The Beginning

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Dragon1160 08/Dec/2006 at 08:57 PM
Stablehand of the Mark Points: 282 Posts: 83 Joined: 20/May/2005
I know the Tolkein has based thebooks of Lord of the Ringd and The Hobbit on the real world...but I would like to know how, and when he based these books. I have been told that it was on letters from WWII, and that it was his life that it was based upon...So what is the truth or the nearest we have???
Nenarye 08/Dec/2006 at 09:19 PM
Defender of Imladris Points: 839 Posts: 376 Joined: 08/Oct/2006
I don’t know to much about this, but I don’t think he based anything of the war. Infact, I’m almost positive.

’The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion...’ - Foward to FotR.

And this posted by halfir in the ??Hitler=Sauron?? thread.

Nan. C.L. Scott and her husband twice visited Tolkien at his Sandfield Road house in Oxford in the Spring of 1966.

In talking of Tolkien and allegory she recounts:

’Even more limiting than religious allegory, a narrow political interpretation of literature was his special detestation; and he spoke with scorn of the critics who had tried to reduce the War of the Rings to an analog of World War 11 with Hitler as Sauron, the Dark Lord.’
geordie 09/Dec/2006 at 01:55 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Tolkien’s books were’nt really based on anything, in the usual sense of the word. Certainly not letters of WWII; his earliest tales go back to around the time of the Great War - WWI.

From an early age, Tolkien had loved stories - he studied Latin and Greek with his mother at first, then later at school, and University. He also love the Northern legends - and real-world histories too; sometimes folk forget that. But it was the Languages, particularly of the North, which captured his heart. He invented languages of his own as a child; and during WWI he was still developing his ’Elvish’ tongues. The breakthrough came when he realised that languages cannot live alone; there must be people to speak them. So he invented stories in which there were folk who spoke that way. The first, according to Carpenter, was ’The fall of Gondolin’ in 1917.

These tales developed, [along with the languages, I presume] and by the 1920s the core of the tales which made up The Silmarillion had been made. But these tales were never published in his lifetime, as he never decided on a final form; they all existed in various versions.

As for The Hobbit - this began as a tale told to his sons [Priscilla either had’nt been born at that point; or she would have been very young]. Tolkien used to make up lots of stories for the boys in those days; he took the trouble of typing this one up [though the typescript only went as far as the death of Smaug]. The story came to the attention of the publishers Allen and Unwin; the book was a success [its 70th anniversary is next year; never been out of print] and T. was asked for a sequel. This ’sequel’ took Tolkien 12 years to write; and 2 more to revise. It was published in 1954-5 as The Lord of the Rings.

As I say. Tolkien did’nt ’base’ the stories on anything much; he once said that stories grow from out of ’the leaf-mould of the mind’ - that is, an author can only use what’s in his head [and I would suggest, a large dash of imagination ]. Tolkien’s personal ’compost heap’ as he called it, was mainly made up of leaves of Language; so that’s where he started from. The words.

Or, often, _a_ word. [it was his business as a philologist]. Take ’hobbit’ for instance - the word just popped into his head one day. ’I always begin with a name’ he said. Give me a name, and the story follows after. I thought I’d like to find out what hobbits were like’. And to a large extent, he found out that ’hobbits are just English people; made small because of the small reach of their imagination; not their courage or latent power’.

So in a way, Tolkien did ’base’ some of his stuff - the hobbits - on people he’d known, as a child in the village of Sarehole in the 1890s, and later on the common soldiers he witnessed in WWI. But not a one-to-one basis.

As for Northern mythology; his stories are full of elements from old myths and sagas. Beowulf is a popular subject for ’source-hunters’. [it would be strange if it were not; Tolkien was an expert on Beowulf, and lectured on that poem for most of his professional life]. But what matters is not what external sources he used, but how he used them. And how often; not as often as some commentators would have us believe.

