J. R. R. Tolkien

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Many are the strange chances of the world … and help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter. ~ The Silmarillion

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (January 3 1892September 2 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, most famous for his classic high fantasy works.

See also:
The Hobbit (1937)
The Lord of the Rings
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
The Two Towers (1954)
The Return of the King (1955)
Appendices to The Lord of the Rings (1955)
The Silmarillion (1977)
The Lord of the Rings (films based upon his novel)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
The Hobbit (films based upon his novel)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Quotes[edit]

Wars are not favourable to delicate pleasures.
The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning.
Myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.
Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless rewriting. I woke up one day (more than 2 years ago) with that odd thing virtually complete in my head.
  • The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.
  • My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: 'Back Esperanto loyally.'
    • "A Philologist on Esperanto" in The British Esperantist (May 1932).
    • Years later, in a 1956 letter (quoted more extensively below) he stated that Esperanto and other constructed languages were "dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends."
  • Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.
    • Letter to Michael Tolkien (March 1941)
  • There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don't know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.
    • Letter (September 1944)
  • That story was the only thing I have ever done which cost me absolutely no pains at all. Usually I compose only with great difficulty and endless rewriting. I woke up one day (more than 2 years ago) with that odd thing virtually complete in my head. It took only a few hours to get down, and then copy out.
  • I should say that, in addition to my tree-love (it was originally called The Tree), it arose from my own pre-occupation with the Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be 'not at all'. The war had arisen to darken all horizons. But no such analyses are a complete explanation even of a short story...
    • About "Leaf by Niggle", in a letter to Caroline Everett (24 June 1957)
  • 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 (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.
    • Letter to Deborah Webster (25 October 1958).
  • I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones...
    • Valedictory address to the University of Oxford (1959)
  • It gives me great pleasure, a good name. I always in writing start with a name. Give me a name and it produces a story, not the other way about normally.
    • Interview with Dennis Gerrolt, first broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 programme "Now Read On" (January 1971)
  • "I wish life was not so short," he thought. "Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."

Mythopoeia (1931)[edit]

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow')
Written following a discussion with C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson at Magdalen College, Oxford which took place on the night of 19 September 1931. · Full text online
At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals.
Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued.
Of Evil this

alone is deadly certain: Evil is.
Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
All is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
  • You look at trees and label them just so,
    (for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow')
    ;
    you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
    one of the many minor globes of Space:
    a star's a star, some matter in a ball
    compelled to courses mathematical
    amid the regimented, cold, inane,
    where destined atoms are each moment slain.
  • At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
    (and must), but only dimly apprehend,
    great processes march on, as Time unrolls
    from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
    and as on page o'er-written without clue,
    with script and limning packed of various hue,
    an endless multitude of forms appear,
    some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
    each alien, except as kin from one
    remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
  • Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
    and never were so named, till those had been
    who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
    faint echo and dim picture of the world,
    but neither record nor a photograph,
    being divination, judgement, and a laugh
    response of those that felt astir within
    by deep monition movements that were kin
    to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
    free captives undermining shadowy bars,
    digging the foreknown from experience
    and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
  • Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
    and looking backward they beheld the elves
    that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
    and light and dark on secret looms entwined.
  • He sees no stars who does not see them first
    of living silver made that sudden burst
    to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
    whose very echo after-music long
    has since pursued. There is no firmament,
    only a void, unless a jewelled tent
    myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
    unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
  • The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
    but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
    and still recalls him.
    Though now long estranged,
    Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
    Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
    and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
    his world-dominion by creative act:
    not his to worship the great Artefact,
    Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
    through whom is splintered from a single White
    to many hues, and endlessly combined
    in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
  • Though all the crannies of the world we filled
    with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
    Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
    and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
    (used or misused). The right has not decayed.
    We make still by the law in which we're made.
  • Yes! 'wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat
    our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
    Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
    or some things fair and others ugly deem?
  • All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
    fulfilment we devise — for pain is pain,
    not for itself to be desired
    , but ill;
    or else to strive or to subdue the will
    alike were graceless; and of Evil this
    alone is deadly certain: Evil is.
  • Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
    their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
    and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
    a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.
  • Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
    of things not found within recorded time.
  • They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
    and yet they would not in despair retreat,
    but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
    and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
    illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
    with light of suns as yet by no man seen.
  • I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
    that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
    impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
    to mint in image blurred of distant king,
    or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
    heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.
  • I will not walk with your progressive apes,
    erect and sapient. Before them gapes
    the dark abyss to which their progress tends
    if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
    and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
    unfruitful course with changing of a name.
  • I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
    denoting this and that by this and that,
    your world immutable wherein no part
    the little maker has with maker's art.

    I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
    nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
  • In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
    from gazing upon everlasting Day
    to see the day illumined, and renew
    from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
    Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
    that all is as it is, and yet made free:
    Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
    garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.

