Works inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien

The works of J. R. R. Tolkien have served as the inspiration to painters, musicians, film-makers and writers, to such an extent that Tolkien is sometimes seen as the "father" of the entire genre of high fantasy.[1] The production of such derivative works is sometimes of doubtful legality, because Tolkien's published works will remain in copyright until 2043. The film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are owned by Middle-earth Enterprises, while the rights of The Silmarillion and other material remain with The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Ltd.

Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story... The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

J. R. R. Tolkien[2]

Art and illustration

The earliest illustrations of Tolkien's works were drawn by the author himself. In 1937, The Hobbit was first illustrated by professional draughtsmen for the American edition. Tolkien was very critical of these, and in 1946 he rejected illustrations by Horus Engels for the German edition of the Hobbit as "too 'Disnified'".[3]

In 1948, Milein Cosman was invited by Tolkien's publishers to submit illustrations for Farmer Giles of Ham. Tolkien felt her impressionistic style did not suit the story, and she was replaced by Pauline Baynes, who later also supplied the illustrations for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962) and Smith of Wootton Major (1967). In 1968, Tolkien was sent a number of a suite of illustrations of The Lord of the Rings, mostly in coloured ink, by English artist Mary Fairburn; Tolkien said of her pictures: "They ... show far more attention to the text than any that have yet been submitted to me.... I am beginning to ... think that an illustrated edition might be a good thing." For various reasons the project went no further, and Fairburn's illustrations were unknown until 2012.[4] Crown Princess Margrethe (now Queen Margrethe II) of Denmark, an accomplished and critically acclaimed painter, was inspired to illustrations to The Lord of the Rings in the early 1970s. She sent them to Tolkien, who was struck by the similarity to the style of his own drawings. In 1977, Queen Margrethe's drawings were published in the Danish translation of the book, which was reissued in 2002,[5] redrawn by the British artist Eric Fraser.[6] These images were also included in the English edition of 1977 by the Folio Society.

Tim and Greg Hildebrandt were also well-known Tolkien illustrators during the first decades after the publication of The Lord of the Rings.

In the 1970s, British artist Jimmy Cauty created a best-selling poster of The Lord of the Rings (1976) and The Hobbit (1980) for the retailer Athena.[7][8]

Probably the widest-known Tolkien illustrators of the 1990s and 2000s are John Howe, Alan Lee, and Ted Nasmith — Alan Lee for illustrated editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Ted Nasmith for illustrated editions of The Silmarillion, and John Howe for the cover artwork to several Tolkien publications. Howe and Lee were also involved in the creation of Peter Jackson's film trilogy as concept artists — Nasmith was also invited to take part in the films, but was forced to reluctantly decline due to a personal crisis at the time. In 2004, Lee won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his work on the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.[9]

Other artists who have found inspiration in Tolkien's works include Catherine Karina Chmiel, Inger Edelfeldt, Anke Eißmann, Roger Garland, Michael Hague, Tove Jansson (of Moomin fame, illustrator of Swedish and Finnish translations of The Hobbit), Jay Johnstone, Paul Raymond Gregory, Tim Kirk, Angus McBride, Jef Murray, Kay Miner, Billy Mosig, Colleen Doran, Jenny Dolfen, Matěj Čadil and Peter Xavier Price.


Tolkien originally sold the film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1968, but they never made a film, and in 1976 the rights were sold to Tolkien Enterprises, a division of the Saul Zaentz Company.

In the early seventies John Boorman was planning a film of The Lord of the Rings, but the plans never went further because of movie studio politics. Some of the work done was resurrected for the film Excalibur in 1981.

Ralph Bakshi directed an animated movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1978 (partly made with the rotoscope technique), which covered only the first half of The Lord of the Rings. Rankin-Bass covered the second half with a children's TV animation The Return of the King (1980); earlier they had made a TV animation of The Hobbit (1977).

The Lord of the Rings was adapted as a trilogy of films (2001–03), directed by Peter Jackson. The Hobbit was also adapted as a trilogy (2012–14), with some elements adapted from The Return of the King's Appendices.

The split of Tolkien's works between Tolkien Enterprises and the Tolkien Estate means that none of the Tolkien Enterprises' products can include source material from outside The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and therefore a film or stage version of The Silmarillion is highly unlikely.

Comparisons have been made to the plot of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 and Tolkien's works.


