiders that later appeared in his work. In fact, he claimed that he didn’t remember the incident at all!
  • One day in the early 1930s, while Professor Tolkien was grading student papers at the University of Oxford, he wrote down a simple sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” From that small seed of creative inspiration, he came up with the entire story for The Hobbit, which he used as a bedtime story for his four children before it was published in 1937.
  • Tolkien used the term legendarium to refer to the entire body of his Middle-earth writings. This includes The Silmarillion, a collection of previously unpublished stories that Tolkien’s son Christopher published in 1977, four years after his father’s death.
  • When Tolkien’s publisher first asked for a sequel to The Hobbit, Tolkien submitted some of the material from The Silmarillion. The publisher rejected this material, and Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings instead.
  • Tolkien loved the natural environment and opposed the industrialization of the English countryside. This was reflected in his portrayal of the Shire, but also in his own life: he avoided cars, and preferred to ride a bicycle!
  • After serving in World War I, Tolkien's first civilian job was with the Oxford English Dictionary, where he researched the history and etymology of Germanic words beginning with the letter “w.” He had an especially tough time with the word “walrus!”

Real Life Edit


The parallels between World War II and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Ringsare hard to ignore. But according to Tolkien, the similarities are purely coincidental.

Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. During much of that time, the war between the Allied Powers (led by the United States, England, and France) and the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy) was raging across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Tolkien’s story also included a world-spanning conflict, pitting an alliance of men and elves against the dark armies of Sauron over the fate of Middle-earth.

Some readers see the war in Tolkien’s fantasy world as an allegory, or a symbolic representation, for the war in the real world. They see Sauron as a stand-in for Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, and the One Ring as a symbol of the corrupting influence of power. They also see the devastated landscapes of Middle-earth as a warning against the destructive power of modern warfare.

But in the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien rejected these interpretations. He expressed his personal distaste for allegory in literature and his attempts to avoid it in his own writing. If anything, he wrote, the battle for Middle-earth more closely reflected his own experiences as a soldier during World War I, in which most of his close friends were killed.

Tolkien did hold strong opinions about World War II. He hated Hitler and condemned the Nazis for their racist beliefs. He also disagreed with the “total war” tactics of the Allies, whose bombing campaigns often resulted in thousands of civilian casualties. Tolkien was especially horrified by the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.

Is it possible that these ideas found their way into The Lord of the Rings, perhaps inadvertently? And does an author control what his work means, or is it up to individual interpretation? Those are questions that literary scholars continue to struggle with—and not just in relation to Tolkien’s works.

Famous Faces Edit


One of J.R.R. Tolkien’s closest friends was C.S. Lewis, a fellow professor at the University of Oxford and a celebrated fantasy author in his own right. In fact, you may already be familiar with Lewis’ most famous works: the seven children’s novels of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Like Tolkien, Lewis taught in the English department at Oxford. Their friendship began when Lewis joined an Old Norse reading group founded by Tolkien. That group disbanded, but another was established in its place: the Inklings, an informal literary discussion group that met throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The gathering of professors and authors provided a forum for readings and discussions of unfinished works—in fact, the Inklings were the first audience for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien’s influence on Lewis wasn’t just literary. When they first met, Lewis was an atheist, a person who doesn’t believe in any god. The deeply spiritual Tolkien had many discussions about religion with Lewis, who was eventually convinced to embrace Christianity, the religion of his childhood. As a consequence, many of the Christian themes in Lewis’ Narnia books can be traced back to his friendship with Tolkien.

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