Check It Out: The hows and whys of Hobbits

In the early 1930s, Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the words, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit," on a blank page while marking students' papers. Over the next couple decades, he built a story from that one sentence, and it grew to become the fantasy masterpieces "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." The Newport Beach Public Library has many books about the life and works of this great author for a variety of ages and interests.

Starting with books for children, "J.R.R. Tolkien" by Alexandra Wallner is a picture-book biography. The book is creatively designed as a game with a board and cards providing a backdrop for the narrative. The flowing illustrations consist of many English garden and fantasy images. It's a very pretty book and features well-known characters like Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins alongside real-life people like Tolkien and his family.

"Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings'" by Anne E. Neimark is a good biography for upper-elementary or middle-school kids. In pacing and structure, the book reads like a novel. It covers Tolkien's life and discusses his fictional works as mythologies he created for England. This book isn't illustrated, except for the front cover, but it is a neat read.

Moving on to a biography written for teens, "J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Imaginary Worlds" by Edward Willett features anecdotal boxes scattered throughout the main narrative and a quotes section and timeline at the end. It's illustrated with a few black-and-white photographs. The main narrative covers Tolkien's childhood, marriage, service in World War I, years at Oxford and success as a writer.

There's some variety in the books about Tolkien for adults. Instead of traditional straightforward biographies, a couple of these selections feature art by Tolkien, while others focus on his literary work.

"The Art of 'The Hobbit' by J.R.R. Tolkien" by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull features sketches, drawings and paintings of maps and places created for "The Hobbit" by Tolkien himself, many of which appeared in the published book. The sketches are particularly interesting as they show the creative process of this vast world being built.

"Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien," with foreword and notes by his son Christopher Tolkien, depicts scenes from "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Silmarillion," along with other motifs, drawn by Tolkien to illustrate his rich and detailed imaginary world. Illustrations include lots of drawings, some in color, and watercolor paintings.

"Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship" by Colin Duriez is a biography of both men, focusing on their literary endeavors, years at Oxford, the Inklings (an informal literary group) and longtime friendship. Lewis is best known for his children's book series, "The Chronicles of Narnia." Lewis encouraged Tolkien as he was writing "The Lord of the Rings" and reading portions of it aloud at Inklings meetings.

"The Complete Tolkien Companion" (third edition) by J.E.A. Tyler with illustrations by Kevin Reilly is an incredibly detailed encyclopedia. Never be lost or confused while visiting Middle-earth again! All the characters, languages, places, events, food and more are listed in alphabetical order and cross-referenced.

"Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien" by Paul H. Kocher is a scholarly look at Tolkien's fiction as a whole, including lesser-known works. Most of the book is dedicated to "The Lord of the Rings" and Middle-earth mythos.

An author, professor, artist, inventor of languages and writing systems; a lover of trees, English gardens and pipe-smoking, Tolkien is known to have said, "I am a hobbit in all but size."

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

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