LEARNING ABOUT
J.R.R. TOLKIEN


Written by Stephanie Lessard-Pilon

Grade 8
John Jay Middle School, Cross River, New York
Lucretia Pannozzo, Teacher

INTRODUCTION

J.R.R. Tolkien was a creator of languages, worlds, peoples, and legends. One could easily believe that, from casual, elderly appearance with his fancy embroidered waistcoats and his wispy white hair, this was the man who had created the world, history, and people of Middle-Earth, the setting for the majority of his works. From his deep love of trees, to his boyhood imaginings of dragons and elves, J.R.R. Tolkien was and always would be a dreamer.

Modeling his characters, events, and settings, Tolkien gave his world a feeling of reality, the feeling that such a world could possibly exist in the realm of imagination. The giant spider Shelob was modeled after a tarantula attack he had suffered at age three. Faithful Sam, Frodo's servant, took after a typical English soldier, loyal and stout-hearted. The Shire, Frodo's homeland, was a combination of the English country-side that was Tolkien's home, the peaceful forest, pleasant valleys, and comfortable homes. He even modeled the typical hobbit after himself. "I am, in fact, a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food... I do not travel much," (Commire, 214) he wrote of himself. Yes, indeed, it is easy to see how such a man was the creator of such world-renowned myths and legends.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

J.R.R. Tolkien was a fascinating man with contrasting ideals. This essay will describe his family life, personal history, occupations, and education as well as his works, awards, topics and influences. Tolkien had an interesting family life. Ronald, as he called himself, was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloefontain, South Africa. However, he was not a healthy child, and by the time he was three, his mother took him to England, her homeland, for a vacation. While still in England, news came that his father, Arthur Reuel, had died. His mother decided against going back to South Africa and moved Ronald and his younger brother Hilary to Sarehole. "The times I spent in Sarehole were the longest and most formative part of my life...", (Commire, 32:208) Tolkien said of his former home. He spent many happy years there, just playing and enjoying being healthy while his mother taught him to read and write by the time he was four. After he had mastered the ability to read in English, he started on German, French, and Latin. (Collins, 18). He quickly became fascinated with words- the content, shape, and sound of them. But then, when Tolkien was twelve, his mother died, leaving him in the care of Roman Catholic priest called Father Francis Morgan, with whom he lived for many years. (Collins, 25-27)

Tolkien met Edith Bratt, his future wife, when he was sixteen and she was nineteen. (Commire, 32: 207-215) He began to spend all of his time with her, ignoring his studies, until at last Father Francis forbade them to see one another. (Collins, 39) They remained separate from each other until Ronald reached the age of 21 in 1913 and wrote her, asking to marry him. She agreed and on March 22, 1916, they were married. (Commire, 32:207-215). It was difficult for the couple at first because Tolkien had enlisted in the army, and he was sent to France to fight in the first World War as a second lieutenant. (Commire, 32:207- 215). He only lasted till October when he contracted "Trench Fever" and was sent back to England to recover. (Collins, 61). After he had recovered, he was promoted to a lieutenant, and thus was able spend more time on leave with Edith. (Collins, 67). It was then, in 1917, that his first son, John Francis Reuel, was born. (Commire, 32:207).

Tolkien was by this time working on the Silmarillion, and he was thoroughly enjoying the challenge. In 1920, his second son, Michael Hilary Reuel was born. He was, in 1924, followed by Christopher Reuel, and finally, in 1929, the daughter they had often hoped for, Priscilla Mary Reuel. His family life went fairly smoothly from then on as John became a priest, Michael and Christopher became teachers, and Priscilla became a probation officer. (Collins, 95). Then, in 1971, tragedy struck. Edith died of an inflamed gall bladder. (Collins, 95). After Edith's death, he seemed older. He began complaining of chest pains and was diagnosed with an acute bleeding gastric ulcer, and, after a brief recovery, died of an infection on September 2, 1973. (Collins, 99)

Although in his early years, his mother had taught Tolkien at home, he was enrolled at King Edward's in 1900. He was not happy there, however, so his mother sent him to St. Philip's Catholic School. (Collins 20). Still unhappy, his mother again tutored him at home, until he qualified for a scholarship back at King Edward's in 1903. (Collins 20). There he stayed until when he won a scholarship to Exeter College, a branch of Oxford University. He finally left Exeter in 1916, when he was called to enlist in World War 1. (Commire, 23:207).

