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||John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)|
Professor of literature and English, who became famous with his novel The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). From the mid-1960s Tolkien's work started its world-wide triumph. At first his books appealed to young readers, but soon became popular among adults as well. Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis at University of Oxford also achieved fame as fantasy writer with his Narnia series.
"Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born of British parents in Bloemfontein, South Africa. At the age of three he returned with his mother, Mabel Tolkien (née Suffield ) and his brother Hilary to England; his father, Arthur Reuel died of severe brain haemorrhage in 1896 in Bloemfontein. His early education Tolkien received from his mother. Tolkien could read by the time he was four, his favorite lessons were those that concerned languages. Mabel Tolkien died of acute diabetes in 1904, and the young John Ronald Reuel settled with his brother to their aunt's home in Birmingham. From 1908 Tolkien studied at Oxford, where he was awarded First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature. The Story of Kullervo, a tragic hero from Kalevala, which he wrote in 1915, was not published until 2015. "I was immensely attracted by something in the air of the Kalevala," he said in 1955 in a letter to W.H. Auden, "even in Kirby's poor translation. I never learned Finnish well enough to do more than plod through a bit of the original . . . " (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, 1981) In 1916 Tolkien married Edith Bratt, whom he had met in 1908. Like Tolkien, she was an orphan. Musically talented she hoped to become a piano teacher or to perform in concert halls someday.
During WW I Tolkien served in the army as a second lieutenent in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He saw action on the Somme, where most of his battalion was killed and he caught a disease the soldiers called "trench fever", which was transmitted by the body lice. Because his symptoms did not ease, he was sent to a military hospital in Birmingham. While convalescing he began to study early forms of language and work on Silmarillion (published 1977). Its setting was the Middle-earth, the name comes from the Norse legend of Midgard. For the rest of his life, Tolkien expanded the mythology of his fantasy worlds.
In 1918 Tolkien joined the staff of New English Dictionary
and in 1919 he was a freelance tutor in Oxford. Tolkien then worked as
a teacher and professor at the University of Leeds. In 1925 he became
Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. He was appointed Merton
Professor of English at Oxford in 1945, retiring in 1959. His scholarly
works included studies on Chaucher (1934) and an edition of Beowulf
(1937). Tolkien loved the power and energy of Old Norse
verse, but his own attempts to write poetry were mostly left unfiished.
These works include The Lay of the Children of Húrin, on which he ceased to work on before he left the University of Leeds for Oxford, the Lay of Leithian, which he abandoned near the end of 1931, and The Fall of Arthur.
Tolkien was also interested in the Finnish national epos Kalevala, from which he found ideas for his imaginary language Quenya and which influenced several of his stories. The tragic figure of Kullervo from Kalevala partly inspired Tolkien's posthumously published work, Children of Húrin (2007), in which Túrin Turambar, like Kullervo and Roland, speaks to his own sword. Most of the inhabitants of Tolkien's imaginary Middle-Earth were derived from English folklore and mythology, or from an idealized Anglo-Saxon past.
With C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and other friends, Tolkien formed in the 1930s an informal literary group called The Inklings. They all had an interest in storytelling and their Tuesday lunchtime sessions in the Bird and Baby pub became well known part of Oxford social life. At their meetings the Inklings read aloud drafts of fiction and other work. Lewis and Tolkien agreed that they each would write a story: Lewis's to be a tale of space travel and Tolkien's a tale of time-travel. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet was finished in 1937, but Tolkien never completed his story, which was printed in 1987 in The Lost Road and Other Writings. Williams died in 1945 and the meetings faded out in 1949. Other members of the club included Christopher Tolkien, JRRT's son, and Owen Barfield.
In the mid-1960s American paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings started to gain cult fame. The Tolkiens moved in 1968 to Poole near Bournemouth but after the death of his wife in 1971, Tolkien returned to Oxford. In 1972 he received CBE from the Queen. Tolkien died on September 2, 1973.
While The Hobbit (1937) is said to be a work of fantasy for children – originally it was written to the author's children – the epic The Lord of the Rings has a depth that fascinate adult readers. The title of the book refers to the evil Sauron, servant of the Morgoth. Sauron created the Rings of Power, and the One Ring, which rules the other rings and thus makes him the Lord of the Rings. Actually the story depicts different reactions of its characters, from men to hobbits, elves and other beings, to forces of darkness. This is why the work is not an fantasy version of WW II, the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but more related to Milton's Paradise Lost. Sauron manifests himself in the form of a lidless Eye, which sees nearly everything. Very rarely, The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been read as a profoundly Catholic novel – it has no obvious Christian parallels. There is no mention of God and vice versa: the Bible doesn't say anything about the Hobbits. Nevertheless, The Lord of the Rings has a religious substructure. Tolkien himself attended Mass every morning. His biographer Humphrey Carpenter has argued that after Mabel's death, the Church became Tolkien's new mother.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." (in The Hobbit, 1937) The plot is simple: in order to save the world from the Dark Lord, Sauron, a young hobbit called Frodo must return the mythical ring, a kind of wedding ring between world and evil, to the Mount Doom, where it was forged. A coalition is formed among the races of Middle-Earth to help him and to battle the armies of Sauron. What becomes of sexual relationships between the characters of different races, Tolkien's world is nearly Victorian, which also is typical for fantasy literature in general. Sometimes, like through the history of Ents, Tolkien dealt with gender roles. Ents are half men, half trees. Entwives loved the open lands where they might tend the fruit trees, flowers and grasses; the male Ents loved the trees of the forests. After the departure of Entwives, no new Entings were born.
