William Shakespeare's works may have been around the world for hundreds of years. Leo Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' may have been studied and scrutinized by the greatest literary scholars of our time. Stephen King might take up more real estate in bookstores than the works of Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain. J.R.R. Tolkien's books, however, have a fervent following that could make Stephenie Meyer jealous.

Tolkien's tales of hobbits, orcs, wizards and "the precious” ring have captured a group of fans that have read and re-read his works countless times and still find reasons to love them all over again. It’s not hard to figure out why. More than just great works of fantasy or fiction, Tolkien's books are about the little guys (literally and figuratively) who face impossible odds and difficult challenges for no other purpose than to stand up for themselves and what is right. So as Peter Jackson returns to Tolkien’s universe with ‘The Hobbit,’ here’s a look back at the books and films that taught us how to stand tall even if we’re just under three feet in height.

1. Tolkien inadvertently invented the series in an incomplete student’s workbook


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien may not have been an established and well-known author before he penned his famous fantasy series, but he was prolific and respected first as a literary professor.

Tolkien worked a series of teaching and lecturing jobs and wrote stories on the side before ending up at Oxford, his alma mater, as an academic professor. He also had four children and a wife to care for and like most professors at the time, he took on extra work reviewing secondary school papers for some extra money.

Then in 1930, Tolkien was reviewing a student’s paper when he came to a blank page and found himself doodling on the paper just to get through his tedious task. He wrote, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” and the name “hobbit” struck him as an interesting one as he started to explore exactly what a “hobbit” was in his mind. That same sentence began his first novel in the series, ‘The Hobbit.’

2. 'The Lord of the Rings’ was published as a trilogy because the publisher thought it would lose money

orcs lord of the rings
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

'The Hobbit’ became a massive success and made Tolkien a household name, particularly with children. The book’s quirky and youthful mythological tale was a big hit among younger readers, but Tolkien intended to write something much darker and more epic.

He set out to write ‘The Lord of the Rings’ a few years later as a slightly more adult fantasy novel, presumably for those children who loved ‘The Hobbit’ and could handle their favorite characters in a more grown-up setting. His publishers, however, were worried that he would not be able to carry the numbers that ‘The Hobbit’ had produced and instead determined that the most financially efficient way to publish 'The Lord of the Rings' was to break it up into three installments. This way, it would only cost them 1,000 pounds if the books sold poorly. Needless to say, the series was a massive hit and 50 percent of its profits went to Tolkien.

3. He wrote all his books with just two fingers

The Hobbit
Ross Land, Getty Images

'The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ may have been labors of love, but they were still laborious for Tolkien.

Both books took more than 14 years to write and publish. Plus, these stories were epic sagas of descriptive fantasy and are more than 1,200 pages combined. To further complicate matters, Tolkien also typed very slowly. The only way he learned how to type was with two fingers, according to an interview with the New York Times. He called the work of writing “exhausting.”

4. The Beatles wanted to make a ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Tolkien’s family became very protective of his work after his passing in 1973. However, that wasn’t the only frustration that challenged filmmakers and screenwriters who tried to adapt his works for the big screen. The first attempts to film a ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie date back to the late 1950s, but Tolkien was very protective of his work being adapted. Even after he relented and sold the rights to United Artists, studios found it difficult to recreate the magical fantasy scenes Tolkien constructed on paper.

Among the author’s more well-known fans were The Beatles. According to director Peter Jackson, Lennon wanted to make the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy into films with each member of the band playing one of its key characters: Paul McCartney as Frodo, Ringo Starr as Sam, George Harrison as Gandalf and Lennon himself as Gollum. Even weirder, the Fab Four wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct. They actually pitched their idea to Tolkien since he still owned the film rights. Tolkien, however, didn’t like the idea.(Neither did Kubrick, who thought the novels were unfilmable.)

5. All but one of the actors who played members of the Fellowship got a special “Nine” tattoo for the occasion

LOTR Tattoo
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

Jackson won the rights to make the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, a task that would take more than a decade of preparation, filming and special effects work. Needless to say, the long, grueling hours bonded the cast and crew together.

