J.R.R. Tolkien / The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien, fully John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was born in South Africa on the 3rd of January 1892 to his English parents. In 1896, after the death of his father Arthur Reuel, he, his mother Mabel and his younger brother Hilary returned to England, where he lived for the rest of his life.
He attended King Edward's School in Birmingham. In this period, Tolkien’s mother died and the two orphaned brothers went to live to their aunt.
By this time Ronald was already showing remarkable linguistic gifts. He had mastered the Latin and Greek and was becoming more than competent in a number of other languages, both modern and ancient. He was busy making up his own languages, purely for fun.
Ronald went up to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1911, where he stayed, immersing himself in the Classics, Old English, and the Germanic languages - Welsh and Finnish. Then he changed his school from Classics to the English Language and Literature. He was working on various poetic attempts, and on his invented languages, especially one, that he came to call Qenya. He achieved a first-class degree in 1915.
A year later he married Edith Bratt, his childhood sweetheart. They had four children, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla.
He worked on the Oxford English Dictionary. Then he took a job as Reader of the English Language, later rising to Professor of English Language at Leeds. In 1925, he became Rawlingson Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow at Pembroke College in Oxford. He received the Britannic Empire Cross from the hands of the Queen.
He had begun to put his stories into shape. This ordering of his imagination developed into the Book of Lost Tales, in which most of the major stories of the Silmarillion appear in their first form.
He started writing The Silmarillion, a project which lasted his entire lifetime.
To his other works belongs: The Lays of Beleriand, The Lost Road, The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, Morgoth’s Ring, The War of the Ring, The War of the Jewels, Sauron Defeated, The People of Middle Earth, Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Father Christmas Letters, Tree and Leaf, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Road Goes Ever On, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and many others.
Tolkien also made many drawings, some as illustrations to his books. Many of them can be seen in the book Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Hobbit, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, was his first published book. It was written like a book for children and immediately scored a success.
His most famous work, The Lord of the Rings, is an extremely long work written in six books and published in three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
It is not easy to tell the contents of this book, because it’s not only extended, but also entangled and complex.
The Lord of the Rings takes place in a very vivid world called Middle-Earth. This world, although completely invented by Tolkien, contains its own races, cultures, histories, and most impressively its own writing systems and languages.
The Lord of the Rings presents us with the age-old battle between good and evil. Sauron, the Lord of Mordor, created magical rings, the Rings of Power. He gave three of them to the Elven kings, seven to the Dwarf lords and nine to the Mortal Men. He created also one ring, the Ruling Ring, for himself. It ruled the other rings and made Sauron powerful beyond all belief. He wanted to enslave the free races, so a war begun, in which the Ring was cut off Sauron’s finger. The Ring, which could be best described as having its own intelligence, moved itself from owner to owner through the years, corrupting each owner and making them fanatically obsessed with it. As years had flowed, the Enemy, Sauron, who’s soul wasn’t destroyed, became stronger. But he still lacked the thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all the resistance, he lacked the Ruling Ring. He was seeking it thoroughly and sends his nine Ringwraiths to bring him the precious ring. The current ring owner was Frodo Baggins, a hobbit. He became it from his uncle, Bilbo, who had stolen it from a creature named Gollum years ago. Frodo’s friend, conjuror Gandalf warned him and told him, that he had to bring the ring to the House of Elrond, an old and wise Elf, where a meeting should be held, on which the decision had to be made, what will happen with the dangerous ring next. Together with his three hobbit friends, Sam, Pippin (Peregrin) and Merry (Meriadoc), Frodo left his home, the Shire, and his journey started. But the Ringwraithts, the Nazguls, were following them and the journey turned to a flew. With the help of Tom Bombadil, Arwen and Aragorn, also called Strider, they finally arrived safe to Elrond’s house in the Rivendell. On the meeting here it is decided, that the Ring has to be destroyed and that can be done only by throwing it to the Cracks of Doom. The Cracks lie deep inside the Land of Mordor, the territory of Sauron, so the quest is more than dangerous. Gandalf, the wizard, Gimli, a Dwarf, Legolas, an Elf, Boromir, a Mortal Man and Aragorn, a Ranger, were chosen to accompany Frodo, the Ring bearer, and his friends, on their way to Mordor. Their journey was long and full of dangers. The Ringwraiths, the orc army of the wizard Saruman, who wants the Ring too, and Gollum, a creature, that was long the ring owner a wants its ‘precious’ back, were following the Fellowship of the Ring. The fellowship broke, but Frodo gave not up and finally, after many adventures, the Ring fell into the Cracks of Doom, so Sauron was defeated. The rest of the Fellowship helped in the war against Sauron’s and Saruman’s army together with other nations and creatures of Middle Earth and defeated Saruman, too. The Middle Earth was free of the Dark Lord so each one of the Fellowship went his own way and fixed, what Saruman and Sauron destroyed. The tale ends, as Frodo, Bilbo, Aragorn and Gandalf, together with Elrond and Galadriel, the masters of Elves, go to the Grey Havens and sail away to a land, which nobody comes back from.
