John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
The English writer, poet, philologist John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: childhood and youth. Memories of the war years. Stages of development of scientific and literary career. The influence of his works on world culture. Posthumous publications of the author.
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Departament of Education and Science of Ukraine
Yuriy Fedkovich Chernivtsi National University
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
1 year student
writer war literary tolkien
2.1 Tolkien family origins
2.4 Courtship and marriage
2.5 World War I
2.6 Academic and writing career
2.8 Retirement and old age
3.2 Politics and race
4.3 Posthumous publications
5. Further reading
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE (3 January 1892 - 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959.He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis--they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972.
After his death, Tolkien's son Christopher published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world called Arda and Middle-earth within it. Between 1951 and 1955, Tolkien applied the term legendarium to the larger part of these writings.
While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the "father" of modern fantasy literature--or, more precisely, of high fantasy. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".Forbes ranked him the 5th top-earning dead celebrity in 2009.
2.1 Tolkien family origins
Most of Tolkien's paternal ancestors were craftsmen. The Tolkien family had its roots in Lower Saxony, but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly intensely English". The surname Tolkien is said to come from the German word tollkuhn ("foolhardy"). German writers have suggested that in reality the name is more likely to derive from the village Tolkynen, near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The name of that place is derived from the now extinct Old Prussian language.
Tolkien's maternal grandparents, John and Edith Jane Suffield, were Baptists who lived in Birmingham and owned a shop in the city centre. The Suffield family had run various businesses out of the same building, called Lamb House, since the early 19th century. From 1810 Tolkien's great-great-grandfather William Suffield had a book and stationery shop there; from 1826 Tolkien's great-grandfather, also named John Suffield, had a drapery and hosiery business there.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province, part of South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857-1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, nee Suffield (1870-1904). The couple had left England when Arthur was promoted to head the Bloemfontein office of the British bank for which he worked. Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was born on 17 February 1894.
As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider in the garden, an event which some think would have later echoes in his stories, although Tolkien admitted no actual memory of the event and no special hatred of spiders as an adult. In another incident, a family house-boy, who thought Tolkien a beautiful child, took the baby to his kraal to show him off, returning him the next morning.
When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father, however, died in South Africa of rheumatic fever before he could join them. This left the family without an income, and so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with Worcestershire towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester, and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt Jane's farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.
Mabel Tolkien herself taught her two sons, and Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early. He could read by the age of four and could write fluently soon afterwards. His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper and thought Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was "amusing but disturbing". He liked stories about "Red Indians" and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. In addition, the "Fairy Books" of Andrew Lang were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings.
Tolkien attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip's School, before winning a Foundation Scholarship and returning to King Edward's School. While a pupil at King Edward's School, he was one of a party of cadets from the school's Officers Training Corps who helped "line the route" for the coronation parade of King George V, being posted just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Mabel Tolkien was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1900 despite vehement protests by her Baptist family, who then stopped all financial assistance to her. In 1904, when Tolkien was 12, she died of acute diabetes at Fern Cottage in Rednal, which she was then renting. Mabel Tolkien was then about 34 years of age, about as old as a person with diabetes mellitus type 1 could live with no treatment--insulin would not be discovered until two decades later. Nine years after his mother's death, Tolkien wrote, "My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith."
Prior to her death, Mabel Tolkien had assigned the guardianship of her sons to Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, who was assigned to bring them up as good Catholics. Tolkien grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He lived there in the shadow of Perrott's Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works.Another strong influence was the romantic medievalist paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a large and world-renowned collection of works and had put it on free public display from around 1908.
In 1911, while they were at King Edward's School, Birmingham, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith, and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society which they called "the T.C.B.S.", the initials standing for "Tea Club and Barrovian Society", alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library. After leaving school, the members stayed in touch, and in December 1914 they held a "Council" in London, at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.
In the summer of 1911, Tolkien went on holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter,noting that Bilbo's journey across the Misty Mountains ("including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods") is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and on to camp in the moraines beyond Murren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn ("the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams"). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and on across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass, through the upper Valais to Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.
In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours in his final examinations.
