BOURNEMOUTH, England (UPI) -- Like Lewis Carroll with Alice in Wonderland, J.R.R. Tolkien began writing a book for children and it developed into an international classic for adults.
By the time he died yesterday at the age of 81, the former Oxford University professor's stories of a "middle earth" populated by hobbits, dragons, trolls, walking forests and rings of enchantment had become almost a cult among readers of all ages.
It was a 10-year-old boy who got Tolkien's first book, The Hobbit, published.
Tolkien wrote it for the benefit of his own children then sent it to publisher Sir Stanley Unwin in 1939 for possible inclusion in his list of children's books.
Unwin's son, Rayner, drew the task of reading it, then urged his father to publish it.
Its success spurred Tolkien to start on a followup work, The Lord of the Rings, on which the professor's fame chiefly depends.
It ran to three volumes -- longer than War and Peace -- and contained stretches of verse, five learned appendices and samples of imaginary languages and imaginary alphabets.
It continued the story of the quest by a band of dwarfs, or hobbits, for the dragon-guarded treasure of their ancestors, and the assistance given them by a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.
The trilogy sold well from the start. But it was in the United States in the early 1960s that it suddenly burst forward as a best seller, prompting the birth of Tolkien cults and Tolkien societies.
The book's fame quickly spread around the world where it was translated into numerous languages and its sales soared into millions.
Tolkien retired as professor of English language and literature in 1959 and lived in semi seclusion. He became ill yesterday while visiting friends and was rushed to a local nursing home where he died shortly after admission.