orce of Hobbit The upcoming release of the first feature film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy has sparked new interest in all things Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring doesn't hit theaters until December 19, but anticipation is already building for the $270 million three-movie series starring Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellan.

All three films (including the sequels The Two Towers and The Return of the King) were shot over the course of roughly one year in New Zealand, making it the first time an entire feature film trilogy was filmed concurrently with the same director and cast. Before you check out director Peter Jackson's hobbits on the big screen, enter the Middle-earth as Tolkien envisioned it.

Houghton Mifflin, Tolkien's U.

S. publisher for more than 60 years, has produced a one-volume movie tie-in edition of The Lord of the Rings that packs all three books into a fat paperback. The inexpensive edition revisits the John Ronald Reuel Tolkien classic that has been heralded as the greatest book of the 20th century and credited with launching the fantasy genre.

A professor of languages at Oxford University, Tolkien often created stories to soothe his young son, Michael, who had nightmares. Always fascinated by legends and fairytales, one day while grading exam papers, Tolkien scribbled the line, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." From there came The Hobbit and the best-selling trilogy that followed. The writer who possessed a childlike sense of humor never thought his inventive creations would find their way into print; he was 62 when they were published.

Since the release of The Hobbit in 1938, eager readers have purchased more than 50 million copies of Tolkien's books. Author Tom Shippey, who taught at Oxford with Tolkien, takes a critical look at the author's continuing appeal in the just released biography, J.


R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
. Far from being accidental, Shippey attributes Tolkien's success to his expertise as a linguist and his experiences as a combat veteran.

Whatever the reason for his popularity, readers are sure to line up for the first live-action take on The Lord of the Rings. With second and third sequels waiting in the wings for Holiday 2002 and 2003, it looks like a merry Christmas for fantasy and science fiction fans.

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