2.4 Courtship and marriage
At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt, who was three years older, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house in which she lived. According to Humphrey Carpenter:
Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement. There they would sit and throw sugarlumps into the hats of passers-by, moving to the next table when the sugar bowl was empty. ... With two people of their personalities and in their position, romance was bound to flourish. Both were orphans in need of affection, and they found that they could give it to each other. During the summer of 1909, they decided that they were in love.
His guardian, Father Francis Morgan, viewing Edith as a distraction from Tolkien's school work and horrified that his young charge was seriously involved with a Protestant girl, prohibited him from meeting, talking to, or even corresponding with her until he was 21. He obeyed this prohibition to the letter, with one notable early exception which made Father Morgan threaten to cut short his University career if he did not stop.
On the evening of his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith a declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. Edith replied saying that she had already agreed to marry another man, but that she had done so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. The two met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love; Edith returned her engagement ring and announced that she was marrying Tolkien instead. Following their engagement Edith reluctantly announced that she was converting to Catholicism at Tolkien's insistence. Her landlord, a staunch Protestant, was infuriated and evicted her as soon as she was able to find other lodgings. Edith and Ronald were formally engaged in Birmingham, in January 1913, and married at Warwick, England, at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church on 22 March 1916.
2.5 World War I
In 1914, the United Kingdom entered World War I amidst an atmosphere of ultra-nationalism. As a result, Tolkien's relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army. Instead, Tolkien entered a programme wherein he delayed enlisting until completing his degree in July 1915. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers.He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months. In a letter to Edith, Tolkien complained, "Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed." Tolkien was then transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France on 4 June 1916. His departure from England on a troop transport inspired him to write his poem, The Lonely Isle.He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."
Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. According to John Garth, however:
Although Kitchener's army enshrined old social boundaries, it also chipped away at the class divide by throwing men from all walks of life into a desperate situation together. Tolkien wrote that the experience taught him, 'a deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy; especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.' He remained profoundly grateful for the lesson. For a long time, he had been imprisoned in a tower, not of pearl, but of ivory.
Tolkien's time in combat was a terrible stress for Edith, who feared that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband's death. In order to get around the British Army's postal censorship, the Tolkiens had developed a secret code which accompanied his letters home. By using the code, Edith was able to track her husband's movements on a map of the Western Front.
On 27 October 1916 Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by the lice which were common in the dugouts. According to the memoirs of the Reverend Mervyn S. Evers, Anglican chaplain to the Lancashire Fusiliers:
On one occasion I spent the night with the Brigade Machine Gun Officer and the Signals Officer in one of the captured German dugouts ... We dossed down for the night in the hopes of getting some sleep, but it was not to be. We no sooner lay down than hordes of lice got up. So we went round to the Medical Officer, who was also in the dugout with his equipment, and he gave us some ointment which he assured us would keep the little brutes away. We anointed ourselves all over with the stuff and again lay down in great hopes, but it was not to be, because instead of discouraging them it seemed to act like a kind of hors d'oeuvre and the little beggars went at their feast with renewed vigour.
Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends, including Gilson and Smith of the T.C.B.S., were killed in the war. In later years, Tolkien indignantly declared that those who searched his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken:
One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.
Homefront. A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service.
During his recovery in a cottage in Little Haywood, Staffordshire, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps and was promoted to Lieutenant. It was at this time that Edith bore their first child, John Francis Reuel Tolkien.
When he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock. After his wife's death in 1971, Tolkien remembered, I never called Edith Luthien - but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing - and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.
This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Luthien, and Tolkien often referred to Edith as "my Luthien".
2.6 Academic and writing career
Tolkien's first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there. While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon, both becoming academic standard works for many decades. He also translated Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College.
During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, whilst living at 20 Northmoor Road in North Oxford (where a blue plaque was placed in 2002). He also published a philological essay in 1932 on the name "Nodens", following Sir Mortimer Wheeler's unearthing of a Roman Asclepieion at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, in 1928.
Beowulf. Tolkien's 1936 lecture, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," had a lasting influence on Beowulf research. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about Beowulf is "widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism", noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to its purely linguistic elements. At the time, the consensus of scholarship deprecated Beowulf for dealing with childish battles with monsters rather than realistic tribal warfare; Tolkien argued that the author of Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem. Where Beowulf does deal with specific tribal struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded Beowulf: "Beowulf is among my most valued sources," and this influence may be seen throughout his Middle-earth legendarium.