There are multiple model-based games, trading card games, board games and video games that take place in Middle-earth, most depicting scenes and characters from The Lord of the Rings. In a broader sense, many fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and DragonQuest were strongly influenced by Tolkien's works. Such games feature creatures such as Orcs, Trolls, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Ents which are common to Tolkien's mythos even if they do not take place in Middle-earth.

Video games

The books have been reproduced in video game form a number of times during the 1980s and 2000s, including Melbourne House's Lord of the Rings, Shadows of Mordor, War in Middle-earth; Interplay's Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 and Lord of the Rings Vol. 2.; Electronic Arts' action platformer adaptations of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, real-time strategy games The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, and the role-playing game The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, all based on the Jackson films; and Sierra Entertainment's action platformer based on The Fellowship of the Ring. There is also a PSP Game titled The Lord of the Rings: Tactics based on the Jackson films, a MMORPG by Turbine, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. The Two Towers (MUD) is also set in Tolkien's world. Lego's licensed theme game version had Japanese anime graphics.

Other games

Games Workshop have made a miniature wargame called The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which, while part of the film trilogy's merchandise, combines elements from both the books and films. Many of Games Workshop's other battle games that are not directly related to the books have had some key background based on it.

Several other games have been based directly on The Lord of the Rings and related works, including, amongst many, Iron Crown Enterprises' Middle-earth Role Playing game (1982–1999) and Middle-earth Collectible Card Game (1995–1999), as well as The Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game (2001) made by Decipher, Inc. All of these predate Jackson's film trilogy except for Decipher's card game, which is part of the latter's merchandise.

Decipher also created the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, a role-playing game based on the Jackson films.

Board games include Risk: Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition and another simply entitled Lord of the Rings, as well as the Middle Earth Games from Simulations Publications, Inc. containing the games War of the Ring (strategic, covering all three books), Gondor (tactical, covering the siege of Minas Tirith) and Sauron (covering the decisive battle of the Second Age) in 1977. A more recent strategic game covering all three books, called War of the Ring, was released in 2004. There are also Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly editions based on The Lord of the Rings, as well as a The Lord of the Rings Trivia Game quiz game. Chess sets have also been created with the figures based on people and other characters from The Lord of the Rings. there has also been a game on the Nintendo WII. It was "The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn's Quest" which is a third person game based on Aragon's role in the book.


The creators of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game were also strongly influenced by Tolkien. The game has (clearly Tolkien-influenced) dwarves and elves as playable characters, and formerly had hobbits as well. After being threatened with a lawsuit by the Saul Zaentz company, Tolkien Enterprises, they replaced hobbits with the similar "halflings" — a term also used in The Lord of the Rings, balrogs with 'balor-demons' and other genericized names. In most versions of the game, halflings were especially good at being thieves/rogues, a nod to Bilbo the thief in The Hobbit. His works also indirectly inspired the Warcraft series via their use in Games Workshop's battle games.

Equally common is the use of the term orc for a variety of hobgoblin type creatures in later fantasy although Tolkien popularized this modern usage of the word. Even more removed genre games such as Shadowrun and Warhammer 40,000 use the term, therein spelt Ork, possibly to sidestep possible legal issues (though Tolkien actually preferred -k in late writings).



Many authors have found inspiration in Tolkien's work as well. Following the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the 1960s, publishers were quick to try to meet a new demand for literate fantasy in the American marketplace.[10] Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series, beginning with A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968, was one of the first fantasy series influenced by Tolkien. [11][12] Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Jane Yolen's The Magic Three of Solatia were two examples of Tolkien-inspired fantasies for young adults written in the mid-1970s. [13]Ballantine, under the direction of editor Lin Carter, published public domain and relatively obscure works under the banner of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, aimed at adult readers who enjoyed Tolkien's works.[10] Lester Del Rey, however, sought for new books that would mirror Tolkien's work, and published Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara, David Eddings's Belgariad, and Stephen R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. [10] Guy Gavriel Kay, who had assisted Christopher Tolkien with the editing of The Silmarillion, later wrote his own Tolkien-influenced fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry. [10] Russian writer Nick Perumov was able to publish several fantasy novels set in Tolkien's Middle-Earth after the events of The Lord of the Rings (due to a loophole in Russian copyright law).[14] Dennis L. McKiernan's Silver Call duology was intended to be a direct sequel to The Lord of the Rings but had to be altered. The Iron Tower trilogy, highly influenced by Tolkien's books, was then written as backstory.[15]