J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of many careers. His first occupation was a second lieutenant in World War 1, which he despised. War, he said, was "animal horror". (Collins, 59). After the war ended, he worked as a lexicographer researching the meaning and origins of words beginning with 'W' for the Oxford English Dictionary. (Commire, 32:207-215). Following this, he became a lecturer and researcher in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English at the University of Leeds, where he worked for the next five years. (Commire, 32:207-215). In 1925, a position at Oxford for a professor of Anglo-Saxon became vacant, and Tolkien was appointed at only thirty-two years of age. (Collins, 74). He also wrote The Hobbit and his other works, thus establishing his name as an author.

Tolkien's hobbies and interests were varied. He had always enjoyed sketching, and drew many of his own illustrations for the original version of The Hobbit. He also liked trees, and taught his own grand-children to climb them. Since from the time when he was a little boy he had always liked languages and the way they related to each other, he became one of the leading philologists of his era. Myths and legends were always fascinating to him, and he believed no fairy-story was suitable to read if it could not be enjoyed by adults.

Many things in life influenced Tolkien to write. His wartime experiences and the sight of too much carnage caused him to wish to create something immortal, something that would not die. (Collins, 66). He also wanted to give England, his country, its own set of myths and legends similar to the Finnish Kalevala or the Norse legend Midgard. (Collins, 65-66). His love for Edith, his wife, caused him to write the poem Luthien Tinuviel and Beren, which is included in part in The Fellowship of the Ring (Collins, 67). All of these causes helped Tolkien to become one of the world's most renowned authors.

Tolkien wrote many novels and short stories. In his opinion, The Lord of the Rings was far better than The Hobbit. Some of his lesser known titles include The Silmarillion, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book, The Father Christmas Letters, Tree and Leaf, The Tolkien Reader, Unfinished Tales, Smith of Wooten Major, and Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

There were many differences in opinion about the quality of Tolkien's work. While many publishers treated them like loads of trash, some believed they would sell millions of copies. One critic said of The Hobbit, "Opening the pages of this book is like opening a treasure chest. Each word is a sparkling jewel."(Collins, 82). Indeed, Tolkien won many impressive awards such as the New York Herald Tribune, the Children's Spring Award, and the International Fantasy Award. He even won the Locus Award after his death. (Commire 32:207).

AUTHOR'S STYLE AND CONVENTIONS

After reading many of J.R.R. Tolkien's novels, you begin to realize that he, like many authors, uses a similar style and conventions in his novels. In the case of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, I have noticed that he emphasizes conventions such as description, character development, and dialogue.

The first of the three conventions that J.R.R. Tolkien favors is description. He manages to use simple, understandable words to paint complex images in the reader's mind. This is a quote of when Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry finally reach the end of the threatening Old Forest.

"As if through a gate they saw the sunlight before them. Coming to the open, they found that they had made their way through a cleft in a high bank, almost a cliff. At its feet was a wide space of grass and reeds, and in the distance another bank almost as steep. A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between." (Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring. 162-63).

This quote of the hobbit's first impression of the hidden glen is a good example of setting description because, with only a few lines, Tolkien manages to illustrate a place of peace and warmth in the reader's mind, making them feel tranquil and calm.

Another example of good description in a different book of Tolkien's is that of Treebeard, an old Ent. What an Ent was, however, is described below:

"It belonged to a manlike, almost troll-like, figure, at least fourteen feet high, very sturdy, with a tall back and hardly any neck... The arms, at a short distance, were not wrinkled but instead covered with smooth brown skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of its face was covered with a sweeping beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends." (Tolkien, The Two Towers. 83).

With this quote, the reader can almost see Treebeard, the Ent, with a long, straggly beard and a tree-like body at Merry and Pippin's confrontation with him.. This is another instance where Tolkien uses words to create a life-like picture in the reader's imagination. A third example of Tolkien's description is revealed when he depicts a Black Rider mocking the King Elessar. This is the quote:

"The Black Rider flung back his hook, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantle shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen, there came a deadly laughter." Tolkien, Return of the King,

This is an excellent quote, instilling in the reader a feeling of menace, and of evil. It describes the Rider in detail, and it makes the reader feel as if he/she is right next to the Rider, watching it during the siege of Gondor.

A different technique Tolkien uses is dialogue. Even though his novels are fantasy, he makes his characters speak with an authentic sense that completely relates to their personality. This is a quote from a hobbit who has just finished what he considers a long and dirty journey and wants a bath.