According to Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien had an ingenious means of beginning his series of lectures on Beowulf:
He would come silently into the room, fix the audience with his gaze, and suddenly begin to declaim in a resounding voice the opening lines of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, commencing with a great cry of Hw?t! (The first word of this and several other Old English poems), which some undergraduates took to be 'Quiet!' It was not so much a recitation as a dramatic performance, an impersonation of an Anglo-Saxon bard in a mead hall, and it impressed generations of students because it brought home to them that Beowulf was not just a set text to be read for the purposes of examination, but a powerful piece of dramatic poetry.
Decades later, W.H. Auden wrote to his former professor,
"I don't think that I have ever told you what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf."
In 2003, Tolkien's handwritten translation of and commentary on Beowulf, running to roughly 2000 pages, was discovered in the archives of the Bodleian Library.
World War II. In the run-up to World War II, Tolkien was earmarked as a codebreaker.In January 1939, he was asked whether he would be prepared to serve in the cryptographical department of the Foreign Office in the event of national emergency.He replied in the affirmative and, beginning on 27 March, took an instructional course at the London HQ of the Government Code and Cypher School. However, although he was "keen" to become a codebreaker, he was informed in October that his services would not be required at that time. Ultimately he never served as one. In 2009, The Daily Telegraph claimed Tolkien turned down a ?500-a-year offer to become a full-time recruit for unknown reasons.
Despite being a vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, J.R.R. Tolkien was disgusted by Allied total war tactics against enemy civilians. In a 1945 letter to his son Christopher, Tolkien wrote:
We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well, -- you and I can do nothing about it. And that should be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter--leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines.
In 1945, Tolkien moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959. He served as an external examiner for University College, Dublin, for many years. In 1954 Tolkien received an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland (of which U.C.D. was a constituent college). Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings in 1948, close to a decade after the first sketches.
Tolkien also translated the Book of Jonah for the Jerusalem Bible, which was published in 1966.
The Tolkiens had four children: John Francis Reuel Tolkien (17 November 1917 - 22 January 2003), Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien (22 October 1920 - 27 February 1984), Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (born 21 November 1924) and Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien (born 18 June 1929). Tolkien was very devoted to his children and sent them illustrated letters from Father Christmas when they were young. Each year more characters were added, such as the Polar Bear (Father Christmas's helper), the Snow Man (his gardener), Ilbereth the elf (his secretary), and various other, minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas's battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the Polar Bear.
2.8 Retirement and old age
During his life in retirement, from 1959 up to his death in 1973, Tolkien received steadily increasing public attention and literary fame. The sales of his books were so profitable that he regretted that he had not chosen early retirement. At first, he wrote enthusiastic answers to readers' enquiries, but he became more and more bothered by the emerging Tolkien fandom, which was in part due to the popularity of his books with the hippie movement in the United States. In a 1972 letter, he deplored having become a cult-figure, but admitted that "even the nose of a very modest idol cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!"
Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory, and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth, which was then a seaside resort patronized by the British upper class. Tolkien's status as a bestselling author gave them easy entry into polite society, but Tolkien deeply missed the company of his fellow intellectuals. Edith, however, was overjoyed to step into the role of a society hostess, which was the reason that Tolkien selected Bournemouth in the first place.
According to Humphrey Carpenter, Those friends who knew Ronald and Edith Tolkien over the years never doubted that there was deep affection between them. It was visible in the small things, the almost absurd degree in which each worried about the other's health, and the care in which they chose and wrapped each other's birthday presents'; and in the large matters, the way in which Ronald willingly abandoned such a large part of his life in retirement to give Edith the last years in Bournemouth that he felt she deserved, and the degree in which she showed pride in his fame as an author. A principal source of happiness to them was their shared love of their family. This bound them together until the end of their lives, and it was perhaps the strongest force in the marriage. They delighted to discuss and mull over every detail of the lives of their children, and later their grandchildren.
