Tolkien is, naturally, one of my favorite of all authors. He wasn't my first foray into epic fantasy--that would be Lloyd Alexander--but Tolkien cemented my love of that genre for keeps. He is, for me, as profound an influence on my own storytelling as George Lucas.
Here is one my very favorite passages in a book chock-full of favorite passages. This is from The Return of the King, the chapter titled "The Siege of Gondor".
In rode the Lord of the Nazgul. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgul, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.
All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, streadfast as a graven image in Rath Dinen.
'You cannot enter here,' said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. 'Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!'
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
'Old fool!' he said. 'Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!' And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
That is one of those passages that, every time I read it, I pray to whatever powers there are that one day I might write something half so wonderful.
Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien! Long may your stories shine, into the next Age and beyond!