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Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel)
tòl´-), J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel)
British philologist and writer of the fantasies _The Hobbit_ (1937) and _The Lord of the Rings_ (1954-1955).
Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel)
Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel), 1892-1973, English novelist and scholar. A medievalist at Oxford Univ., he became famous as the author of _The Hobbit_ (1937) and the epic trilogy _Lord of the Rings_ (1954-56), all fantasy novels about the mythological kingdom of Middle Earth; the posthumous _Silmarillion_ (1977) continues the saga.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien ("Ronald" to his family and friends) was born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontain, South Africa. His parents had moved there from England so that his father, Arthur, could work for the bank of Africa. Ronald lost both parents early in life--Arthur died in Africa in 1896, after the rest of the family had returned to England, and his wife, Mabel, died in 1904 near Birmingham, England. After Mabel's death, Ronald and his younger brother Hilary came under the care of Father Francis Morgan, a friend of the family. Soon after, Ronald went to King Edwards School and then Oxford. At Oxford, Tolkien pursued a degree in English Language and Literature. He developed a particular passion for philology, the study of languages. While studying Old English, Anglo-Saxon, and Welsh poetry, he began to develop a language of his own--the language that would form thegroundwork for his imagined world of Middle-Earth. By 1916, Tolkien had received his degree and married his childhood sweetheart, Edith Bratt. He eventually took a teaching position at Oxford; by 1929, he had his fourth child with Edith.
During these years, he also began his great mythology of Middle-Earth, _The Silmarillion_. Out of these stories grew The Hobbit, his first published work (in 1936), which met with great success and led to a demand for a sequel. By this time, Tokien had developed a friendship with another well-known Oxford professor and writer, C.S. Lewis, which was to last for many years.
From 1945 to 1959 Tolkien continued to teach at Oxford, and wrote the trilogy of books that served as a sequel to The Hobbit--The Lord of the Rings. This work brought him fame in England and America, but he was never a public figure; he continued work on The Silmarillion and other tales and led a quiet life. Despite his public acclaim, he was most comfortable with middle-class surroundings and peace in which to write and think. Tolkien died on September 2, 1973; The Silmarillion was edited and published posthumously by his son, Christopher, in 1977.
JRR Tolkien's world as influence on Robert Plant & Led Zeppelin
Mine's a tale that can't be told,
My freedom I hold dear;
How years ago in days of old
When magic filled the air,
T'was in the darkest depth of Mordor
I met a girl so fair,
But Gollum, the evil one crept up
And slipped away with her.
Ain't nothing I can do, no.
The reference to `the darkest depths of Mordor' is one of the several Tolkien references in Plant's lyrics. Mordor is, in _Lord_Of_The_Rings_, essentially a wasteland, obviously artificially so because of Sauron's, the `dark lord' in "The Battle Of Evermore", poisonous sphere of influence. Mordor is surrounded by a mountain range that encloses it on three sides. Another Tolkien reference is the line referring to Gollum. He is more pitiful than evil. He was once a Hobbit-like creature who fell under the power of the ring and became a monster that he is. His entire essence is now controlled by the ring. The evil one that is mentioned as accompanying Gollum could be one of a variety of characters, such as Saruman, Morgoth, a ringwriath, however, Morgoth was not a contemporary of Gollum's in Tolkien's world. Another part of the song that may be related to Tolkien is the section about "spreading roots", "goin' round the world", "gotta find my girl". In "Lord Of The Rings", Frodo and Sam wander into the forest after being captured by the Orcs. While there they meet an old Ent called Treebeard who tells them the story of the Ents' loss and subsequent search for the Entwives. More likely though, this is part of Plant's recurring lyrical theme of having to find his woman, a neverending search further chronicled in "Going To California".
The song is about Plant's dog Strider, which in Plant's words is a "blue-eyed merle". This is likely to mean the dog is a Collie, by breed, with blue-grey fur speckled or streaked with black. Strider may have been named after the character Aragorn, who uses the name as an unassuming ranger before revealing himself to be the future king.
