J. R. R. Tolkien's stories speak so beautifully for themselves, and the more one reads of Middle Earth and its place in Arda, the less necessary it feJ. R. R. Tolkien's stories speak so beautifully for themselves, and the more one reads of Middle Earth and its place in Arda, the less necessary it feels to contextualise such as the creation of an English Professor who lived during the last century. It is enough simply that Middle Earth has been written about, and can thus be remembered and revisited with ease and with joy.
And yet, this place; these stories, were Tolkien's life work, and have served as both inspiration and refuge to me for as long as I can remember. They reveal the difference between an isolated piece of fiction, and a tale that has its place within a much wider legend - something undeniably real in some sense. The author of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings brought life to his characters and his mythology through the sheer dedication he had to understanding their world. This world - fantastical though it may be - existed: its languages, legends and peoples, before he began to discover the stories to set therein and for which he is famous, and for this he will ever have my admiration and gratitude!
It is out of this great respect for Tolkien's achievements as a creator, curiosity about the man behind books so beloved - who was after all a native of the Midlands just like me! - and a wish to understand how he perceived his Middle Earth (that I might come to know it better myself), that I decided to read his biography.
Affectionately written, yet honest - this book is an upfront window onto every aspect of Tolkien's life, from boyhood and near-poverty through to old age and the fame (and fortune!) his works would bring him, giving an impression of his motivations, his faith, and anything about which he felt passionate. The man depicted strikes me as a very particular sort of person – stubborn even, and adverse to any change great or small. But he is a romantic too, in love with the quaint English countryside and harbouring a special affinity for trees. He is, in fact – a hobbit. (This much is asserted by Carpenter, and Tolkien himself at least once.) He enjoys a simple life with simple pleasures – rather more a Baggins than a Took I think, his scholarly pursuits notwithstanding. His biography is scattered with seeming stimuli for his stories. The near-total lack of female characters in his books for example, seems more natural from an author whose social hours were spent almost solely with other men. With the exception of his wife (whom he nevertheless adored) Tolkien’s friends were his peers, and such relationships were thus work-driven and male-dominated. The wartime chapter made difficult and distressing reading, unused to non-fiction as I am (popular science excepted), but influences were to be found even there for characters and relationships he later wrote about. I allude of course, to Frodo and Samwise in particular, and never to direct allegory, which Tolkien vehemently disliked and denied.
Threaded throughout is the story of how Middle Earth grew up from fragments of poetry and made-up languages, colourful artwork (for Tolkien was an accomplished amateur artist) and real-life memories and encounters, into a vast stage upon which masterpieces of literature were presented. Tolkien’s devotion to (and preference for) the First Age; his desire to tell the grander story – the myth where it all began: where he began it – is hardly reflected in the published order of his books (quite the opposite in fact) but here his loyalties are made clear. Were you to read some of The Complete History Of Middle-Earth you would be similarly well-versed in time, but this book also gives you a personality, for which it should be commended. ...more
A wonderful collection of Tolkien's artwork, tracing the evolution of every sketch through to the full colour illustrations that would appear in the fA wonderful collection of Tolkien's artwork, tracing the evolution of every sketch through to the full colour illustrations that would appear in the first edition of The Hobbit back in 1937 - even its beautiful and elaborate dust jacket! Worth pouring over just for the pictures, several of which simply left me beaming (Conversation with Smaug; Bilbo Woke Up with the Early Sun in His Eyes) but the annotations themselves also tell a story, revealing the meticulous nature of Tolkien as an accomplished amateur artist. His skill was in elaborate, colourful landscapes (plenty of these in Middle Earth!) and maps, and not (by his own admission) in people - hobbits, dwarves or otherwise, but even sketches of Bilbo and Gandalf serve to show us a little of his earliest vision for the beloved fantasy classic.
If you can get past that first chapter - when you're hit by the sheer complexity of Tolkein's mythological vision - then you'll be rewarded with a marIf you can get past that first chapter - when you're hit by the sheer complexity of Tolkein's mythological vision - then you'll be rewarded with a marvellous read, so often prematurely given up upon.
This book is beautiful, and it also colours the rest of Tolkein's works like nothing else can....more
Despite the unfortunate necessity of C. Tolkien's essays splitting the "story" as it were, of Eriol and his sojourn upon Tol Eressëa, this collectionDespite the unfortunate necessity of C. Tolkien's essays splitting the "story" as it were, of Eriol and his sojourn upon Tol Eressëa, this collection of early tales is a beautiful insight into the evolution of J.R.R's mythology. Of particular worth are those which tell of the Two Trees of Valinor, the coming of the Sun and the Moon, and the Cottage of Lost Play. Simply Delightful....more
My expectations for this book of Lays were far exceeded. I read both poems aloud to myself, and was moved by the beauty of the verse. The Lay of LeithMy expectations for this book of Lays were far exceeded. I read both poems aloud to myself, and was moved by the beauty of the verse. The Lay of Leithian came to ~ 4175 lines, arranged in octosyllabic couplets, whilst the Lay of the Children of Húrin was written in alliterative verse, which I'd never encountered before. A true joy to read....more
Well worth reading for the Fall of Gondolin alone, since this is the only full account of this particular event in the First Age. With regards to TúriWell worth reading for the Fall of Gondolin alone, since this is the only full account of this particular event in the First Age. With regards to Túrin Turambar, one would fare better I think reading the Narn i Hîn Húrin, unless specifically interested in the earliest conceptions of the legend. I was particularly captivated by the Land of Willows - Nan-tathren - mentioned in the third tale....more
I have long lost count of the times I've picked this book up and spent many a happy hour re-reading it. Since I first listened to it on tape as an indI have long lost count of the times I've picked this book up and spent many a happy hour re-reading it. Since I first listened to it on tape as an indomitable and spirited two-and-a-half-year-old, struck at once by the simple brilliance of the tale's hero being a burglar (and indeed, living in a hobbit-hole!) I've explored the works of Tolkien rather like a spelunker chancing upon a vast and beautiful cave, and never once have I been disappointed. Whilst the style of The Hobbit is a great deal more light-hearted than its sequel, and certainly the epic writings of the First Age, it drew me into Middle Earth with its humour and eccentricity, paving the way to at least one lifelong fascination (for perhaps my love of dragons also began with Smaug the Golden!)
The story is richer having read The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion, for tiny details such as Sting's history in Gondolin (before the city fell), and Gollum's precious birthday present, gain their rightful deeper meaning. Much adored....more