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Archive for the ‘Tolkien’ Category

Adventures in Middle-earth: The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

There are some books – most books actually – that pass under the eye as swiftly and with as little mark as the colours on a screen. There are other books, a small number in a lifetime, that mark you indelibly. For me, the book that has marked me probably more than any other is The Lord of the Rings. But it had been many years since I had revisited Middle-earth and I opened the oh-so-familiar book with some trepidation, the sort of fear that might attend meeting again the love of your life after long separation – would the enchantment remain unbroken?

It has. I remember, when I first read The Lord of the Rings, going to sleep each night for six months or more with the prayer that I might wake up in Middle-earth. Many years later, I would still wish to step out of this world and into Arda. If the theology of creation that Tolkien was feeling his way towards proves true, mayhap that shall indeed be possible. For if ever a work of heart and hand might be given the Secret Fire by Eru, and live, then surely it is Middle-earth. As for the Good Professor himself, I believe that, like Niggle the painter, he walks today by the willow meads of Tasarinan, looking towards the distant prospect of mountains towards which the road that goes ever on but that always leads home will take him.

On a more prosaic level, re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, I was struck by the great part that geography played in the narrative. A modern-day writer would not spend so long telling of walking through landscapes – we have become an even hastier people – but for this reader, the word paintings of Middle-earth were as pure a pleasure as the surface narrative. For this is the tale of a world, in all its complexity, rather than just a telling of heroes.

Sometimes, all that is possible by way of review is gratitude. JRR Tolkien poured heart and soul and mind into Middle-earth. Now, 44 years after his death, we can still visit Middle-earth in heart and soul and mind.

Adventures in Bookland: Tolkien by Raymond Edwards

Saturday, June 6th, 2015
Tolkien

Tolkien

Humphrey Carpenter’s 1977 biography of Tolkien remains deservedly the definitive biography of the Good Professor, in part because, alone of the writers mining Middle-earth, he was given access to Tolkien’s private papers, yet in the half century since then a huge amount of material has come to light, particularly relating to JRRT’s professional life. Raymond Edwards’ new biography pays particular attention to this and, since Edwards’ own background is Oxford philology, he makes the struggles, intrigues and battles of academic departments quite fascinating. There is also an engaging strain of waspishness to his judgements – always enjoyable in a biography which, let’s be honest, is really gossip writ literary style – so I’d recommend this to anyone who has read Carpenter and wants some more detail about Tolkien’s life.

Book review: The Traitor’s Heir by Anna Thayer

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014
The Traitor's Heir by Anna Thayer

The Traitor’s Heir by Anna Thayer

Like many others, I suffer from PTRD – post-Tolkien reading disorder: the deepening sense of despair that slowly overwhelms a reader as he discovers that, in the field of fantasy fiction, he started at the top with the Good Professor and ever since then he has been coming down from the mountain of the worlds, into the flat plains – or, in some cases, stagnant pools – that comprise the world-building imaginations of other writers.

Let’s be clear about this: no one, and I mean no one, will match, let alone beat, Tolkien in the depth, breadth, height and profundity of their world building. The reasons for this are multiple, and mainly lie in the peculiar, and unique, range of gifts Tolkien brought to the creation of Middle-earth: most notably his astonishing grasp of the deep structure of language accompanied with the imagination to wield that creatively, and his profound, but non-allegorical faith, that transmuted the considerable suffering of his life into the meditation on divine providence that underlies his work.

So it’s hardly any surprise that, after discovering Tolkien and falling on any book that mentioned JRRT on its cover (‘comparable to Tolkien at his best’ – I’m looking at you, publishers of Stephen Donaldson), and finding out that none of them were comparable to Tolkien – and having fallen to the depths of Shannara – I shunned fantasy completely for many years. Recently, I’ve put a toe back into one or two of the pools in the Wood Between Worlds, but only for the relatively new genre of urban fantasy, which is making some progress (although I fear its obsession with the noumenal nature of tramps and hobos threatens towards self parody). So Anna Thayer’s ‘The Traitor’s Heir’ is the first proper, secondary world fantasy novel I’ve read for many years, and what a relief it was to enjoy it thoroughly. By keeping its focus strictly on the human (with a bit of magic thrown in) it avoids the unfavourable comparisons with Tolkien, while the emphasis on the struggles of the good does actually bear comparison with what Tolkien is doing in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. So, thank you, Anna, for reawakening my interest in secondary-world fantasy. Now for the second volume in the trilogy, ‘The King’s Hand’.

