From the Master’s lips

I thought I’d try something different this morning.  Rather than inflict more of my mental machinations on you, here’s the Master himself, J. R. R. Tolkien.  These two clips were filmed by the BBC in 1968.  I find them fascinating as a glimpse into so creative a mind, and a clue as to how he could take the most ordinary, mundane circumstances, filter them through his prodigous imagination, and transform them into something magically mysterious that’s kept the world entertained for more than half a century.

I suppose that Tolkien was the single most important formative influence on me as a young reader, far more so than classic science fiction authors like Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein (whom I didn’t discover until my late teens). I remain an unabashed fan, and still regard his ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy as the benchmarks against which I measure anything calling itself fantasy.


  1. I think Tolkien correctly understood the purpose of storytelling, as laid down for centuries prior. Going all the way back to the earliest campfires, before the written word, when men and women gathered by the flame to enthrall themselves and their families and their tribes with bold tales of adventure, danger, love, struggle, and cautionary tales about the eternal damnations: anger, envy, jealousy, greed, and so forth. I think as a people, humans are “wired” for this kind of storytelling. That Tolkien managed to make a world rich enough to evoke our internal love for “large” epic, is a testament to his skill as a creator.

    Now, the prose itself . . . I struggle to read it. I can listen to it — the audio versions, starring Rob Inglis — all day long. Because a big part of the charm of the books, is listening to the dialects rendered on the page. But the words themselves, and the style, I am afraid I am a heathen who finds the style a bit too cozy for my enjoyment. The style is work for my reader brain, and I don’t like having to work when I am sitting down for a piece of relaxation.

    I have similarly struggled with Melville in this regard, simply because Moby Dick is written in a form of English almost two centuries old, and while you can parse it with some concentration, I find myself losing the story too much — because of the concentration I have to make on the parsing!

    So, in true heathen fashion, I prefer the movies.

    Both for Tolkien’s LOTR and for Moby Dick.

    One of Gregory Peck’s finest roles — as Ahab! Also, one of Orson Welles’s finest cameo roles, as Fr. Mapple.

    1. Oh you are a heathen, unrepentant at that.

      Tolkien had some sections, which I can’t recall offhand, that required skim, but as long as the story was engaged, I was.
      Examples like Melville, or more to the extreme, Burgess’ Clockwork Orange just require a little investment to learn the language, then I’m in.

  2. Earlier this year the kids had a Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit sleepover, and since all present was also C.S. Lewis fans, I casually mentioned that Tolkien not only knew C.S. Lewis, but helped led him to Christ.

    One of their stunned friends summed it up. “No way.

    I assured them it was true, and I think they did some fact checking and proceeded with the movies with a new appreciation.

  3. I’d seen the cartoon Hobbit but never read it. Then on a transPacific flight at age 16 I read ALL of LotR, back to back to back. I was absolutely furious when I finished! How DARE Tolkien have a real-world ending! it was not fair at all – Frodo was supposed to live happily ever after, or retire in comfort, not have to go back and scour the Shire and then suffer from war wounds.

    I’ve read it through a few times since then, and I understand the ending better.

  4. Tolkien was a genius, no doubt about it. But…

    I find that I’m unable to read the books anymore. He does this very Downton Abbey upper class thing where Bilbo and Frodo are lords of the manor, and Samewise is the hired help.

    It just feels so, so, wrong. Maybe because I’m totally unwilling to admit that ANY person is better than me.

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