Throughout the next two decades, the term "fantasy" became synonymous with the general aspects of Tolkien's work: multiple races including dwarves and elves, a quest to destroy a magical artifact, and an evil that seeks to control the world. The plot of Novelist Pat Murphy's There and Back Again intentionally mirrors that of The Hobbit, but is transposed into a science-fiction setting involving space travel. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter has been seen as having been influenced by Tolkien's work, particularly the wizard Dumbledore being partially inspired by Tolkien's Gandalf.[16] The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini largely rehashed the setting and languages of The Lord of the Rings, as well as creatures such as elves and dwarves having nearly identical qualities to the Elves and Dwarves of Middle-earth (though the plot is much more similar to that of Star Wars). Some people have gone so far as to accuse Paolini of plagiarism.[17] S.M. Stirling's "Emberverse" series includes a character obsessed with The Lord of the Rings who creates a post-apocalyptic community based upon the Elves and Dúnedain of Middle-earth. The same plot point was used by the Russian writer Vladimir Berezin in his novel Road Signs (from the Universe of Metro 2033). Another Russian writer, Kirill Eskov, wrote The Last Ringbearer, about the events in Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Sauron. Stephen King, best known for horror novels, has acknowledged Tolkien's influence on his novel The Stand as well as his fantasy series The Dark Tower. Several other prominent fantasy writers, including George R. R. Martin, Michael Swanwick, Raymond E. Feist, Poul Anderson, Karen Haber, Harry Turtledove, Charles De Lint, and Orson Scott Card, have all acknowledged Tolkien's work as an inspiration for their own fantasy work. [10]


Some people were inspired to compose poems in Quenya or Sindarin, the two most developed of Tolkien's created languages. For example, Helge Kåre Fauskanger translated the first two chapters of Genesis into Quenya. Tyalië Tyelelliéva is a journal dedicated to poems in the Elvish languages.


Cartoonist Jeff Smith was influenced by Tolkien, and the mythologies that inspired his works. His epic 1,300 page graphic novel, Bone has been characterized by him as "Bugs Bunny meets The Lord of the Rings. It's a really long fairy tale with some fantasy elements but a lot of comedy."[18]

Radio plays

Three radio plays based on The Lord of the Rings have been made, broadcast in 1955–1956, 1979 and 1981 respectively. The first and last ones were produced by the BBC.


Numerous songs and other musical works, in a wide range of idioms, have been inspired by or refer to the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Rock and heavy metal music

Jack Bruce wrote a song called "To Isengard", included in his first solo album "Songs for a taylor" (1969). Progressive rock acts like Rush, Mostly Autumn, Glass Hammer, Bo Hansson and indie rock band Gatsbys American Dream have composed several songs based on Tolkien's characters and stories. Camel's "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider" is obviously about Gandalf. Rock band Led Zeppelin has numerous songs inspired by Tolkien's works (certainly "The Battle of Evermore", "Misty Mountain Hop", and "Ramble On," with debate about some parts of "Stairway to Heaven").[19] Tom Rapp set most of The Verse of the One Ring ("Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky...") to music as "Ring Thing" in Pearls Before Swine's second album, Balaklava (1968).[20] Bob Catley, lead singer of the British prog rock band Magnum, released a solo album titled Middle Earth, themed around The Lord of the Rings. Punk quartet Thrice have released a song called "The Long Defeat" about Tolkien's philosophies. The East Texas-based rock band Hobbit has produced multiple albums inspired by Tolkien's work.[21]

Many heavy metal artists were influenced by Tolkien. Blind Guardian composed many songs relating to Middle-earth, including the full concept album Nightfall in Middle Earth that follows The Silmarillion.[19][22] Most songs by symphonic black metal Summoning[23] are based on Middle-Earth, with focus on the orcs and dark forces. The entire discography of multi-genred metal band Battlelore is also Tolkien-themed. Power metal bands like Epidemia, Nightwish[24] (Elvenpath, Wishmaster, among others), Megadeth (This Day We Fight!)[25], Cruachan (Fall of Gondolin), Sabaton (Shadows of Mordor), and others, feature Tolkien-themed songs. Italian progressive band Ainur composed several albums inspired by Silmarillion stories in early 2000s.[26] Many other bands, as Dark Moor, feature songs inspired to Tolkien's works.