Why Do Writers Do It?

Monday, January 20th, 2014

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The last two sentences of The Box of Delights by John Masefield.

‘Have you had a nice dream?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I have.’

Why? John Masefield, why did you do it? I’d followed Kay Harker through 308 pages of adventures, from mysterious strangers, who apparently remembered this land from pagan times, warning him that ‘the Wolves are running’, through trips in time, changes in size, encounters with talking animals and medieval philosophers, flying cars, pompous policemen – and I’d even read the poems you’d stuck in the text, word for word, and how many readers do that and don’t just skip the poems and carry on with the story, and then, and then, you go and spoil everything.

It was all just a dream.

Is there any more pathetic, more deal breaking, more deceitful and fraudulent phrase in the whole of literature? I, as the reader, have accompanied the writer through the story, accepting it and embracing it, and then, at the end, the writer turns around and spits in your eye: Ha! Fooled you! It was all a dream.
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Who is Tom Bombadil?

Friday, January 10th, 2014
“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow;
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.”
The Fellowship of the Ring I 7,
In the House of Tom Bombadil.

Who on (Middle) earth is Tom Bombadil? The question has vexed generations of fans and probably produced more speculation than any other aspect of the mythology of Middle Earth. The Good Professor himself is little help in answering the question. ‘… and even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).’ The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien p174.

 

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An Extract from Professor Tolkien of Oxford

Friday, December 14th, 2012

In honour of the release of The Hobbit (and in an unashamed attempt to drum up some business) here’s an extract from my ebook, Professor Tolkien of Oxford. It’s from the chapter The Halls of Lore.

Hwæt!

Listen! This Anglo-Saxon cry rang through the halls of the kings of the Anglo-Saxons when the bard, or scop, stood up to begin a tale of heroism or adventure. It is the first word of Beowulf, the epic Anglo-Saxon poem that Tolkien loved, studied, defended and taught through all his working life. And it was the word that Tolkien would shout out at the start of his lectures on Old English, startling a room of gossiping undergraduates into silence.

Hwæt!

Words were the basis of everything Tolkien wrote. Not merely because he was a writer, but because it was the love of words, the intrigue of these nuggety bundles of sound and meaning that carry thought and love and history and the immense burden of human history on their unassuming backs, that made Tolkien into a scholar and writer in the first place. Words, their meaning, their derivation, the glimpses they offered into the deep past of places and peoples, were what brought him to Oxford and what made him stay. Tolkien was a philologist as much as he was a writer, and the two disciplines interpenetrated in his depths.

To read some more, buy the book!

Northumbria is Middle-earth

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Now, as you may know (and if you don’t, I’ll need to make my self-advertisement even more blatant), my ebook on Tolkien, Professor Tolkien of Oxford, has just come out, and my old-fashioned paper book on the history and archaeology of Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom is out 1 October. What I had not known before is that other eyes than mine have seen the connection between the two. When places are touted as the inspiration for Middle-earth, the areas around Birmingham where Tolkien grew up (which were then bucolic expanses of greenery rather than suburbs) usually win out. But, it turns out, and this will not be a surprise to visitors, Northumberland fits better today. For the poster for The Hobbit features Gandalf striding across the Shire, but the backdrop is Northumberland. The ruined castle to the right of centre is Edlingham Castle. The hills are the Simonside Hills, according to folklore the home of dwarves, the duergar, who lead travellers astray.

So, Northumbria is Middle-earth. I knew it!

Professor Tolkien of Oxford out now!

Friday, September 7th, 2012

My new ebook, Professor Tolkien of Oxford, is now available on Kindle from Amazon. I’ll have to go out and buy myself a Kindle now!

Professor Tolkien of Oxford