'A bath!' cried Pippin. 'O blessed Meriadoc!' 'Which order shall we go in?,' said Frodo. 'Eldest first, or quickest first? You'll be last either way, Master Peregrin!' 'Trust me to arrange things better than that!' Merry said. 'In that room, you will find three tubs, and a copper full of hot water. There are also towels and mats and soap. Get inside, and be quick!' (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring. 144).

In this example, you can see much about a hobbit's characteristics. A great deal of his dialogue, especially in this example, also adds a tinge of humor to his works. Another example of dialogue is used in a different novel when Gollum is having an argument, out loud, with the other side of his nature.

'I don't know. I can't help it. Master's got it. Sméagol promised to help Master...' 'Yes, yes, to help the master: the master of the Precious. But if we was master, then we could help ourselfs, yes, and still keep promises.' 'But Sméagol said he would be very very good. Nice hobbit! He took cruel rope off Sméagol's leg. He speaks nicely to me.' 'Very very good, eh my precious? Let's be good, good as fish, sweet one, but to ourselfs. Not hurt nice hobbit, of course, no, no.' 'But the Precious hold the promise!'... 'Then take it!' said the other, 'and let's hold it ourselfs! Then we shall be the Master, gollum, gollum. Make the other hobbit, the nasty suspicious hobbit, make him crawl!' 'But not the nice hobbit?' 'No, not if it doesn't please us. Still he's a Baggins, my precious, and we hates Bagginses. A Baggins stole it. He found it, and said nothing, nothing. We hates Bagginses!' 'No, not this Baggins,' 'Yes, every Baggins. All peoples that keep the Precious. We must have it!' 'But He'll see. He'll know. He'll take it from us!' 'He sees. He knows. He heard us make silly promises- against His orders, yes. Must take it...' " (Tolkien, The Two Towers. 304)

This shows how Tolkien can make dialogue with the thoughts of one creature. Gollum is arguing with the other side of himself, Sméagol, on whether or not to steal the Ring from Frodo, his Master. With this example, the reader can witness how the dialogue, in this case with Gollum, can relate to the character very well. Everything the character says helps to build the reader's impression of a desperate, insane creature. The last example of dialogue is also from a different book. In this sample, Théoden, the King of Rohan, is saying good-bye to Merry, just before he dies on the battlefield.

'Farewell, Master Hoblyta!' Theoden said. 'My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not be ashamed. I fell the Black Serpent. A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunrise!' " (Tolkien, The Return of the King. 143).

This is another excellent instance of how Tolkien uses dialogue to develop his character's personality. It makes the reader feel as if he is the ones listening to Theoden's last words, and feeling the grief that Merry must have felt, as well as telling the reader that Theoden has fully recovered from Wormtongue's poisonous counsel.

The final technique which Tolkien seems to favor is the development of round characters. Here is an example where good, old Sam shows another side of himself.

'Where did you come but those verses, Sam?' asked Pippin. 'I've never heard those words before.' Sam muttered something inaudible. 'It's out of his own head, of course!' said Frodo. 'I am learning a lot about Sam Gamgee on this journey. First he was a conspirator, now he's a jester. He'll end up by being a warrior, or a wizard!' 'I hope not!' said Sam. 'I don't want to be neither!' (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring. 278).

This is a good example of how Tolkien varies his characters. In the beginning of this novel, Sam was just another character with some very ordinary traits. However, as the book progressed, readers begin to notice several things that they had not been aware of before, such as Sam's hidden poetry talent.

In addition, another example of a round character shows Gandalf after he returns from the depths of the Mines of Moria. He has changed in many ways, but most significantly he has gained power and stature as well as changing his appearance- so much so that the companions who had believed him dead mistake him for the evil wizard Saruman.

He sprang to his feet and leaped to the top of a rock. There he stood, grown suddenly tall, towering above them. His hood and grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted up his staff, and Gimli's axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn, stiff in his motionless hand blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a cloud of flame. 'Mithrandir!' he cried. Mithrandir!' 'Well met I say to you again, Legolas!...' 'Gandalf!' he [Gimli] said. 'But you are all in white!' 'Yes, I am in white now,' said Gandalf. 'Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten. I can see many things far off, but many things that are close at hand I cannot see. Tell me of yourselves!' " (Tolkien, The Two Towers. 124-125).

