The Lord of the Rings was one of the first books I read cover to cover when I was a kid. It sparked my imagination as well as a love for reading that has ruined many nights of sleep (and not just because I would read all night. I also was terrified that Gollum would come strangle me while I slept).
I have always been blown away with the amount of detail, thought and care that went into The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit as well as the Simarillion. J.R.R Tolkien didn’t just create a whole different world, he gave them identities, cultures, grudges, histories, poems, music, and even an entirely made up (but functional) language. Side note– I have actually met some rabid, albeit harmless, nerds that know how to read, write and speak Elvish.
A mind like this is actually somewhat frightening to me. Such brilliant originality and detail shows a true genius of more than just literature. So I decided to try and find things about this giant of a man, that even the most obsessed fan probably doesn’t know.
1. Tolkien Had A Dramatic Flair
As a linguist and expert on Old English and Old Norse literature, Tolkien was a professor at Oxford University from 1925-1959. Although quiet and unassuming in public, Tolkien wasn’t the stereotypical uptight British professor. Tolkien would go to parties dressed as a polar bear, chased a neighbor dressed as an ax wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior and was known to hand shopkeepers his false teeth as payment. As one of his students put it, “He could turn a lecture room into a mead hall.”
2. He Felt Many of His Fans Were “Lunatics”
Tolkien saw himself as a scholar first and a writer second. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were largely Tolkien’s attempt to construct a body of myth, and their success caught him largely off guard. In fact, he spent years rejecting, criticizing and shredding adaptations of his work that he didn’t believe captured its epic scope and noble purpose. He was also utterly skeptical of most LOTR fans, who he thought incapable of really appreciating the work, and he probably would have been horrified by the movie fandom dressing up like Legolas.
3. He Was Quite The Romantic (and he’s got a geeky gravestone to prove it)
At 16 years of age, Tolkien fell in love with Edith Bratt. His guardian, a Catholic priest, was horrified that his ward was seeing a Protestant and ordered the boy to have no contact with Edith until he turned 21. Tolkien obeyed, pining after Edith for years until that fateful birthday, when he met with her under a railroad viaduct. She broke off her engagement to another man, converted to Catholicism, and the two were married for the rest of their lives. At Tolkien’s instructions, their shared gravestone has the names “Beren” and “Luthien” engraved on it, a reference to a famous pair of star-crossed lovers from the fictional world he created.4. He Liked Clubbing -Not the kind of clubbing you are thinking of. I mean the extra curricular, after-school sort. Wherever Tolkien went, he was intimately involved in the formation of literary and scholarly clubs. As a professor at Leeds University, for example, he formed the Viking Club. And during his stint at Oxford, he formed the Inklings- a literary discussion group. I find this so delightfully nerdy!
5. When It Came to War He Knew What He Was Talking About
Tolkien was a veteran of the First World War. He was present for some of the most bloody trench fighting of the war, including the famously horrific Battle of Somme. The deprivations of Frodo and Sam on their road to Mordor had their origins in Tolkien’s time in the trenches, during which he contracted a chronic fever from the lice that infested him. He later said that all but one of his closest friends died in the war. Giving him an all to keen awareness of its tragedy that shines through in his writing.
6. He Invented Languages For Fun
A philologist by trade, Tolkien invented languages just for shits and giggles. That is what you do for fun right? He invented languages such as Elvish, Quenya and Sindarin. He even wrote songs and poems in his fictional languages. In addition, Tolkien worked to reconstruct and write in extinct languages like Medieval Welsh and Lombardic.
7. He Wasn’t Nearly as Fond of Nazis as They Were of Him
Tolkien’s academic writings on Germanic history, language and culture were extremely popular among the Nazi elite, who were obsessed with recreating ancient Germanic civilization. But Tolkien was disgusted by Hitler and the Nazi party, and made no secret of that fact. He considered forbidding a German translation of The Hobbit after the German publisher, in accordance with Nazi law, asked him to certify that he was an “Aryan.” Instead, he wrote a scathing letter asserting, among other things, his regret that he had no Jewish ancestors. He wrote “I have, in this War, a burning private grudge — which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler … Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.” —-Now THAT is an OH SNAP moment if I have ever heard one!!