Darrell J. Pursiful

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Understanding Tolkien

Thanks to Keitha Sargent for this engaging summary of some of the things that made J. R. R. Tolkien tick.

To get the most out of Tolkien’s works, it is important to understand a little about the man, his life, passions and views. Several things shaped the imagination from which Middle Earth emerged: his childhood in England, his experiences in the First World War, and his love for ‘Northern’ myth and literature.

Tolkien was born in South Africa to English parents. When he was 3, his father died, and in 1896 the family settled in a small village in central England. In 1966, Tolkien described the place as “a kind of lost paradise” and, for the rest of his life, it remained an ideal. Tolkien had a deep love for England, even suggesting that, thanks to a sort of race-memory, he recognised the Anglo-Saxon language when he first encountered it as a boy.

Closely related to his love for England was his distaste for the modern world. This extended even to literature. For a professor, he was remarkably ignorant of contemporary writers and used to joke “English Literature endedwith Chaucer”, inverting the cliché that Chaucer was ‘father’ of the language. For Tolkien, ‘modern’ was a word with negative connotations; to him it meant industrialism, machines, overcrowding, noise and speed. In 1933, he returned to the village of his childhood and wrote bitterly that the place had been engulfed by trams, roads, and hideous housing estates.

And so on


1 Comment

  1. This is good, and it is consistent with other things I have read about Tolkien. I understood The Lord of the Rings better after I read Beowulf because I could see more of what Tolkien, an Anglo-Saxon scholar, was trying to achieve with his own created mythology. His work reads much like heroic Anglo-Saxon poetry.


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