- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

Deep into their quest to destroy the evil One Ring, the hobbit Samwise Gamgee asks his friend Frodo Baggins if people will ever write "songs and tales" about their adventures.
The line from the new film version of author J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is a wink to fans who already know the answer.
Over the decades, Mr. Tolkien's world of elves, wizards, monsters and magic has provided gothic inspiration for Stephen King thrillers, Led Zeppelin songs, and games and paintings while spawning countless sword-and-sorcery novel followers.
"Tolkien would be delighted by the popularity of the work, even though he might be off-put by the way some have interpreted it," says Mike Foster, a literature professor at Illinois Central College and spokesman for the Tolkien Society historical group.
For instance, "The Lord of the Rings" is regarded as an influence on some rock music of the 1970s.
Direct Tolkien references exist in Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On," "Misty Mountain Hop" and "The Battle of Evermore" and Rush's "Rivendell," which was one of the writer's elvish cities.
"Led Zeppelin would not have been to [Tolkiens] taste, but they were trying to evoke the same sort of mythic 'hammer of the gods' feeling," Mr. Foster says.
"T'was in the darkest depth of Mordor/ I met a girl so fair/ But Gollum, the evil one crept up/ And slipped away with her," singer Robert Plant wrote in the lyrics to "Ramble On."
The lines are sung from the point of view of Frodo, with the "girl" apparently representing the ring he plans to destroy. Mordor is the sinister kingdom where the ring was forged, and Gollum is a crazed creature corrupted by the relic's magic.

"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, inspired partly by such tales as "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Beowulf," was published between 1954 and 1955 and surged in popularity during the late 1960s and 1970s.
Director Ralph Bakshi transformed the first two installments "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" into the 1978 animated film "The Lord of the Rings." He filmed real actors performing the motions and then drew over those frames to create the cartoon characters and fantasy landscapes.
The final installment, "The Return of the King," was made into a TV cartoon in 1980 by the directing team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., who also had animated Mr. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" two years earlier.
The BBC turned out a well-regarded radio-play version in 1981, with Ian Holm, who plays avuncular Bilbo Baggins in the new films, starring as Frodo. Plans for a live-action movie, however, were abandoned until the late 1990s.
After Mr. Tolkien's death in 1973, a wave of authors began competing for the attention of his fantasy fans, among them Terry Brooks with the "Sword of Shannara" series, Robert Jordan with his "The Wheel of Time" books and Dennis L. McKiernan with his "Mithgar" stories.
"Tolkien just launched a whole plethora of authors into the fantasy line, and I'm one of them," says Mr. McKiernan, whose latest book is a fairy-tale retelling, "Once Upon a Winter's Night."
His first book, "The Silver Call," was conceived in 1977 as a fan's follow-up to the Tolkien saga, with Mr. McKiernan's story set in the Mines of Moria after "The Lord of the Rings" characters escaped it.
"We went into negotiations with Tolkien's estate for three years and couldn't get anywhere," he says. "So my publisher said, 'Make the story your own,' and I went back and created my own world. But it started as an homage."

The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons had a similar genesis, with creator Gary Gygax and friends originally playing it with Tolkien elements before creating an original magical universe when the game was marketed publicly.
In turn, Dungeons & Dragons and Mr. Tolkien have gone on to influence such video games as Gauntlet, Diablo, EverQuest and Baldur's Gate. Two new video games are based directly on "The Lord of the Rings," one from Vivendi Universal based on the Tolkien texts and another from Electronic Arts based on the Peter Jackson movies.
Even Mr. King, the world's best-selling fantasy and horror author, has acknowledged a debt to Mr. Tolkien. He says his 1978 novel "The Stand," about a group of survivors fighting Armageddon after a worldwide plague, was an attempt to remake Middle Earth as the United States. His fantasy series "The Dark Tower" includes Tolkien references and a "Fellowship"-like adventure with monsters and magic.
Innumerable artists also have tried to capture Mr. Tolkien's words in images, notably the calendar illustrations of brothers Greg and Tim Hildebrandt and dozens of recent hand-painted sculptures by Sideshow Weta Collectibles, the special-effects company that worked on the Jackson films.
"The fascination with Tolkien is this intensely poetic, beautiful framework," says illustrator Stephen Hickman, whose Tolkien-themed works include "At the Entmoot," about the meeting of ancient treelike creatures in "The Two Towers." "His characters became these archetypal, perfect characters that just continue to ring in the reader's imagination."

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