This is an important quote that depicts Gandalf himself telling the others that he has, indeed, changed. He has become, in a sense, immortal, and less susceptible to evil than he might once have been.

Another example of a round character from The Return of the King is Aragorn, the warrior king of Gonder. Here is a quote showing a very unexpected side of his personality.

"When Ioreth was gone, Aragorn bade the other women to make the water hot. Then he took Faramir's hand in his, and laid the other hand upon the sick man's brow. It was drenched with sweat; but Faramir did not move or make any sign, and seemed hardly able to breathe...Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness, and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost... Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes, and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. 'My lord, you called me. I come. What does the King command?' (Tolkien, The Return of the King. 171-173)

This quote shows the reader that Aragorn is not merely a fighting man whose main objective is to kill the enemy- he is willing to risk his own life to heal that of others. This also tells the reader that Tolkien develops many of his characters three-dimensionally, contrary to earlier impressions that all of his characters were one-sided. This composition tells and describes three of Tolkien's favorite techniques and style devices from three of his novels. It also includes specific quotes relating to that technique. I hope that, after reading this composition, you will better understand Tolkien's distinctive work and style, and that you begin to realize why a book critic said of one of his novels, "Opening this book is like opening a treasure chest. Each word is a sparkling jewel." (Collins 82).

MY CRITICAL COMMENTS ON HIS BOOKS

The Fellowship of the Ring

In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien reveals the story of Frodo Baggins and his quest to destroy the One Ring, the evil ring of power. Accompanied only by a few friends, Frodo the Hobbit must travel to Rivendell, the only place where he can find help on his quest. But the way is fraught with danger. He must face the malicious semi-sentient trees of the Old Forest, the lure of the deadly Barrow-downs, and survive the chase of the Ringwraiths, who are the corrupted bearers of the nine less powerful Rings. Once he reaches Rivendell, he finds that his quest is not over yet, and that he must continue his journey with newfound friends an elf, a dwarf, a Man, and Gandalf the Wizard. The novel continues to tell their dangerous trek though the long abandoned mines of Moria, the living beauty of the Forest Lothlórien, and the meeting of the Elf-Queen Galadriel. In the end, the Company stops to decide where they go next- should Frodo use the Ring to aid the people of Gondor and risk becoming another Dark Lord- or should Frodo go by himself to Mordor to destroy the Ring and leave the people of Gondor to likely die under the terrible assault of the Ringwraiths and goblin-like Orcs? His question is answered when Boromir, the Man, is overcome with the desire to bear the Ring himself. He threatens the smaller Frodo, who panics, and, with Sam, his manservant, leaves for Mordor to destroy the Ring alone.

This novel has a wonderful story line with endearing and individual characters. The author makes the reader feel as if he/she is really there, listening to the dialogue and meeting the characters personally, as well as making the reader wish that there really was a Middle-Earth that people could visit and believe in. The suspense in the story makes it a real page-turner. Although the dialogue is sometimes written in an Old English sense, which makes it somewhat difficult to understand, on the whole the plot is fairly straightforward and comprehensible. This book should be recommended to anyone between the ages of ten and one hundred as it is an entertaining book that can be enjoyed thoroughly at any age.

The Two Towers

The Two Towers, a wonderful sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien continues the tale of the Company. The first half of the book describes the imprisonment of Merry and Pippen by the Orcs, their escape and adventure in the Forest of Fangorn with the Ents. (They are tree-like creatures with a deep-set hatred of goblin Orcs.) It also tells of the battle between the Ents and evil wizard Saruman at Isengard. It reveals the suspenseful chase of Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn after their smaller friends, how they met Gandalf, still alive after the trek through Moria, and how the four of them saved Théoden from treachery by Saruman's crony, Wormtongue. At the end of this half, they are reunited with Merry and Pippin at Isengard. The second half tells of Frodo's and Sam's journey to Mordor, and how Gollum, a desperate scoundrel, sneak and slave to the One Ring comes to them and offers to guide them into Mordor safely. Frodo and Sam must make their way through the Stairs of Cirith Ungol and survive an attack by a giant spider before they finally can begin their final journey to Mount Doom.

This is an amazing sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring. The double story line which follows Frodo and Sam as well as the rest of the Company in Isengard varies the plot and makes the novel seem realistic. The only trouble with this novel is that some of the names of the characters are very similar such as Sauron, the Dark Lord, and Saruman, a corrupted wizard. Also, there are many minor characters that are sometimes difficult to keep track of and remember.