The Lord of the Rings has remained popular throughout the years. The story has been adapted as a radio series, a full-length animation, and a film trilogy. Many authors have written books featuring Middle-Earth or its creations, and the actual Lord of the Rings has been reprinted countless times in many states.
On the 2nd of September 1973 died J. R. R. Tolkien when he was 81.
Since 1984 Christopher Tolkien has been presenting his father's unpublished writings.
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Written by Adam Vana
The work of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien is, indubitably, one of the single most influential corpuses of literature of all time. In fact, Tolkien’s work remains the second most widely read body of literature in the world, behind the bible. (Nikiforuk 16) It comes as no surprise then, that so many different people throughout the century have tried to search for some underlying meaning behind his work, some allegory that can be attributed to the twentieth-century world he lived in. Yet the old professor maintained throughout his post-publication life that his work was not allegorical in any way, going so far once as to say, “I dislike allegory whenever I smell it!” (qtd. in Grotta 99) However, it has been pointed out many times that an author’s work is often the sum of his life experiences. As a man who lost both parents at a young age, and most of his friends during the first World War, it comes as no surprise that most of Tolkien’s work deals with loss of family members, immortality, and the struggle between good and evil. The work of J.R.R. Tolkien was not meant to be allegorical originally, but its themes and motives were shaped by Tolkien’s own life experiences and academic background to create a mythology that was easily applicable to any reader’s life experience.
Many scholars, booklovers, and theologians alike have searched endlessly for signs of allegory in Tolkien’s work, to the dismay of the author. The most common method of doing this is looking at Tolkien’s life experiences, ideals, and religious beliefs and trying to equate them with something in the books. Indeed, it is very common for authors to use allegory of their time to convey values and themes in a story, which is precisely what these seekers of allegory believe about Tolkien. Even Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, writes in his foreword to The Silmarillion that the legends written by his father became his own special place fore resting all of his experiences and thoughts; it was the medium with which he painted his deepest reflections. To understand what exactly can be recognized as allegory in Tolkien’s work, it is important to look at his actual life.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa on January 3rd, 1892 to Arthur and Mabel Tolkien. After a sickly youth, it was decided that the young Tolkien would be better off living in the temperate, moist climate of Britain, rather than the hot, arid climate of South Africa, and in April of 1895, the family made the move. However, Arthur Tolkien could not resign his position with the bank he worked with and was unable to make move with the family, marking the first of Tolkien’s great life losses. (Grotta 20) After living for nine years in the town of Sarehole, England, just outside of Birmingham, J.R.R. Tolkien suffered the second great tragedy of his life: the death of his mother, from diabetic complications. The theme of love and loss clearly manifests itself in Tolkien’s work in the loss of friendships and kin, perhaps most lucid in the tale of Turin Turambar, which can be found in The Silmarillion. In this tale, the protagonist first loses his father after he goes off to war against an overwhelming enemy, and then loses his young sister through the indirect deeds of one of his companions. (Tolkien 198-226) A parallel can be drawn to this aspect of Tolkien’s life in the tragic loss of family members or persons of close relations.
Another commonly cited event of Tolkien’s life, one that may have potentially affected his writing, was World War I. It is common knowledge that the trench warfare of WWI was notoriously bloody, with a level of carnage previously unseen in combat. J.R.R. Tolkien was recruited as a second lieutenant in the 13th Reserve Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers in July of 1915. Though not actually entering the battle until after it had begun, Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme, a bloody battle that saw over 600,000 casualties on each side. Tolkien was adversely affected by the whole experience and it has been speculated that his great discussion of war and death in his literature was heavily influenced by this event. (Grotta 47-53) In fact, the very battle Tolkien fought in bears striking similarities to one of his fictional battles, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, in which there is a great siege by evil forces, incurring despair and loathing on the forces of good. (Tolkien, The Return of the King 125-137) Tolkien once stated that none of his war experiences directly inspired the battles in his work. However, it is important to realize that his experiences indirectly permeated his writing. Whether Tolkien meant to or not, the same types of experiences in the rank, wet trenches of France were transported to his work through his pen. (Grotta 52)
Furthermore, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, after his mother, and is thought to have embedded central Christian beliefs in the motives of his stories. Even more inspirational to him in this aspect, besides his mother, was Father Francis Morgan, who became Tolkien’s legal guardian after the passing of his mother in 1905. The hope and belief of an afterlife and a divine creator cannot be clearer in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. (15) As such a devout Christian, with a strong Christian upbringing, Daniel Grotta notes “It would therefore be difficult and dishonest for Tolkien’s mythology not to reflect his own serious involvement with Christianity.” (97)
Additionally, Tolkien was known to be quite the nature-lover; often compared to one of his fictional “hobbits” for his green thumb and love for the pastoral life. Early in his life, his mother began to instill in him a love of nature, mythology, festivals, fireworks, thatched cottages, and mushrooms. (Grotta 23) In fact, his childhood town of Sarehole seems to be the very model of the Shire, and Tolkien once disclosed to an interviewer that his idea of hobbit culture came from the villagers and children of the town. (22) Even more of allegorical form in the books is the “Scouring of the Shire”, in which the rustic, rural hobbit town which Tolkien clearly loves is overcome by the flames and smog of industry and the quarries of evil-minded men. (Tolkien, RotK 309-335) When asked by an interviewer if this event was referring to the postwar industrialization of Britain, Tolkien supposedly replied in exasperation that the story event was merely fictional: a critical part of the plot. (Grotta 99)
However, despite the allegorical references that many have attempted to uncover, J.R.R. Tolkien himself was extremely opposed to allegory in general, and throughout his life, he battled academic after academic who was attempting to tear apart his beloved mythology into social commentary. Tolkien believed that the academics and critics were missing the central idea of his work entirely, that it was simply a mythology for England, which was short of any real mythology compared to other countries. Tolkien himself disliked allegory and would have preferred, “a cracking good story or a straightforward saga”.
