Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Celebration of J.R.R. Tolkien

With the worldwide success of the film adaptation of The Hobbit, 75 years after its publication, I felt today would be a good day to post my thoughts on one of my most favorite authors. Today would have been the 121st birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973). For those like me who are devoted fans and readers of Tolkien's work I feel there are many out there that have never "really" read or fully appreciated his works. Few know or even care what kind of man or writer he was; merely that he invented this huge fantasy world in The Lord of the Rings, which very few have really experienced in full. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was many things: he was in fact an Englishman, a husband, a father, a writer, a teacher, a scholar, a poet, and a philologist. While Tolkien's world is not as prolific as any modern writer, his greatest works include really only four actual books during his lifetime including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It wasn't until after his death, that his son Christopher published The Silmarillion in 1977, which is the definitive history of Middle-Earth. I was first introduced to the works of Tolkien with the 1977 Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit (and The Return of the King (1980)) I saw on TV when I was very young and afterwards of course, I read the original book when I was about 10 years old. I credit my father to turning me onto Tolkien at an early age as he had the old paperback collections of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I can remember reading the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy around the age of 13 or 14 as I was reading more. Later I saw the 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film directed by Ralph Bakshi. My favorite character in The Lord of the Rings was always Gollum, even as a kid, I think it was because he was so fascinating and strange. Later as I grew up and still appreciated the books and the movies, I found that I admired Boromir the most, as being the most human character in the story, although short-lived. By the time I was in college, I was already a lifelong Tolkien fan, and when it was announced that director Peter Jackson would be filming the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy I was ecstatic as I saw a renewed interest in Tolkien's books and world. It had been a long time since I was as excited about a movie except for maybe Star Wars: Episode I (1999) or X-Men (2000) around that time. For the next three years (including the following Christmases), with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) I reveled in the world of Lord of the Rings. It was like being a teenager again and I found myself enjoying Tolkien's world all over again. Although the Tolkien craze seemed to die down after a few years it wasn't until a couple of years of years ago in 2010 when it was announced that The Hobbit was going to finally be adapted into a big-budget film directed by Peter Jackson, and not just one, but three! J.R.R. Tolkien is not just a fantasy writer, but a writer for the ages to be included in all the great writers of the 20th Century along with George Orwell, William Golding, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. Not only did Tolkien leave us with a believable fantasy world full of elves, orcs and of course hobbits, but he also left us with a literary legacy to be enjoyed by generations of readers as well as his influence which has spread into all genres of media and entertainment.

"It is not enough for the philologist, the 'word-lover', to be scholarly. The scholar also has to transmit his results into the life and speech and imagination of the greater world...By his death-day, he could well have said, like Théoden, when he went to join his (philological) fathers, 'even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed'. Tolkien left a legacy as rich as any of his predecessors'." - Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

Notable Books on J.R.R. Tolkien:
Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (1977)
J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth by Daniel Grotta (1992)
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey (2000)
The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology by Tom Shippey (2003)
I Am in Fact a Hobbit: An Introduction to the Life and Work of J.R.R. Tolkien by Perry C. Bramlett (2003)
The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the OED by Gulliver, Marshall and Weiner (2006)