And the most important thing is to see how he created something entirely new - the modern fantasy tale - all on his own. You don’t do that by repeating old themes. What Tolkien did was to take old familiar themes, and _add things which were completely his own invention_ - like Hobbits and Ents, and orcs. Thes words were not invented by Tolken, but the peoples they represent _were_. [Elves too, to some extent]. What were Ents based on? Well, nothing really; Shippey says nothing like ’em exists in literature before; Tolkien just made them up. And once encountered, they can never be forgotten.

The Lord of the Rings is like that - characters and names, familiar yet strange, woven into a story - ome of the best stories of all time, I think - and once read; never forgotten.



This is all a bit rambling - if you’d like to know more - accurate history as opposed to the ’letters of WWII’ variety - I’d recommend some books from your local library.

Humphrey Carpenter’s ’JRR Tolkien: A Biography’ is vey good, and written as an easy and enjoyable read. Tom Shippey’s ’The Road to Middle-earth’   has much in the way of phiololgical wisdom; it does show the way Tolkien melded certain Northern themes into his books; and also how Tolkien is unique! His other book, ’JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century’ waters down that learning a bit, It think, and adds some other stuff. I think the movies are mentioned. [Tom is one of the experts on the EE dvd documentaries].

All good stuff - and you’ll learn more in books like these than you will on the Net.


TurambarGR 09/Dec/2006 at 03:01 AM
Mercenary of Minas Tirith Points: 578 Posts: 57 Joined: 21/Oct/2006
Well geordie says more than enough... I agree with him. Maybe you are confused with the fact that Tolkien based a lot of characters or situations with the real world. For example the character of Lotho, the voice of Treebeard e.t.c.
geordie 09/Dec/2006 at 03:02 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Silly, I was forgetting    - the best book for questions of this kind is
’The JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide’ [2006]. Written by two great Tolkien scholars, Christina Scull and Wayne G.Hammond. It is expensive, but it should be available in public libraries soon. It is an amazing accomplishment - published in two volumes, it contains answers to most if not all the questions raised here on the Plaza [to do with Tolkien’s life and works, that is ] - and also provides much information which I’d never heard of before. I thoroughly recommend this work!
geordie 09/Dec/2006 at 03:06 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
simul with Turambar

[hang on - I know about the supposed link between CS Lewis and the voice of Treebeard - is that confirmed in Letters? But what’s this about a ’real-life’ Lotho? Not reader applicability again, surely? ]
Dragon1160 09/Dec/2006 at 04:05 PM
Stablehand of the Mark Points: 282 Posts: 83 Joined: 20/May/2005
Thank you for all of this information. I will definately hit the library and look up these books. And make sure that I know all of the facts before starting any wrong rumors.
geordie 10/Dec/2006 at 02:38 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Dragon1160 -
Naduil 10/Dec/2006 at 04:12 AM
Gardener of Lothlorien Points: 182 Posts: 753 Joined: 02/Dec/2006
I’m pretty sure that I know were he got the Misty Mountains from. I think that it was the south downs (that’s in the south of England for all foreigners) they are a long range of large hills which would once have been the size of mountains. They span half of England, just like the misty mountains span half of Middle-earth. Does anyone here see a similaritie?
geordie 10/Dec/2006 at 07:02 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
I’m pretty sure that I know were he got the Misty Mountains from. I think that it was the south downs (that’s in the south of England for all foreigners) they are a long range of large hills which would once have been the size of mountains. They span half of England, just like the misty mountains span half of Middle-earth. Does anyone here see a similaritie?

Good point - except that the South Downs were never mountains. Like the North Downs; and also the Chiltern Hills [which are much nearer to where Tolkien lived for most of his life] the South Downs are made of chalk, formed under the sea millions of years ago. The Misty Mountains, [Tolkien wrote in a letter] owe much to a trip he took to Switzerland whem he was young - 1911, I think it was. Humphrey Carpenter mentions it in his biography of Tolkien, which I mentioned above. And you can read of Tolkien’s trip in the volume of Letters too. You should be able to borrow ’em from your local library, I expect.

And welcome to the Plaza.