Perhaps the strongest word ever written by Tolkien concerning allegory in The Lord of the Rings lies in his foreword to the book:
…I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author. (The Fellowship of the Ring 10-11)
Tolkien makes an interesting distinction here between what he calls “applicability” and allegory. He wrote so that readers could apply their life experiences to his story, not so that he could impress upon readers his personal views; religious ideas, for example. (Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien 284) Tolkien in one of his letters to his publisher, Stanley Unwin, Tolkien goes on to explain his idea of how applicability and allegory fit in with a good story. Tolkien believed that allegory and pure story are opposite in aim, but somewhere in the combination of both of them lay truth. Without a connection to the reader’s actual life experience, the reader could never lose himself in the setting, or develop emotions for characters. As the professor best put it:
…the only fully intelligible allegory is real life; and the only fully intelligible story is an allegory…the better and more consistent an allegory is, the more easily it can be read ‘just as a story’; and the better and more closely woven a story is, the more easily can those so minded find allegory in it.
It is clear then, that Tolkien wrote his story so that it would seem like it was allegorical, but that it would seem allegorical to many different readers in infinitely many ways. Tolkien’s depiction between good and evil was constantly challenged by academics and curious readers: one reader went so far as to write a letter asking Tolkien if orcs were meant to be communists. (Tolkien, Letters 262) Tolkien firmly responded telling the reader that there is “no ‘symbolism’ or conscious allegory in my story”. The professor wittily went on to remark that asking if orcs are communists was just as ludicrous as asking if communists are orcs.
Moreover, many have pointed out that The Lord of the Rings was written at the same time that World War II was going on, and many equated Sauron and the Ring of Power to Hitler and the Atom Bomb. Tolkien would explain time and time again to his readers and acquaintances that war had no influence on the plot “and of course not the atomic bomb”, though he did concede that certain battle landscapes were influenced partially by Northern France after the Battle of the Somme. (Tolkien, Letters 303) Tolkien also makes a point in his foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring that the crucial part of the book, concerning the ring and the plot was decided before the outbreak of war, eliminating the possibility that wartime events affected it. (10)
Tolkien’s work was truly applicable to these different world events, as he wanted it to be. His battles were first compared to World War I, then to World War II, and then to the Cold War after. Readers today are still making references to his work and the nuclear capabilities of some nations, truly showcasing the ‘applicable’ nature of his writing. Tolkien wrote his work so that it would be alluring to all generations of people by using classic themes of hope, good v. evil, and friendship, and it remains so and will until it ceases to be read.
While it is true that Tolkien’s life did influence his writing, as Daniel Grotta points out in his biography, Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth, it was not written to be allegorical, as Professor Tolkien stresses in his foreword to The Lord of the Rings and his private correspondences. Every writer’s work is undoubtedly rooted in past experience, whether consciously or not, but in the case of J.R.R. Tolkien it seems to be rather conscious. The professor knew exactly how to write his books and poems so that every reader would find some character to identify with as a friend in real life, and some character (or land, for that matter) to identify as an enemy in real life. This applicability to the reader’s real life is often mistaken for allegory, but the difference is that allegory is ”the purposed domination of the author” (Tolkien, FotR 11), as opposed to being in the mind and heart of the reader.
In conclusion, Tolkien did not mean for any of his work to be allegorical, though it was nonetheless shaped by his life experiences and academic interests. The plot and central meaning of his work was not affected by his life, even though certain characters and places may have been. Tolkien admits that if his stories have any meanings, they’re about power and the perversion of it; a timeless theme found in the classics he loved, not just in his life. As Tolkien says best in the foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring, “As for any meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical.” The message or inner meaning that a reader seeks is not inherent in Tolkien’s work itself, but rather in the mind of the reader himself. The genius of J.R.R. Tolkien allows the mind to manifest the its thought in the words so that the story becomes more vivid, appealing, and familiar.
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