Tolkien was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year's Honours List of 1 January 1972 and received the insignia of the Order at Buckingham Palace on 28 March 1972. In the same year Oxford University conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.
The grave of J. R. R. and Edith Tolkien, Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford
Tolkien's wife, Edith, died on 29 November 1971, at the age of 82. Tolkien had the name Luthien engraved on the stone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 months later on 2 September 1973, at the age of 81, he was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name.
Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and in his religious and political views he was mostly conservative, in the sense of favouring established conventions and orthodoxies over innovation and modernization; in 1943 he wrote, "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)--or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy."
Tolkien had an intense dislike for the side effects of industrialization, which he considered to be devouring the English countryside. For most of his adult life, he was disdainful of cars, preferring to ride a bicycle. This attitude can be seen in his work, most famously in the portrayal of the forced "industrialization" of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings.
Many commentators have remarked on a number of potential parallels between the Middle-earth saga and events in Tolkien's lifetime. The Lord of the Rings is often thought to represent England during and immediately after World War II. Tolkien ardently rejected this opinion in the foreword to the second edition of the novel, stating he preferred applicability to allegory. This theme is taken up at greater length in his essay "On Fairy-Stories", where he argues that fairy-stories are so apt because they are consistent both within themselves and with some truths about reality. He concludes that Christianity itself follows this pattern of inner consistency and external truth. His belief in the fundamental truths of Christianity leads commentators to find Christian themes in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien objected strongly to C. S. Lewis's use of religious references in his stories, which were often overtly allegorical.However, Tolkien wrote that the Mount Doom scene exemplified lines from the Lord's Prayer.
His love of myths and his devout faith came together in his assertion that he believed mythology to be the divine echo of "the Truth". This view was expressed in his poem and essay entitled Mythopoeia.His theory that myths held "fundamental truths" became a central theme of the Inklings in general.
Tolkien's devout Catholic faith was a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity, although Tolkien was dismayed that Lewis chose to join the Church of England.
In the last years of his life, Tolkien became greatly disappointed by the reforms and changes implemented after the Second Vatican Council, as his grandson Simon Tolkien recalls:
I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn't agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.
3.2 Politics and race
Anarchism. In a 1943 letter to his son Christopher, Tolkien wrote: “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)--or to `unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate real of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could go back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people.
Anti-communism. Tolkien voiced support for the Nationalists (eventually led by Franco during the Spanish Civil War) upon hearing that Republicans were destroying churches and killing priests and nuns.
At a time when many Western writers and intellectuals openly admired Joseph Stalin, Tolkien made no effort to hide his contempt for the dictator of the Soviet Union. Even during World War II, when Britain was allied with the USSR, Tolkien referred to Stalin as "that bloodthirsty old murderer." Tolkien also expressed hope that the United States would overthrow both Stalin and the CPSU after Hitler's defeat.
However, in 1961, Tolkien sharply criticized a Swedish commentator who suggested that The Lord of the Rings was an anti-communist parable and identified the Dark Lord with Stalin. Tolkien retorted,
"I utterly repudiate any such 'reading', which angers me. The situation was conceived long before the Russian revolution. Such allegory is entirely foreign to my thought."
Debate over race. The question of racist or racialist elements in Tolkien's views and works has been the matter of some scholarly debate. Christine Chism distinguishes accusations as falling into three categories: intentional racism, unconscious Eurocentric bias, and an evolution from latent racism in Tolkien's early work to a conscious rejection of racist tendencies in his late work.
Tolkien expressed disgust at what he acknowledged as racism and once wrote of racial segregation in South Africa, "The treatment of colour nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain."
Opposition to Nazism. Tolkien vocally opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party prior to the Second World War. In 1938, the publishing house Rutten & Loening Verlag was preparing to release The Hobbit in Nazi Germany. To Tolkien's outrage, he was asked beforehand whether he was of Aryan origin. In a letter to his British publisher Stanley Unwin, he condemned Nazi "race-doctrine" as "wholly pernicious and unscientific". He added that he had many Jewish friends and was considering, "letting a German translation go hang".He provided two letters to Rutten & Loening and instructed Unwin to send whichever he preferred. The more tactful letter was sent and was lost during the later bombing of Germany. In the unsent letter, Tolkien makes the point that "Aryan" is a linguistic term, denoting speakers of Indo-Iranian languages. He continued, But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject--which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
In a 1941 letter to his son Michael, he expressed his resentment at the distortion of Germanic history in "Nordicism":
You have to understand the good in things, to detect the real evil. But no one ever calls on me to 'broadcast' or do a postscript. Yet I suppose I know better than most what is the truth about this 'Nordic' nonsense. Anyway, I have in this war a burning private grudge... against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler ... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light. Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in England, nor more early sanctified and Christianized.
