It’s January 3, which means that on this day, in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born. Undoubtedly one of the most influential authors of modern mythic literature, Tolkien spent his childhood as an avid reader and a lover of language. As a boy, he often preferred to invent new tongues himself or with friends. His youthful fancies informed his academic career, and Tolkien eventually became a professor of English Literature. In the 1930s, he wrote an article about the criticism of Beowulf that forever changed how the literary world academically viewed the poem.
But of course, the world remembers Tolkien for changing the fantasy genre forever. By penning The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien set a framework for fantasy literature that countless authors have attempted to recapture over the years. The creation of Middle-earth, from its languages to its poetry to its rich cultural history and varied peoples, was an astounding feat of imagination that no one had managed before with such detail and ardent care.
It denotes a particular status as a writer to have your name instantly associated with an entire genre, and indeed, it is impossible to call up the names of science fiction and fantasy authors and not include Tolkien. He intended with his works to create stories that entered our mythic consciousness, a feat that he accomplished in every sense. Though we may never glimpse the House of Elrond, Minas Tirith, or the peaceful Shire for ourselves, it is enough that he left his world to us, and that we will always be able to journey there… and back again.
This post originally appeared on January 3, 2013 on Tor.com.