The actors who played the members of the famed "Fellowship," for instance, celebrated their last day of shooting on the first film ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ by getting a special tattoo to commemorate their achievement. Actor John Rhys-Davies, who played the angry dwarf Gimli in the films, said in an interview that they got “the Elvish word for nine (as in) nine in the Fellowship” tattooed somewhere on their bodies after a wild cast party. Naturally, they offered Rhys-Davies to join them. “So I did what any self-respecting actor would do when faced with a stunt that might very well imperil his life,” he said. “I sent my stunt double to have it.”

6. Andy Serkis played more than one character in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies (and we don’t mean just Gollum and Smeagol)

One of the most impressive performances in 'The Lord of the Rings' didn’t happen on camera.

Serkis’ virtual performance of Gollum/Smeagol made him one of the most sought after motion capture actors in Hollywood, a talent he would use in video games and other films such as the great ape in Peter Jackson’s remake of ‘King Kong’ and the chimpanzee Caesar in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’ He also created and provided the terrifying voice of The Witch King for Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.

7. Viggo Mortensen broke his toes on camera during ‘The Two Towers’

The cast suffered several injuries during the long days of shooting all three movies. For instance, Sean Astin, who played the hobbit Sam, suffered a deep cut on his foot after stepping on a large piece of glass in a river. Not soon after, Serkis accidentally pulled off the wig attached to Astin’s head during filming in a studio and Astin stormed off the set in immense pain.

One of the injuries actually made it into the film ‘The Two Towers.’ Viggo Mortensen, aka Aragorn, appeared in a scene with Rhys-Davies and Orlando Bloom (Legolas) where their characters find a pile of burned orc bodies and either Merry or Pippin’s charred belt in the pile. Aragorn kicks a helmet and lets out a massive scream, a scream that turns out was filled with actual physical pain. Mortensen broke two toes on his right foot from kicking the helmet and his cries of pain were real. Jackson left the scream in the film because “Viggo turned a broken toe into a performance.”

8. The “Black Gate” in ‘The Two Towers’ has two gates because of a typo in the script

black gate of mordor

The digital effects team on 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy created massive armies and awe-inspiring settings that until that time could only have existed in readers’ minds.

Some of the more ardent fans of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series, however, might have noticed that the Black Gate of Mordor actually had two gates. Jackson took credit for this deviation from Tolkien’s book. He said in an interview that the script he had given his virtual set builders called for “gates” instead of a gate. This was due to a typo in the script. Unfortunately, the scene was already built when he realized his mistake and decided to leave it in the final cut.

9. Two costume designers put together so much chain mail that it rubbed off their fingerprints

LOTR costumes
Giulio Marcocchi

The costume department may not have had to fight in the hot sun or the pouring rain during principal photography but the massive undertaking to prepare for the film also took its toll on them.

Jackson’s Weta Workshop had to build Tolkien’s world from scratch down to the smallest detail. Even though special effects could replicate the massive scale of the armies, some of the closer shots required detailed and intricate costumes. The process was so long and arduous that two members of the crew lost their fingerprints in the process. The films’ costume crew spent nearly three-and-a-half years preparing for the project and had to make more than 12.5 million metal rings alone just to create all of the chain mail for the extras to wear on set.

10. The Shire is still in New Zealand, but it’s occupied by sheep

The green, rolling hills of New Zealand where Jackson filmed the opening and closing scenes of his trilogy are still standing for visitors, provided you don’t mind the sheep.

Hobbiton,” the hilly landscape in Wellington where the cast and crew shot scenes of the Hobbits’ Shire, has become a tourist attraction for fans of the books and films. Some of the familiar Hobbit homes are still standing and the area attracts well over 100,000 visitors every year, possibly more as 'The Hobbit' moves into theaters. The grass is maintained by flocks of hungry sheep who now call the lush, green landscape home.

Written by Danny Gallagher

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