Literary Birthday: J.R.R. Tolkien

Even though his name would become synonymous with modern fantasy fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien (born today in 1892) only wrote the epic Middle-Earth cycle collected into The Lord of the Rings, when he was not working at his day job, which was professor of literature and language at Oxford.

Beyond his love of old folklore like Beowulf, which he drew on heavily for his own fantasy tales, he was also a dedicated philologist (a kind of historical linguist) who enjoyed not just learning languages (everything from Greek and Old Norse to Greek, Middle English, and Welsh) but making up his own languages. For the characters of Middle-Earth, he created over a dozen entirely new tongues, ranging from various Elvish dialects like Sindarin and Quenya to Khuzdul (the secret lingo of the dwarves).

Not content with that, Tolkien also invented a “Goblin Alphabet” for The Father Christmas Letters. That book, like some of his other fantasy tales, was written originally to amuse his children, who likely appreciated the effort, though some of the syntax may have been over their heads.

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