In 1968, he objected to a description of Middle-earth as "Nordic", a term he said he disliked because of its association with racialist theories.
Total war. Tolkien criticized Allied use of total war tactics against civilians from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. In a 1945 letter to his son Christopher, he wrote:
We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling world-catastrophes. Well, well,--you and I can do nothing about it. And that [should] be a measure of the amount of guilt that can justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is not a member of its actual Government. Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter--leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines.
He also reacted with anger at the excesses of anti-German propaganda during the war. In 1944, he wrote in a letter to his son Christopher:
it is distressing to see the press grovelling in the gutter as low as Goebbels in his prime, shrieking that any German commander who holds out in a desperate situation (when, too, the military needs of his side clearly benefit) is a drunkard, and a besotted fanatic. ... There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don't know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.
He was horrified by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, referring to the scientists of the Manhattan Project as "these lunatic physicists" and "Babel-builders".
Tolkien devised several themes that were reused in successive drafts of his legendarium, beginning with The Book of Lost Tales, written while recuperating from illnesses contracted during The Battle of the Somme. The two most prominent stories, the tale of Beren and Luthien and that of Turin, were carried forward into long narrative poems (published in The Lays of Beleriand).
Main article: J. R. R. Tolkien's influences
British adventure stories
One of the greatest influences on Tolkien was the Arts and Crafts polymath William Morris. Tolkien wished to imitate Morris's prose and poetry romances, from which he took hints for the names of features such as the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings and Mirkwood, along with some general aspects of approach.
Edward Wyke-Smith's The Marvellous Land of Snergs, with its "table-high" title characters, strongly influenced the incidents, themes, and depiction of Bilbo's race in The Hobbit.
Tolkien also cited H. Rider Haggard's novel She in a telephone interview: "I suppose as a boy She interested me as much as anything--like the Greek shard of Amyntas [Amenartas], which was the kind of machine by which everything got moving." A supposed facsimile of this potsherd appeared in Haggard's first edition, and the ancient inscription it bore, once translated, led the English characters to She's ancient kingdom. Critics have compared this device to the Testament of Isildur in The Lord of the Rings and to Tolkien's efforts to produce as an illustration a realistic page from the Book of Mazarbul. Critics starting with Edwin Muir have found resemblances between Haggard's romances and Tolkien's.
Tolkien wrote of being impressed as a boy by S. R. Crockett's historical novel The Black Douglas and of basing the Necromancer (Sauron) on its villain, Gilles de Retz. Incidents in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are similar in narrative and style to the novel, and its overall style and imagery have been suggested as an influence on Tolkien.
European mythology. Tolkien was much inspired by early Germanic, especially Old English literature, poetry, and mythology, which were his chosen and much-loved areas of expertise. These sources of inspiration included Old English literature such as Beowulf, Norse sagas such as the Volsunga saga and the Hervarar saga,the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the Nibelungenlied, and numerous other culturally related works.Despite the similarities of his work to the Volsunga saga and the Nibelungenlied, which were the basis for Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tolkien dismissed critics' direct comparisons to Wagner, telling his publisher, "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases." However, some critics believe that Tolkien was, in fact, indebted to Wagner for elements such as the "concept of the Ring as giving the owner mastery of the world ..." Two of the characteristics possessed by the One Ring, its inherent malevolence and corrupting power upon minds and wills, were not present in the mythical sources but have a central role in Wagner's opera.
