5 things you didn't know about… J. R. R. Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which have now been adapted into major Hollywood movies. However, there may be a few things you don't know about the academic, writer and poet.
He enjoyed a volatile friendship with C.S. Lewis
Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, was Tolkien's friend, confidant and Oxford contemporary. The pair were initially so close that Tolkien's wife was jealous of their special bond and Tolkien even persuaded his friend to convert back to his previously abandoned Christian faith. While Tolkien described Lewis's "unceasing eagerness" in convincing him to publish his private writing, they actually had a tumultuous friendship. Following Lewis's relationship with an American divorcee, and what Tolkien took to be his anti-Catholic statements, the pair grew more distant. After many years of minimal contact, Lewis passed away. Tolkien described how he missed his old friend in a beautiful letter to Lewis's daughter, saying he felt "like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one."
He was one impressive linguist
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien invented over 14 languages. Many, such as Quenya and Sindarin, feature prominently in his novels. During his time as an Oxford Don, from 1929 to 1959, he specialised in the linguistics of Old Norse and Old English literature, and was fluent in extinct tongues such as Medieval Welsh. There are even records of Tolkien having written poetry and songs using these dialects, such as his Gothic language poem Bagme Bloma, which is believed to be the first piece of poetry written in that language for over a thousand years.
He was very religious
Tolkien was firmly religious. The Lord Of The Rings is, he wrote, a "fundamentally religious and Catholic" piece of work. Avid readers of the book will notice that it never mentions religion, or anything akin to a religious practice; Tolkien wanted the symbolism and subtext of the story to achieve that for him. Tolkien was also instrumental in convincing C.S. Lewis to rejoin the Christian faith during their time as part of an Oxford literary group called 'The Inklings', where theology was a frequent topic for discussion. Lewis's conversion then led to a wealth of creativity that would culminate in his subtext-heavy Narnia series.
He was a bit of a hobbit himself
By his own admission, Tolkien was rather envious of those living their lives in his imaginary world of Hobbiton. Though decidedly taller than his diminutive characters, the pipe-smoking, outdoors-loving man very much cast the hobbits in his image. He detested rich ("French") food, would "go to bed late and get up late", and was particularly keen on mushrooms!
He wasn't your average academic
He wasn't the typical, stuffy Oxford professor type. Tolkien was well known for attempting to pay for items in the local shops using his false teeth, and once attended a party dressed as a polar bear. He apparently even came up with the inspiration for The Hobbit when, in annoyance, he defaced an examination paper, writing "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" on a blank page left by a lazy student!
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