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Interesting and Little Known Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is one of fantasy's most well-known authors, now even more so ever since New Zealand native Peter Jackson took on the deliberately faithful direction of Tolkien's famous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. We all know so much about the characters within Tolkien's beautiful and wondrous stories, and several of the movie trilogy actors' careers have boomed as a result of Jackson's shining efforts. But how much do we really know about Tolkien and his family, other than that he was an Oxford University professor of both English literature and the old Anglo-Saxon language?
Well, I did some research and discovered some things that even *I* didn't know, and I myself am a Tolkien nut! Some things I did already know, but others might not. I am sharing both kinds of info with you all.
1) Tolkien was a member of the Inklings, a group associated with Oxford University. Other famous writers have belonged to this group such as C.S. Lewis (author of the acclaimed "Narnia" series) and Tolkien's own son Christopher, who is mostly acting as the Tolkien Estate's literary executor.
2) The inspiration for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' home of Bag End came from Tolkien's aunt's farm of the same name.
3) As a child, Tolkien was bit by a large South African tarantula called a baboon spider. (Three guesses as to where the inspiration for Shelob the gigantic spider came from!)
4) Until he went off to school, Tolkien was tutored by his mother, Mabel, and Ronald, as he was called by the family, was not only a keen student, his favorite lessons were languages, and therefore was taught the rudiments of Latin quite early.
5) Mabel died early in life at the age of 34, due to complications of Type I Diabetes. It was as long as such diabetics were expected to live as insulin was not discovered till two decades later.
6) Tolkien had one brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was two years younger.
7) He was always a writer, having been involved with the Inklings most of his career, but Tolkien truly began the larger body of his works soon after being shipped home from WW I, having come down with trench fever, and not fit for military duty. (Trench fever, by the way, was a disease carried by lice common to the area of No Man's Land--an area of land not occupied by either opposing party during a war.)
8) The first civilian job he took after WWI was at the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked as an etymologist.
9) Tolkien counted the old English epic poem "Beowulf" as one of his most valued resources and inspirations.
10) While his "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" sagas were becoming popular with the hippie culture in the U.S., Tolkien deplored the idea of becoming something of a cult figure. However he admitted later:
"... even the nose of a very modest idol [...] cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!"
11) After their deaths, the gravestones of both J.R. and Edith Tolkien were marked with the character names "Beren" (J.R.) and "Luthien" (Edith), taken from one of Tolkien's "pre-history" stories that, in his fantasy worlds, took place long before the War of the Ring. (Beren and Luthien were the first of many subsequent matches between mortals and Elf-kind, and their story echoes a bit like Arwen and Aragorn. Read the story of Beren and Luthien at this link.
There is much to be explored in Tolkien's world beyond "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," especially if you read "The Silmarillion," which provides something of a lengthy background of what happened long before Gandalf, Gollum, Sam, Frodo. Bilbo, Arwen, Aragorn and everyone else came into being. There are other posthumous works being published these days by Christopher Tolkien, the appointed literary executor of the Tolkien Estate. There is even a Lord of the Rings tarot deck, which I own and enjoy using immensely, as the story of Frodo and the Ring is a consummate Hero-Journey story that reflects many of our common Jungian/Campbellian archetypes we all recognize in other stories, both in print and in film.
And let's not forget Led Zeppelin's song "Battle of Evermore," an interesting blend of both Tolkien images and snippets of Arthurian lore. ("I am waiting for the angels of Avalon...") The band Heart has done a fantastic cover of the original song (these ladies can rock!), and there is also an ensemble that temporarily banded together in 1999 to record "Battle of Evermore" (in a slower, more solemn style of chanting called organum) and other Tolkien-inspired melodies and lyrics using instruments both ancient and modern, but no synthesizers or multitracking. This "unplugged" concept is purposefully in keeping with the idea of the natural sounds that would have come from places like the Shire. The CD they recorded was called "In Elven Lands," and the group was called "The Fellowship." The group itself consisted of:
1) Jon Anderson (yes, I do mean Jon Anderson with the sparkling cosmic voice from the band Yes), who composed two of his own works for the CD, plus provided vocals for two other compositions by Fellowship member Carvin Knowles.
2) Adam Pike (whose dark baritone provided the haunting vocals for the ensemble's rendition of "Battle of Evermore"), and 3) Caitlin Elizabeth...plus several others.
All in all, if you're a fantasy writer searching for a way to be inspired (though I daresay there are many Tolkien wannabe's out there), or you're an Anglophile who has simply added Tolkien to their list of reasons to be enamored with the UK...or if you're like Tolkien himself and are both a writer and a linguist, this man's life, career and other doings is worth studying for a long time.