The Hobbit introduces Gandalf, a wandering wizard, Bilbo, a brave hobit, Gollum, a small slimy creature, who likes goblin meat, and other characters whom Tolkien developed further in The Lord of the Rings, story of obsession, of power and knowledge. Gandalf has "a tall pointed blue hat, a long cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots." With his wisdom and advices, he comes and goes, travels like an apostle. Gollum represents instincts, unconscious desires, he loves material things excessively, not knowledge like Gandalf. "S-s-s-s-s," said Gollum more upset than ever. He thought of all the things he kept in his own pockets: fish-bones, goblins' teeth, wet shells, a bit of bat-wing, a sharp stone to sharpen his fangs on, and other nasty things. He tried to think what other people kept in their pockets." (from The Hobbit) Tolkien was explicit that hobbits are not like rabbits, although the eagle carrying Bilbo says: "You need not be frightened like a rabbit, even if you look rather like one." In a letter to the Observer, he said that "my bobbit... was not furry, except about the feet. Nor indeed was he like a rabbit ... Calling him 'a nassty little rabbit' was a piece of vulgar trollery, just as 'descendant of rats' was a piece of dwarfish malice." The physical size of his character as other concrete details were important to Tolkien. The author himself was slightly less than the average height.
Although critics have seen in The Lord of the Rings allegoric allusions to World War II, Tolkien repeatedly rejected all this kind of explanations. "'The Lord of the Rings' is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision," Tolkien wrote in a letter in 1953 to Robert Murray, a Jesuit priest. "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 symbolism." (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981) Tolkien's Catholicism does not appear overtly in the book; the Hobbits do not pray to God. Biblical use of language, on the other hand, gives the work archaic flavor. In his forword to the work Tolkien expressed his dislike of allegory: "As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical... It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted."
The Hobbit was published when the author was 45 years old. He developed further the history of Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings. It was published when Tolkien was over 60. His motivation for creating a new mythical world arose from his fascination in myths and folklore: "I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of its own, not of the quality that I sought, and found in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish, but nothing English, save impoverished chapbook stuff." Another motivation was his rejection of modern England. He rarely watched a film, busied himself with the early English dialects of the West Midlands, and enjoyed the company of other professors. Tolkien also loved to draw, although he was never good at drawing realistic figures. He admired the portraits of Frans Hals and Van Dyck, and was moved by the paintings of such Italian artists as Fra Filippo Lippi, Giotto, and Botticelli. Tolkien's mother was a capable artist, and taught her son to draw and paint.
Tolkien's epic world is populated by elves, dwarves, magicians, and evil monsters. He saw himself as a Hobbit: "I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food...." Tolkien made up languages for the races that inhabit his Middle-earth. For the background of his fiction he created a complex history, geography, and society. But he also wished, that the stories leave scope for other minds to develop his ideas further. Since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, a whole industry of fantasy literature, computer games, and other by-products, have been created by a worldwide community of Tolkien's fans to continue his work.
For further reading: J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter (1977); The Tolkien Companion, by J.E.A. Tyler (1976); The Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter (1979); The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien (1981); The Road to Middle-Earth by T.A. Shippey (1982); J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land, ed. Robert Giddings (1983); J.R.R. Tolkien's Themes, Symbols, and Myths by David Harvey (1985); A Tolkien Thesaurus by Richard E. Blackwelder (1990); Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, by David Day (1991); J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography by Wayne G. Hammond (1993); The Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth by Daniel Grotta (1996); Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry (1997); Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce (1998); J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (2000); Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt D. Bruner, Jim Ware (2001); J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey (2001); J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth by Bradley J. Birzer, Joseph Pearce (2002); J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Leslie Ellen Jones (2003); J. R. R. Tolkien by David R. Collins (2004); The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski (2015) - See also other fantasy worlds: Tove Jansson (The Moomintrolls), C.S. Lewis (Narnia). Tolkien´s influence is seen in the works of Isaac Asimov, who considered The Ring Trilogy as an allegory of WWII. According to Asimov, the magical ring in the story is a symbol of the modern technology.