Tolkien created a universe on a scale which was entirely unique. No one before or since has come close to equalling his achievement, because no one before or since has followed a creative process as singular and unrepeatable as Tolkien’s.
This enormous scope is a significant factor when trying to explain the extraordinary and lasting popularity of Tolkien’s work, and why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings remain in the best-seller lists several decades after their publication, when most other imaginative fiction writers of Tolkien’s generation are forgotten. Dozens of authors have created cities, continents, planets, galaxies, even parallel universes, but none have succeeded like Tolkien, because his Middle-earth was much more than just a setting for his novels; rather, it was his life’s work, spanning more than half a century, during which time he sought to fill in every detail, to leave no corner of his enormous canvas blank. He was not particularly concerned about being a successful author in critical or commercial terms.
These issues mattered to him as they would to anyone, but they were not central to his work. For one thing, he was in the comfortable position of earning the salary, and enjoying the undemanding timetable, of a professional academic. However, Tolkien was not some Kafkaesque intellectual ascetic, shunning worldly gain in his pursuit of artistic expression. Simply, he wished to create a new mythology for his own satisfaction, and his two main novels are small chapters in this overall design of Middle-earth, from its creation by the supreme God Eru onwards, which absorbed much of his life.
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