Some bands and certain musicians used Tolkien legendarium for their stage names. Progressive rock band Marillion derive their name from The Silmarillion,[27] Gorgoroth take their name from an area of Mordor, Burzum take their name from the Black Speech of Mordor, Cirith Ungol take their name from the pass on the western path of Mordor, the dwelling of the spider Shelob[28] and Amon Amarth take their name after an alternative name for Mount Doom.[29] Lead singer of Dimmu Borgir, Shagrath, also takes his stage name from The Lord of the Rings, after an orc captain.[30]

Jazz music

Australian jazz musician and composer, John Sangster, made six albums of musical responses to Tolkien's work. He recorded The Hobbit Suite (1973, Swaggie Records – S1340), and Double Vibe: Hobbit (1977); the first of these, with a selection from the second, was released on CD in 2002 (Swaggie CD 404). The later four double albums,The Lord of the Rings: A Musical Interpretation, v. 1, 2 and 3 (1975-77), and Landscapes of Middle-earth (1978), have been re-released on CD, 2002-06: Move Records MD 3251, 3252, 3253, and 3254.[31]

Folk music

Sally Oldfield's first solo album, Water Bearer (1978) was inspired by Tolkien's works, particularly "Songs of the Quendi".

The Hobbitons was the name of a Dutch folk group who released a CD in 1996, containing 16 tracks of poems by J. R. R. Tolkien, from The Hobbit, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and The Lord of the Rings. Production was with permission of the Tolkien Estate, with the provision that it would not be sold commercially. The CD is sold out.[32]

Irish singer Enya contributed a song "May it Be" for The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) movie soundtrack. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. She also released a song entitled "Lothlórien", on her 1991 album Shepherd Moons.

In 2001, bluegrass and anti-folk artist Chris Thile released an instrumental album titled Not All Who Wander Are Lost, referencing Gandalf's words to Bilbo and Bilbo's poem about Aragorn. On the album is a song titled "Riddles In The Dark", which is the title of one of the chapters of The Hobbit. The album was released with Sugar Hill Records.

The Celtic foursome Broceliande has released The Starlit Jewel, setting to music selected songs by Tolkien.[33]

Other folk rock and new age musicians inspired by Tolkien include Za Frûmi (singing in Orkish), Nickel Creek, David Arkenstone and Lyriel, among others. The Spanish Neoclassical Dark Wave band Narsilion derived its name from Tolkien's song "Narsilion" about the creation of Sun and Moon[34] and also their albums are thematically inspired by Tolkien's legendarium.

Classical / film score music

Donald Swann set music in the British art-song tradition to a collection of seven of Tolkien's lyrics and poems, published as The Road Goes Ever On. The work was approved by Tolkien himself, who collaborated on the published book (1968), to which he provided notes and commentary.[35] The songs were recorded by William Elvin (bass-baritone) with Swann on piano, and released in 1967 on an LP by Caedmon Records.[36]

The Norwegian classical composer Martin Romberg has written three full-scale symphonic poems, Quendi (2008), Telperion et Laurelin (2014), and Fëanor (2017), inspired by passages from the Silmarillion. The works were written on commission by Orchestre national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, Orchestre régional Avignon-Provence and Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice and premiered in Southern France. [37][38][39] Romberg has also set Tolkien's Elven language poems to music in his work "Eldarinwë Liri" for girls' choir. The work premiered in 2010 with the Norwegian Girls Choir and Trio Mediæval at the Vestfold International Festival.[40]

Ensio Kosta composed in 1980–1982 a chamber music series called "Music of Middle-earth", with movements like "Awakening of Shire", "Incantation", "Winding Paths", "Lament of Galadriel", "Riders of Rohan", and "Grey Havens".

Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. 1, “The Lord of the Rings", for concert band, is in five movements, each illustrating a personage or an important episode from the novel: Gandalf, Lothlorien, Gollum, Journey in the Dark (The Mines of Moria /The Bridge of Khazad-Dum), and Hobbits. The symphony was written between March 1984 and December 1987, and was premièred in Brussels on 15 March 1988. It has been recorded four times, including in an orchestral version, orchestrated by Henk de Vlieger.

Jacqueline Clarke's setting Tinuviel (1983), for countertenor solo, SATB choir, and piano accompaniment has been published in score, but not yet recorded.

