J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born January 3, 1892, and this is a rather belated birthday tribute, occasioned by a recent viewing of the new Peter Jackson movie (The Hobbit, part 2).

lord of the ringsI first discovered Tolkien in high school. It was the ’70s, the height of the Tolkien craze, and all the older kids that I admired were heavily into this master of fantasy literature.

I bought The Lord of the Rings books one by one, in what I think were the original paperback versions, and I can still remember the anguish with which I finished part 2, “The Two Towers,” where I was left hanging as the dread spider Sheelob nabbed Frodo, and Sam took off with the sword and the Ring.

Fortunately, the local bookstore (a B. Dalton’s) had “The Return of the King” in stock, and my nerves were saved. I became another Tolkien fan, and have reread The Lord of the Rings more times than I can count. It never fails to inspire and move me.

I didn’t read The Hobbit until much later, and it took me several years to accept it on its own terms, as more of a children’s book, though I am happy to say that I finally came round to liking it for its own sake. Still, The Lord of the Rings will always be my favorite of the two. Back in the day, I eagerly bought The Silmarillion when it came out, and picked up other odds and ends of Tolkieniana from sale tables and used book stores over the years, so that we now own a Tolkien atlas, an oversized book of Tolkien illustrations, a Tolkien Bestiary, and his lovely Father Christmas tale, complete with the charming illustrations. Tolkien’s drawings were every bit as fine as his stories, delicately drafted creations that have quite an elvish flavor about them.

tolkienI also love photographs of Tolkien himself. A hobbitsy looking man if there ever was one, with all the doughty, understated qualities of a hobbit’s character to boot. His biography makes for fascinating reading.

One aspect of Tolkien’s work that I find especially sympathetic is his attitude of reverence and respect for the wonder and beauties of Nature—an attitude that never runs to sentimentality, and is fully aware of the dangers that Nature holds as well (think of Old Man Willow!). The Ents in particular are my absolute favorite of his creations. Treebeard is a marvel, and it tickles my fancy to think that Tolkien modeled Treebeard’s booming delivery on his friend C.S. Lewis, another famous Oxford don who was part of Tolkien’s circle.

Every time that I read about some horrible environmental degradation or see a beautiful, healthy tree wantonly chopped down in a neighborhood yard, I have a fierce longing to evoke the vengeance of the Ents upon the offender, wishing that I could call upon the mighty shepherds and defenders of trees to mow down these destroyers of beauty as they mowed down Saruman’s nasty little fiefdom. Like the evil wizard, too many people these days possess “minds made of metal and wheels” as Tolkien so aptly put it—completely blind to the beauties of the natural world.

The religious aspects of The Lord of the Rings are woven into the tale with equal subtlety. The moral growth of Frodo and Sam that leads to their sacrificial journey to Mordor, the wisdom of Gandolf, Galadriel, and Aragorn, and the beauteous vision of Tolkien’s Elves all lend themselves to our moral and religious stories, no matter what our faith. The Lord of the Rings is truly a timeless and universal tale, and Tolkien a towering literary saint.

11 Comments

  1. January 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I love Tolkien too. I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Series aloud to my children (and husband) when we were sailing and living on our boat. Lots of great memories. I loved the Ents too. Somehow Gollum was my favorite character–perhaps because he was so fun to read aloud, “precious!”

    • Nancy Adams said,

      January 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      Tolkien is so well suited to reading aloud, and it must have been especially cozy to read on a houseboat, with the waves sounding outside. Sounds like you’ve given your family some wonderful memories. And I completely agree that reading Gollum aloud is so much fun! Such wonderful books.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. January 10, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Great post. Loved LOTR and The Hobbit. Gotta say, I was not crazy about The Silmarillion, but I won’t hold that against him.😉

    • Nancy Adams said,

      January 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

      I have to admit I only read The Silmarillion once. I’m much more inclined to read fiction rather than history, and The Silmarillion is basically history and folklore–even if it is the history of a fictional world.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. georgia ruth said,

    January 11, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for the reminder of why I keep Tolkien at the top of my list of favorites. He and Lewis were gifted. What a pair! I live in woods at the top of a hill. When the wind hits 10mph and branches are waving, I can see the visage of friendly Ents all around me. From Tolkien’s head to mine.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      January 11, 2014 at 11:41 am

      What a lovely image, Georgia, and what a great view!

      Here’s to the Ents!

      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. January 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    This post reminds me that you are good about linking your world today to your special reading of young days.
    I too dwelled in that fabulous created otherworld when reading The Hobbit. It was difficult to come out of it to do little chores around the house.
    Do you happen to know a good bio of him. I have read Elaine Murray Stone’s C.S. Lewis bio & also I have read Peter Hunt’s take on The Wind in the Willows (Twayne’s Masterwork Studies). I remember reading an article on the great J.R.R.T. in my Seventeen magazine as a kid, but I haven’t looked for a biography. I should!

    • Nancy Adams said,

      January 16, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Jan,

      I read the biography by Humphrey Carpenter, and thought it was quite good. He also wrote a book about the writers’ group that Tolkien and Lewis belonged to, The Inklings.

      Apologies for the late response and thanks for stopping by!

      • January 16, 2014 at 5:02 pm

        Apparently Carpenter also edited the collection of JRR Tolkein’s letters, with son, Christopher.
        Plus., a fast on-line look shows interpretations of his life for adults by a Pearce, White, Duriez & Shippey, tho I don’t find a picture book bio of him for elementary ages.

        We open a box of Christmas books every year & it features JRRT’s illustrated letters to children which remain on display thru the Holiday.

        I don’t think a week or so is late at all, in my world. Thanks Nancy!

  5. January 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    […] a follow-up to last week’s post on J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on visual images of Smaug, the dragon in Tolkien’s […]

  6. January 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm

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