With some imagery borrowed from Tolkien and lyrics inspired by a book Robert was reading at the time about Scottish border wars, it is likely that the song is a compilation of elements of these two sources. The lyrical reference to `ringwraiths' is an indication of the use of some middle earth imagery. The actual ringwraiths reference, "The ringwraiths ride in black..." refers to the Nazgul in Tolkien's middle earth. The Nazgul were evil servants of the Dark Lord, also referred to in the song, Sauron, who roamed the earth in search of the one ring to rule them all, the magic ring of invisibility found by Bilbo Baggins in _The_Hobbit_. The Nazgul were referred to as "Ringwraiths" by common peoples. Another line from the song "Bring it back, bring it back..." is interpreted by some as the rapidly fading links between England and the magic of the past. The lines "The magic runes are writ in gold, to bring the balance back" are interpreted by some as meaning the band had found or regained some sense of balance, although this is very probably not what Plant was singing about. Additionally, the Queen of light referred to is Galhadriel, and a ringwraith is a human that fell under the power of Sauron and now lives as a "shadow" or being on another plane of existence. A ringwraith is essentially one of Sauron's henchmen and were dedicated to finding the ring and to bring it back to Sauron. They also dress in black. Some other lyrical ideas are supposed to have come from "The Magic Arts In
Celtic Britain" by Lewis Spence.
Despite a title that is a location drawn from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," from what Plant has said about the lyrics, it sounds much more likely that the song is something to do with an afternoon in the park and some illegal substances. A rough paraphrase of Plant's words is that it about is the trouble one can get into when spending an afternoon in the park with some `cigarette papers.' Another source says that the song is written about a love-in near London that was broken up by the police.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a mild-mannered Oxford medievalist and staunch Roman Catholic whose _The Lord of the Rings_ takes place inside one of the most completely realized worlds in the history of fantastic literature. Tolkien fleshed out his imaginary land of Middle-Earth with its own songs, folklore, and languages; a rigorous social ecology of elves, ents, humans, and hobbits; and an exquisitely crafted topography. Tolkien's work proved the point he himself made in his essay "On Fairy-stories." A great author of fantasy "makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside."
Like designers of virtual
worlds today, Tolkien knew that successful secondary worlds were not wild
flights of fancy, but products of creative method and potent technology
- what Tolkien described as an "elvish craft" capable of suspending the
disbelief of "both designer and spectator." Tolkien described this art
as a kind of magic,
but a magic "at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious,
scientific, magician." Like Jacques Ellul, Tolkien deplored the twentieth
century's ugly and vaguely satanic technologies, and his fallen sorcerer
Sauron, who forges the rings of power in the volcanic Mount Doom, can be
read as a Promethean
magus of technique. _The Lord of the Rings became a blockbuster hit
in the 1960s, spurring a literary (and subliterary) boom in fantasy and science
fiction - genres that were gobbled up by, among others, the creative
computer geeks growing up in the shadows of the mainframe. Tolkien's
imagery also saturated a counterculture that desperately wanted to bring
its own magical perceptions
to life. Some Berkeley-based science-fiction fans formed the Society
for Creative Anachronism to theatrically re-create the Middle Ages, while
religious misfits across the land began dabbling with the druid
rituals and Celtic
mythology that would later sprout into the American Pagan revival.
_The Lord of the Rings_ didn't just make you want to escape into another
world; it made you want to build your own.
- Erik Davis - _Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism In The Age Of Information_
As Wayne G. Hammond carefully documents in his contribution to _Legendarium_, a recent scholarly collection devoted to _The History_, Tolkien did not hew to a grand design. "Rather, he tended to feel his way, working out through trial and error the 'true' story among different versions that came to mind. Indeed he sometimes felt that he was not so much writing stories as discovering something already written.
