The Atlantic

The J. R. R. Tolkien Story That Makes the Case for Fantasy Fiction

The Lord of the Rings author once wrote a short tale about a painter that elegantly argues for the value of escapism in literature.
Source: AP / twentyseconday / Shutterstock / The Atlantic

There’s good reason to discuss hobbits again this spring: On Friday, a biopic about the life of J. R. R. Tolkien opens in theaters nationwide, just as an exhibition of the author’s art, manuscripts, and maps concludes at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. The mumbling, mild-mannered Oxford professor who brought imaginary realms to life remains one of the most popular writers in the world more than 60 years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings. And if six Hollywood blockbusters weren’t enough, Amazon Prime is now producing a new series based on less explored parts of the Middle-earth mythology.

Such runaway success was never guaranteed for Tolkien. A close look at his life reveals that he faced fierce criticism and had his own doubts about his writing career. Tolkien was perhaps neverstill nearly 10 years away from being released, he published a semiautobiographical short story titled “Leaf by Niggle” in . The story provides a window into Tolkien’s creative process and his hope that fantasy stories, often considered mere children’s fare, would gain a genuine foothold in literature and transport readers to new realms.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic2 min readPolitics
‘Don’t Go After Old Uncle Joe Too Fast’
Few Americans know what it’s like to stand onstage for a nationally televised presidential debate. And the few who do have strong partisan biases. With both of those things in mind, I listened Monday as Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Trump Heads Into the G20 on Shaky Ground—And the World Knows It
The president will meet with a number of leaders in Japan. They’ve noticed that for all his bluster, he often folds.
The Atlantic6 min read
How Men and Women Spend Their Time
In one of my many failed schemes to introduce a more equitable division of labor into my home, I stuck lined Post-it Notes on the refrigerator. “Please write down the chores you do. At the end of the week, we’ll figure out if anything needs to change