Tolkien also acknowledged several non-Germanic influences or sources for some of his stories and ideas. Sophocles' play Oedipus the King he cited as inspiring elements of The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. In addition, Tolkien first read William Forsell Kirby's translation of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, while attending St. Edward's School. He described its character of Vainamoinen as one of his influences for Gandalf the Grey. The Kalevala's antihero Kullervo was further described as an inspiration for Turin Turambar.Dimitra Fimi, Douglas A. Anderson, John Garth, and many other prominent Tolkien scholars believe that Tolkien also drew influence from a variety of Celtic (Irish, Scottish and Welsh) history and legends.However, after the Silmarillion manuscript was rejected, in part for its "eye-splitting" Celtic names, Tolkien denied their Celtic origin:
Needless to say they are not Celtic! Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design. They are in fact 'mad' as your reader says--but I don't believe I am.
Catholicism. Catholic theology and imagery played a part in fashioning Tolkien's creative imagination, suffused as it was by his deeply religious spirit.Tolkien acknowledged this himself:
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.
Specifically, Paul H. Kocher argues that Tolkien describes evil in the orthodox Christian way as the absence of good. He cites many examples in The Lord of the Rings, such as Sauron's "Lidless Eye": "the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing." Kocher sees Tolkien's source as Thomas Aquinas, "whom it is reasonable to suppose that Tolkien, as a medievalist and a Catholic, knows well". Tom Shippey makes the same point, but, instead of referring to Aquinas, says Tolkien was very familiar with Alfred the Great's Anglo-Saxon translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, known as the Lays of Boethius. Shippey contends that this Christian view of evil is most clearly stated by Boethius: "evil is nothing." He says Tolkien used the corollary that evil cannot create as the basis of Frodo's remark, "the Shadow ... can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own," and related remarks by Treebeard and Elrond.He goes on to argue that in The Lord of the Rings evil does sometimes seem to be an independent force, more than merely the absence of good (though not independent to the point of the Manichaean heresy), and suggests that Alfred's additions to his translation of Boethius may have inspired that view.
Another interesting argument is Stratford Caldecott's theological view on the Ring and what it represents. "The Ring of Power exemplifies the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. It appears to give freedom, but its true function is to enslave the wearer to the Fallen Angel. It corrodes the human will of the wearer, rendering him increasingly “thin” and unreal; indeed, its gift of invisibility symbolizes this ability to destroy all natural human relationships and identity. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run".
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics
Children's books and other short works
The Lord of the Rings
4.3 Posthumous publications
Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth
The Children of Hurin
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
Parallel to Tolkien's professional work as a philologist, and sometimes overshadowing this work, to the effect that his academic output remained rather thin, was his affection for constructing languages. The most developed of these are Quenya and Sindarin, the etymological connection between which formed the core of much of Tolkien's legendarium. Language and grammar for Tolkien was a matter of aesthetics and euphony, and Quenya in particular was designed from "phonaesthetic" considerations; it was intended as an "Elvenlatin", and was phonologically based on Latin, with ingredients from Finnish, Welsh, English, and Greek. A notable addition came in late 1945 with Adunaic or Numenorean, a language of a "faintly Semitic flavour", connected with Tolkien's Atlantis legend, which by The Notion Club Papers ties directly into his ideas about inability of language to be inherited, and via the "Second Age" and the story of Earendil was grounded in the legendarium, thereby providing a link of Tolkien's 20th-century "real primary world" with the legendary past of his Middle-earth.
Tolkien considered languages inseparable from the mythology associated with them, and he consequently took a dim view of auxiliary languages: in 1930 a congress of Esperantists were told as much by him, in his lecture A Secret Vice, "Your language construction will breed a mythology", but by 1956 he had concluded that "Volapuk, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c, &c, are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends".
The popularity of Tolkien's books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature in particular, and even on mainstream dictionaries, which today commonly accept Tolkien's idiosyncratic spellings dwarves and dwarvish (alongside dwarfs and dwarfish), which had been little used since the mid-19th century and earlier. (In fact, according to Tolkien, had the Old English plural survived, it would have been dwerrow.) He also coined the term eucatastrophe, though it remains mainly used in connection with his own work.