The Return of the King

The Return of the King is the third and final novel in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It reveals the final stage of the journey to destroy the Ring of Power. It also tells the infamous battle between the goblins and dark creatures of Middle-Earth and the Men of Gondor, which is told from the point of view of Merry and Pippin. The first half of this book is dedicated to the adventures of the two hobbits Merry and Pippin, and their struggle to overcome the Shadow from Mordor, as well as the story of Legolas and Gimli and their journey with Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead. After Pippin leaves with Gandalf at the end of The Two Towers, he meets the Lord Steward of Gondor, and pledges his loyalty to him. He becomes an aide to the Steward Denethor, and is sworn to obey him. Denethor releases him from his pledge, and begins to show signs of insanity. When he attempts to burn himself and his son Faramir, Pippin rescues Faramir, though Denethor does die. Back in Rohan, Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn depart to journey though the Paths of the Dead, going into terror to subdue the Ghosts of Men to their will. Meanwhile, Merry is left behind with the King of Rohan, and likewise pledges to serve him. Merry rides to Gondor with Dernhelm, a mysterious Rider who agrees to take him against the King's will. When they finally reach Gondor, they battle against the Orcs and the evil Nazgul to free Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor. Dernhelm is threatened with death by the Nazgul, and reveals himself to be Eowyn, the daughter of the King. Merry, refusing to fall under the dark spell of fear the Nazgul possessed, stabbed him in the back just in time to save her life. After the battle is over, Pippin and Merry become reunited, but are separated when Pippin must leave with the Men to fight again. Pippin saves his friend, Beragond, of dying of a troll wound, and becomes injured himself.

The second part of this novel tells of Sam's struggle to rescue Frodo from the Orcs. He succeeds, and together they trek across Mordor to reach Mount Doom. They encounter many difficulties, such as the lack of water and the constant spying of the Nazgul. After they finally overcome all of these obstacles, they reach the summit of Mount Doom. The Ring conquers Frodo's mind, and he pronounces his wish to become an Evil Lord of Darkness. However, before the evil completely takes him over, Gollum arrives, and, snatching the Ring from Frodo's hand, trips, and falls into the Crack of Doom, thereby destroying the Ring.

An Eagle comes from Gondor, arrives immediately after the Ring is destroyed. He takes them back to Gondor, where they stay with their friends, Merry, Pippin, Legolas and Gimli. When the four hobbits finally return home to the Shire, they find things have completely changed. Saruman, the vanquished wizard from The Two Towers, has taken over their homeland. Together, the four rise the Shire to revolt against him. After they finally manage to rid the Shire of evil, they begin to repair their homeland, and then live their for many years afterwards.

The end of this story is very tragic. Frodo leaves suddenly, with only Sam to accompany him. They travel through the woods of the Shire until they meet a company of Elves- Galadriel, Elrond, and Celeborn included. They take with them Bilbo, the original discoverer of the Ring. Frodo joins them, and, while Sam watches, takes a Ship across the Great Sea, never to be seen again.

I firmly believe that this final novel was the most powerful in the trilogy. The psychological conflict in this story was extremely well done, and the description was unbelievable. Although the ending was very sad, I think that is the only way the author could have properly ended this story.

CONCLUSION

J.R.R. Tolkien was a famous and spectacular author. He should be remembered today as the one of the best fantasy writers of all time, and one of the most advanced philologists in England. His many contributions of the field of writing have helped, in a way, to change people's lifestyles by giving them another world to believe in as well as providing entertainment to countless people across the globe.

In my opinion, J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the world's best authors. I have personally loved his novels from the very first time I read them in fourth grade, and every time I reread them, it seems I am re-entering a world that I have always known in my imagination. Although these books are classified as fantasy, I believe that the characters and scenes in his novels parallel the real world in an unusual way.

These books should be recommended to anyone old enough to read and understand them, but especially to both those who enjoy long, meaningful novels that entertain and challenge their imagination and to those who simply love to read fantasy. Even though these books can sometimes be a little confusing, they are still wonderful and interesting stories.

WORKS CITED

Collins, David R. J.R.R. Tolkien, Master of Fantasy. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company, 1992.

Commire, Anne, ed. Something About The Author. Vol. 32. Detroit, MI: 1983.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books,1973.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973.

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Created March 31, 1997