Tolkien explained his method in the 1939 essay "On Fairy-stories." He wrote that a skillful creator of fantasy "makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': It accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside." Tolkien called them Secondary Worlds, but today we would call them, with a little metaphoric license, virtual realities. And Middle-earth remains the original and supreme VR, the ultimate imaginative simulation. Like today's VR and game designers, Tolkien knew that successful Secondary Worlds were not wild flights of fancy, but products of consistent detail and clever technique - what he described as an "elvish craft" capable of suspending the disbelief of "both designer and spectator."
"I am not now at all sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as a vast game is really good," he wrote, admitting that he personally found such a game fatally attractive.
But the genie
was out of the bottle. Tolkien fandom exploded in the 1960s, when badges
like FRODO LIVES and GANDALF FOR PRESIDENT popped up on college
campuses and the nascent Tolkien Society started serving mushrooms and cider at costumed "hobbit picnics" up and down the West Coast. Hippies in particular grokked the woodland mysticism of Tolkien's elves, not to mention their fashion sense. But LOTR influenced technologists as well. By the mid-'70s, the printer at SAIL, Stanford's AI lab, was outfitted with fonts for Tolkien's Tengwar alphabet.
These genres were so popular with hippies, druggies, and computer geeks alike partly because all of these folks wanted, in different ways, to reprogram reality. Nowadays, with the ascendance of computer games, special-effects blockbusters, and online VR, it seems as if one of the most important functions of SF and fantasy novels like _Dune_and _A Wizard of Earthsea_ was to prepare us for the coming culture of virtuality. And that makes Middle-earth the motherland.
Sternberg wryly describes herself as "a domestic infant development specialist" (i.e., a mom). She first read LOTR in the sixth grade, and was always fantasizing about living in Middle-earth. "I was not a popular person in school," says Sternberg. "I used Tolkien as a way to escape from the nonacceptance of the people around me." But for Sternberg, Tolkien's book offered more than escape - it offered integration. "Tolkien's world was so rich that just putting it all together enabled me to connect into things, to better understand the real world."
Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but he avoided the christian symbolism that mars his friend C. S. Lewis' _Narnia_ series. For Tolkien, the creation of an authentic Secondary World was itself an expression of faith, since "we make still by the law in which we're made." But though a mortal and in some ways very earthly place, Middle-earth is as profoundly seductive as any heaven. Mithrilian is not alone when she says, "Given a choice, I would probably choose the life of a hobbit."
Luckily for Tolkien fans, living the life of a hobbit or a wizard became a little easier in 1974, when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson invented the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Though D&D arguably owed more to Fritz Lieber's _Grey Mouser_ series than to Tolkien, countless Middle-earthers were delighted to take up virtual swords and explore Tolkien's realm on their own. Gygax and Arneson had created a powerful set of tools for other world builders to use, thus ensuring that the basic elements of Tolkien's heroic fantasy would propagate like a virus through fan culture. In the words of Rich Redman, a game designer at Wizards of the Coast, which now runs the D&D empire, "RPGs respond to the desire of fantasy readers to continue to experience and explore those worlds. Our job is to provide the mechanism to do that."
D&D's virtuality still rests predominantly in the player's imagination, but the collision with the computer, which could submit the fuzziness of fantasy to the rigors of code, was inevitable. In the mid-'70s, one of the hackers at SAIL helped author Adventure, a computerized and vaguely Tolkienesque text-based game that spread like wildfire through the Arpanet and eventually mutated into the hit _Zork_. Today, hundreds of fantasy role-playing games are indebted to LOTR in their look and feel. Elendor, an old-school Middle-earth multiuser shared hallucination, remains one of the most popular text-based worlds in cyberspace. In addition, it's no accident that the closest we've come to richly populated immersive virtual realities - the multiplayer games _EverQuest_, _Ultima Online_, and _Asheron's Call_ - all take place in Tolkienesque realms.