Commemorative plaques. There are five blue plaques that commemorate places associated with Tolkien: one in Oxford, and four in Birmingham. One of the Birmingham plaques commemorates the inspiration provided by Sarehole Mill, near which he lived between the ages of four and eight, while two others mark childhood homes up to the time he left to attend Oxford University. The third one marks a hotel he stayed at while on leave from World War I. The Oxford plaque commemorates the residence where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and most of The Lord of the Rings.
Hall Green, Birmingham
(i. e. lived nearby)
15 August 2002
Birmingham Civic Society and
The Tolkien Society
1 Duchess Place
Lived near here 1902-1910
Birmingham Civic Society
4 Highfield Road
Lived here 1910-1911
Birmingham Civic Society and
The Tolkien Society
Plough and Harrow
Hagley Road, Birmingham
Stayed here June 1916
The Tolkien Society
20 Northmoor Road
Lived here 1930-1947
3 December 2002
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Another two plaques marking buildings associated with Tolkien are found in Oxford and Harrogate. The Harrogate plaque commemorates a residence where Tolkien convalesced from trench fever in 1917, while the Oxford plaque marks his home from 1953-1968 at 76 Sandfield Road, Headington.
5. Further reading
1. Anderson, Douglas A., Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, ed (2004). Tolkien Studies, An Annual Scholarly Review Vol. I. West Virginia University Press. ISBN 0-937058-87-4.
2. Carpenter, Humphrey (1979). The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-27628-4.
3. Chance, Jane, ed (2003). Tolkien the Medievalist. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28944-0.
4. Chance, Jane, ed (2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, a Reader. Louisville: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2301-1.
5. Curry, Patrick (2004). Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-47885-X.
6. Drout, Michael D.C., ed (2006). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. New York City: Routledge. ISBN 0-415969425..
7. Duriez, Colin; David Porter (2001). The Inklings Handbook: The Lives, Thought and Writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and Their Friends. London: Azure. ISBN 1-902694-13-9.
8. Duriez, Colin (2003). Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring. ISBN 1-58768-026-2.
9. Flieger, Verlyn, and Carl F. Hostetter, ed (2000). Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30530-7. DDC 823.912. LC PR6039..
10. Fonstad, Karen Wynn (1991). The Atlas of Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-126996.
11. Foster, Robert (2001). The Complete Guide to Middle-earth. Del Rey. ISBN 0-345-44976-2.
12. Garth, John (2003). Tolkien and the Great War. Harper-Collins. ISBN 0-00-711953-4.
13. Gilliver, Peter; Marshall, Jeremy; Weiner, Edmund (2006). The Ring of Words. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198610696.
14. Glyer, Diana Pavlac (2007). The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87338-890-0.
15. Grotta-Kurska, Daniel (1976). J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth (A Biography). Philadelphia: Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-0956-8.
16. Haber, Karen (2001). Meditations on Middle-earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R.R. Tolkien. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-27536-6.
17. Harrington, Patrick, ed (2003). Tolkien and Politics. London, England: Third Way Publications. ISBN 9780954478827.
18. Stuart Lee, Elizabeth Solopova, (2005). Lee, S.D., and E. Solopova. ed. The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J.R. R. Tolkien. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-4671-X.
19. Pearce, Joseph (1998). Tolkien: Man and Myth. London: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 0-00-274018-4.
20. Perry, Michael (2006). Untangling Tolkien: A Chronology and Commentary for The Lord of the Rings. Seattle: Inkling Books. ISBN 1-58742-019-8.
21. Shippey, Tom (2000). J.R.R. Tolkien - Author of the Century. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-12764-X.
22. Shippey, Tom (2003). The Road to Middle-earth. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-25760-8.
23. Ready, William (1968). Understanding Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings. New York: Paperback Library.
24. Rorabeck, Robert (2008). Tolkien's Heroic Quest. Crescent Moon. ISBN 1861712391.
25. Strachey, Barbara (1981). Journeys of Frodo: an Atlas of The Lord of the Rings. London, Boston: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-912016-6.
26. Tolkien, John & Priscilla (1992). The Tolkien Family Album. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-261-10239-7.
27. Tyler, J.E.A. (1976). The Tolkien Companion. New York: Gramercy. ISBN 0-517-14648-7.
28. White, Michael (2003). Tolkien: A Biography. New American Library. ISBN 0-451-21242-8.
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