In 2003, after a long-running poll, the BBC announced that readers considered The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-volume fantasy tale, the greatest British novel of all time—a result wonderful to report, probably accurate about contemporary readers’ taste, and entirely absurd. Anyone who doesn’t love Tolkien isn’t much of a reader. But, then, neither is anyone who thinks The Lord of the Rings the greatest novel ever written.
In an art form so wide-ranging that it includes everything from the works of Jane Austen to the books of Fyodor Dostoyevsky—from David Copperfield to Naked Lunch, Madame Bovary to The Stranger—Tolkien has to rank somewhere.