In his letters, Tolkien contrasted the black magic of technology with enchantment, the artistic creation of Secondary Worlds that satisfy desire and in turn bathe the primary world in wonder. Enchantment was the ultimate elvish craft, and the raison d'être of Tolkien's whole production. But as Tolkien scholar Shippey points out, the don could not reconcile the fact that techno-magic and elvish enchantment both spring from the same source: the desire to create. After all, it was elvish lore that created the One Ring in the first place, lore the elves shared with Sauron because they believed it would help turn war-ravaged Middle-earth into a paradise.
Jackson echoes the sentiment, but he also feels that the intensefeedback enabled by the Internet is worthwhile. "Fans have so much information and communicate about films for so long that it will hopefully force filmmakers to make much better movies. The voice of the audience is heard: They don't want crap."
[...]under information wants to be free
"Middle-earth is no longer simply the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created," says Michael Martinez, a Net-based Tolkien researcher and guru of the _Xena: Warrior Princess_ community. "It's a large canvas to which many artists have added their perspectives and interpretations." Martinez is a small, chipmunk-cheeked fellow, who, when I visited him, was living in a yellow ramshackle house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I entered his tiny, bare office, Martinez was hunched over a laptop, answering an email about the references to lions in Middle-earth, of which there is one.
The three young men in Za Frûmi don't just make records. They also take part in the fullest embodiment of Tolkien's fantasy world: live, improvised role-play. During the summer, they join hundreds of Swedes, ranging from teens to grandparents, who march deep into their country's vast woods in order to hold Middle-earth gatherings. "We have great, deep forests, which are really sort of trollish," explains Donald Persson, the band's didgeridoo player. "The climate helps to get into the mood."
Costumed Tolkien gatherings are popular throughout Northern Europe and the former Soviet Union - thousands of Middle-earthers have reenacted episodes from _The Silmarillion_ in the forests outside Moscow, while the repressive government of Kazakstan is now detaining "Tolkienists" alongside hippies, anarchists, and punks. Tolkien gatherings are serious affairs: One elvish feast that Persson attended took months to prepare. The central meal included honeyed bread, mulled wine, roasted boar, blueberry pie, and Psilocybe mushrooms. People shot arrows, danced, and bathed naked in the streams, taking care to remain in character at all times. This meant that participants not only removed all references to the modern world (smokers switched to pipes) but abandoned Swedish for their own version of Quenya.
The boys from Za Frûmi enjoy these elvish fetes, but they really get off on playing orcs. "I like the orcs' cultural way of life," says Persson. "They are crude and primitive but still in some ways more advanced than us." Sometimes dozens of orcs congregate in smaller, more esoteric gatherings, garbed in elaborate costumes featuring latex, prosthetics, and Orientalist armor. In addition to mounting raids and practicing their vocabulary words, the orcs sometimes stage shamanistic rituals around the fire. "Sometimes it's very difficult to remember it's not really happening," says Persson. "It's not dangerous in any sense. People would not actually start killing one another. But you can get so deeply in character that you forget yourself."
[...] under copyleft
Guys like Mullich raise one
of the most fundamental questions of our moment:
What does it mean to own culture? For media companies, ownership means
an exclusive right to squeeze dollars out of materials gripped by the ever-growing
tentacles of copyright. But fandom is essentially an open source culture,
even as it feeds on corporate media. Fan ownership is really stewardship,
a commitment that does not center on individual control but on shared imagination
and collective process
- one that includes passionate consumers alongside actors, directors, bean
counters, and PR flacks. In a sense, fans have always been preparing for
today's more participatory and open-ended media universe: It's no accident
that Trekkers and Deadheads were among the first to colonize the Internet.
But it's equally true that fandom harks back to a time when we sat around
the campfire and swapped the old, untrademarked tales of heroes and gods.
- Erik Davis - _The Fellowship Of The Ring_ in _Wired_ 9.10 - October 2001
...But it was also the life's work, laboured over for decades, of a respectable Oxford don. Was he doing it for the money? He didn't think there would be any money in it. Was he doing it out of malice? No. Obviously, he did it because he felt he had to. Why?
