Why J.R.R. Tolkien Is Cool

Well, our Lord of the Rings month is just about over. Sad day.

I thought I’d leave you with a few reasons to love J.R.R. Tolkien himself, besides the fact that he wrote the best fantasy novel of all time. Most of this comes from a biography called Tolkien, by Humphrey Carpenter, which is well worth reading if you want to know more about the Godfather of Nerds. Here’s a start:

1) He was a romantic.

One of the most common criticisms of Tolkien’s work is that he doesn’t write enough about women. Some have even gone so far as to say he was a misogynist. To those people, I say this: Tolkien claimed to have based his character Luthien on his wife, Edith. If you’ve read The Silmarillion, you know that Luthien is no Disney princess. She used her own personal wolf monster to defeat Sauron in battle (yes, THE Sauron), saved her mortal lover from Morgoth, and helped to invade the most evil place in Middle Earth and recapture one of the Silmarils. Plus, she can turn into a bat, which is cool. Now, it’s true that Edith Tolkien was never a big part of her husband’s public life, and she certainly wasn’t a great scholar like he was, but that has to tell you something about their relationship.
Plus, the facts about his romance with Edith are almost the stuff of fairytales. He fell in love with Edith as a teenager, while living with a strict priest named Father Francis after his mother died. Father Francis disapproved of their relationship (Edith was Protestant), and finally forbade Tolkien to meet or write to her until he was 21. So Tolkien waited for three years, never seeing another girl, and then immediately sought Edith out and proposed. She said yes, and they stayed together the rest of their lives. And guess what’s written on their shared tombstone now? “Beren” (under Tolkien’s name) and “Luthien.” Can I get an awwwww?

2) He was a really cool professor.

There’s a reason why I call Tolkien the Godfather of Nerds. He used to start out his classes on Anglo-Saxon languages at Oxford by giving a dramatic reading of Beowulf in the original language, and he would sometimes even come to school events dressed like a Viking. According to Humphrey Carpenter, his lectures often rambled, but that was because he was so excited about what he was teaching he couldn’t stick to an outline. Not surprisingly, he was very popular with students. I wish with all my heart I could have heard a Tolkien lecture. And I don’t know anything about philology or Anglo-Saxon.

3) He was a soldier.

Tolkien knew what he was talking about when he described battle. Like most men of his generation, he fought in the trenches of World War I, which makes one think his vivid descriptions of the horror of Mordor may not have been entirely imaginary. Most of his friends also died in the war, which might explain the tone of tragedy and grief which hangs over practically everything he wrote. Fortunately for the world in general, he contracted “trench fever” and escaped the fighting after a few months because he was too sick to go back.

4) He was a good friend of C.S. Lewis.

It blows my mind that the two greatest speculative fiction writers of all time (in my opinion) not only lived and worked during the same period and went to the same colleges, but were best friends. Tolkien was even instrumental in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity–which means that without Tolkien, we wouldn’t have had Narnia, and where would the world of children’s fantasy be now? It’s true that their friendship eventually cooled, and Tolkien didn’t think very highly of Lewis’s fiction, especially Narnia. But Lewis was a big fan of everything Tolkien wrote. He even based the main character of his Space Trilogy on Tolkien. Part of the fun of reading That Hideous Strength is in finding all the Middle Earth references.

4) He was a hobbit.

He smoked a pipe a lot. He was very fond of ale and mushrooms. He loved trees and the countryside, and hated the things of “metal and wheels” that the industrialization of England brought into his life after World War I. (Oddly enough, he was also a reckless driver when he finally did get a car.) He even said it himself: “I am, in fact, a hobbit.” Basically, everything you love about hobbits was true of Tolkien as well. I think they even based Bilbo’s costumes in the movie off his creator’s favourite outfits.


Oh, and his initials stand for John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. That one was free. 🙂

Tomorrow we turn to a fandom Tolkien would probably not approve of, as it focuses heavily on “metal and wheels.” But not always in a good way…

At any rate, it’s always a good time to read The Lord of the Rings, even in October. I read it almost constantly. It’s just the thing for the imagination and sanity.



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