Leonard Rosenman composed music for the Ralph Bakshi animated movie and Howard Shore composed the music for the three Peter Jackson films (see Music of The Lord of the Rings film series).

Stephen Oliver composed his incidental music score for the 1981 BBC radio drama adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.

Paul Corfield Godfrey has written a large number of works based on Tolkien, the most significant of which is the four-evening cycle on The Silmarillion[41] but also including three operas based on The Lord of the Rings: Tom Bombadil (one act), The Black Gate is closed (three acts) and The Grey Havens. He has also published several sets of songs including Seven Tolkien Songs, Songs of the Mark and Shadow-Bride. His third symphony, Ainulindalë, is based on the opening chapter of The Silmarillion, and there is also a half-hour setting of The Lay of Eärendil based on Bilbo's song at Rivendell (in the expanded version published by Christopher Tolkien in The Treason of Isengard). All the texts were used with permission of the Tolkien Estate and Harper Collins Publishers.

The Tolkien Ensemble published four CDs from 1997 to 2005 with the aim to create "the world's first complete musical interpretation of the poems and songs from The Lord of the Rings". The project was given approval by both the Tolkien Estate and Harper Collins Publishers. Queen Margarethe II of Denmark gave permission to use her illustrations in the CD layout.

Aulis Sallinen, one of the leading classical music composers of Finland, composed his Seventh Symphony named "The Dreams of Gandalf" in 1996, as a commission by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

Patrick Flegg, late husband of Tolkien illustrator Mary Fairburn, composed a piano suite, Anduin: The Mighty River, recorded by Wendy Rowlands (2001).[42]

A.R. Rahman collaborated with Värttinä to compose the music for the stage adaptation The Lord of the Rings Musical.

The Loss and the Silence, a string quartet by Ezequiel Viñao (inspired by the story of Aragorn and Arwen), was commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Juilliard School and was premiered by the Juilliard String Quartet.

Canadian composer Glenn Buhr has written a three-movement tone poem Beren and Lúthien which he has recorded with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as part of his CD Winter Poems. [43]



Tolkien has also been the subject of many academic works. The journals Vinyar Tengwar and Parma Eldalamberon are concerned with the linguistic study of Tolkien's invented languages,[46] while the annual Tolkien Studies focuses on his work in general.


  1. Mitchell, Christopher. "J. R. R. Tolkien: Father of Modern Fantasy Literature". "Let There Be Light" series. University of California Television. Archived from the original (Google Video) on 28 July 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2006..
  2. Qtd. in Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (London: Allen and Unwin, 1977), 89-90.
  3. 7 December 1946, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection, ed. Humphrey Carpenter, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981), no. 107
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  11. "Le Guin's Earthsea series, beginning with The Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is not only amongst the finest examples of post-Tolkien fantasy, it is explicitly and directly influenced by Tolkien himself." Adam Roberts, The Riddles of the Hobbit. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. ISBN 1137373652
  12. "For Le Guin, Tolkien is a major precursor...Le Guin also acknowledges the importance of Tolkien, whose ability to create a world she finds impressive."Susan M. Bernardo, Graham J. Murphy, Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. ISBN 9780313332258 (pp. 92-3).
  13. "Patricia McKillip and Jane Yolen, both American, should also be mentioned here: the former's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974) echoes Tolkien in its nuanced prose...the latter's The Magic Three of Solatia (1974) bears a similar relationship to Tolkien." Jamie Williamson, The Evolution of Modern Fantasy: From Antiquarianism to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. Springer, 2015. ISBN 9781137518088
  14. Natalya Prilutskaya, "Russian Followers of J.R.R.Tolkien", in The Ring Goes Ever On: Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference. Coventry, The Tolkien Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-905520-24-7
  15. Interview with Dennis L. McKiernan
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  19. Bradford Lee Eden. Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien. McFarland, 2010. ISBN 0-7864-4814-8, ISBN 978-0-7864-4814-2. 215 pages
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  24. Lyrics - Wishmaster Archived 4 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine:Tuomas comments the lyrics
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  34. "Narsilion". Castlefest. 2011. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
  35. Bard: Poems and Songs of Middle Earth - Notes
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  46. Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, p. 90, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1

Further reading

  • Iwanitzky, Nikolaus. The Reception of J.R.R. Tolkien's Works in Song Lyrics. Verlag Dr. Kovač: Hamburg, 2017.

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