For Tolkien, the appendices did not come second. For Tolkien, the appendices came first. He devised the languages, then legends and lays to give them body. Thefoundations of Middle Earth, Tolkien'simaginary universe, were laid by 1920, long before _The Hobbit_ was a flicker. The elves came before the hobbits. Quenya and Sindarin, the two branches of the Elvish language, came before the elves.
Languages; clubs; religion: these are the great themes of Tolkien's life. The languages: he started inventing his own when he was a boy, and fell in love with Old Gothic as a teenager. Discovering Finnish, he said, was 'like discovering a wine-cellar filled with bottles of amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before' (cf the magic properties of elf-bread and river-water in his fiction). He started working on Finnish in 1912, and seems to have begun inventing Quenya in tandem. By 1917 he had Sindarin also, and was positing a common origin for both tongues in Primitive Eldarin.
It is in this essay that Tolkien formulates the idea of fiction - his fiction, at any rate - as a 'secondary world' brought into being by a 'sub-creator'. Anyone, Tolkien argues, can use language to think of something like a 'green sun'. But it takes a lot more effort to build up a whole world in which such a thing will seem credible and consistent: 'When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power upon one plane, and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our mind awakes . . . In such "fantasy", as it is called, new form is made; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.'
'Sub-creation' is also the activity that constitutes elvish nature: 'the elvish craft, Enchantment', is 'living, realised sub-creative art'. When a human tries his hand at sub-creation, he is aspiring to the condition of elvishness:
To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
And here we have the central
problem. You would expect elves to figure in Tolkien's theory - if they
had to figure at all - as creatures within a sub-creation, characters in
a story, fictions inside a frame. But actually, they are given much more
credence, more constitutive importance, more ontological weight. In 'On
Fairy-Stories', in other words, Tolkien writes about elves as though he
believes they have an independent existence: as concepts at least, if not
as actual sprites. 'The history of fairy-stories is . . . now beyond all
skill but that of the elves to unravel it,' he writes at one point. He
also refers to 'those plays which according to
abundant records the elves have often presented to men'. And further remarks: 'For if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them.' ('This is true also, even if they are only creations of Man's mind,' he adds in a footnote. He has the sense to hedge his bets.)
In The Road to Middle Earth, Tom Shippey says that all this elf stuff is just a rhetorical 'trick', 'perilously close to whimsy'. But then he adds: 'There is a strong sense of circularity in all these statements, as if Tolkien were hovering around some central point on which he dared not and could not land.' And there we have it. It is not that Tolkien seems to have 'believed in' elves exactly, in the sense that Peter Pan means when he asks us to clap our hands. It is more that he seems to have loved the idea of them so much that he wanted to talk about them all the time, as if by talking about them, he could almost bring them into existence. Like a teenager with a crush on someone, like a sentimentalist with a grand ideal.
Thinking about those maps makes you realise how spatial and spreading _The Lord of the Rings_ is - it's not temporal and plot-driven like most junk fiction. There's a whole little world in there, simplified and protected, like in the role-playing games to come. It is its own university, its own library, its own structure of branching knowledge. To enter it is to become a simulacrum student in a crucible of simulacrum knowledge. A simulacrum student at the simulacrum university of simulacrum life.
In his Salon.com essay, Andrew O'Hehir observes that _The Lord of the Rings_ is part of a genre he calls Great Weird Boy Books, 'weighty tomes that mixrealism and fantasy along with various forms of language and discourse, much of it technical or abstruse, while aspiring to a mythic dimension'. Other Great Weird Boy Book authors that O'Hehir mentions are Pynchon, Joyce, DeLillo, Nabokov. We know pretty much what he means. It has to do with this spatial quality, this sense of the book as a fake whole world. Also, to like these authors involves the reader in something territorial, some major investment of self. To say 'I'm a Tolkien fan,' 'I'm a Joycean,' is to say something about yourself in a way that professing a fondness for F. Scott Fitzgerald ('I'm an F. Scott Fitzgeraldian'?) is not.
excerpts from _Reasons for Liking Tolkien_ by Jenny Turner