    Evil it will not see, for evil lies
    not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
    not in the source but in malicious choice,
    and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
  • In Paradise they look no more awry;
    and though they make anew, they make no lie.
    Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
    and poets shall have flames upon their head,
    and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
    there each shall choose for ever from the All.

On Fairy-Stories (1939)[edit]

When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.
Originally given as an Andrew Lang Lecture at the University of St. Andrews on 8 March 1939, and published in Essays presented to Charles Williams in 1947. It was republished with minor alterations in Tree and Leaf in 1964, in The Tolkien Reader in 1966, and in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays in 1983. Tolkien On Fairy-stories, an expanded edition containing the essay, unpublished manuscripts, background material, contemporary reports, and notes and commentary, edited by Verlyn Flieger and Douglas A. Anderson, was published by HarperCollins in 2008.
  • The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter's power.
  • I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fбfnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.
  • Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
  • I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which 'Escape' is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?
  • And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death. Fairy-stories provide many examples and modes of this ... Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness.
  • The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. ... But this story has entered History and the primary world; ... It has pre-eminently the "inner consistency of reality." There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. ...this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men — and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
  • The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the "happy ending." The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Leaf by Niggle (1945)[edit]

It's a gift!
First published in Dublin Review (January 1945); written in 1938 or 1939
  • There was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
  • There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots.
  • "It's a gift!" he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.
  • "I think we shall have to give the region a name. What do you propose?"
    "The Porter settled that some time ago," said the Second Voice. "Train for Niggle's Parish in the bay."

English and Welsh (1955)[edit]

Most English-speaking people ... will admit that cellar door is "beautiful," especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling).
A lecture given at the University of Oxford, (21 October 1955) published in The Monsters And The Critics And Other Essays (1983), edited by Christopher Tolkien
  • To many, perhaps to most people outside the small company of the great scholars, past and present, 'Celtic' of any sort is, nonetheless, a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come. ... Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason.
  • No language is justly studied merely as an aid to other purposes. It will in fact better serve other purposes, philological or historical, when it is studied for love, for itself.
  • For myself I would say that more than the interest and uses of the study of Welsh as an adminicle of English philology, more than the practical linguist's desire to acquire a knowledge of Welsh for the enlargement of his experience, more even than the interest and worth of the literature, older and newer, that is preserved in it, these two things seem important: Welsh is of this soil, this island, the senior language of the men of Britain; and Welsh is beautiful.
  • The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in a higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from the practical knowledge of a language, and not the same as an analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted, and yet more immediate than the enjoyment of literature.
  • Most English-speaking people ... will admit that cellar door is "beautiful," especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful...Well then, in Welsh, for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981)[edit]

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 … perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit … which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
The news today about "Atomic bombs" is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world!
Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope "this will ensure peace".
  • As for what you say or hint of 'local' conditions: I knew of them. I don't think they have much changed (even for the worse). I used to hear them discussed by my mother; and have ever since taken a special interest in that part of the world. The treatment of colour nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain, & not only in South Africa. Unfort[unately], not many retain that generous sentiment for long.
    • To Christopher Tolkien in South Africa
  • I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten and Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of 'arisch' origin from all persons of all countries? ... I do not regard the (probable) absence of all Jewish blood as necessarily honourable; and I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any colour to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.
    • No. 30: Letter to Stanley Unwin (25 July, 1938); Tolkien's German publishers had written to ask him whether he was of "Aryan" origin.
  • I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by 'arisch'. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. ... But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. ... I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
    • One of two draft letters (25 July, 1938) written for Stanley Unwin to select as a response to his German publishers inquiry about his ancestry. The other letter refused to answer altogether on his ancestry; since the quoted letter persists, it seems that the other letter was sent.
  • 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 (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). 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.
  • My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
  • The news today about "Atomic bombs" is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope "this will ensure peace". But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we're in God's hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.
  • Nothing has astonished me more (and I think my publishers) than the welcome given to The Lord of the Rings. But it is, of course, a constant source of consolation and pleasure to me. And, I may say, a piece of singular good fortune, much envied by some of my contemporaries. Wonderful people still buy the book, and to a man 'retired' that is both grateful and comforting.
    • No. 165: To Houghton Mifflin Co. (30 June, 1955); also quoted in 'Tolkien on Tolkien' in Diplomat magazine (October 1966).
  • It was just as the 1914 War burst on me that I made the discovery that 'legends' depend on the language to which they belong; but a living language depends equally on the 'legends' which it conveys by tradition. ... Volapuk, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends...
    • No. 180: To a Mr. Thompson (1956)
  • It was like discovering a complete wine-filled cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavor never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me….
  • I am doubtful myself about the undertaking. Part of the attraction of the L.R. is, I think, due to the glimpses of a large history in the background: an attraction like that of viewing far off an unvisited island, or seeing the towers of a distant city gleaming in a sunlit mist. To go there is to destroy the magic, unless new unattainable vistas are again revealed. Also many of the older legends are purely 'mythological', and nearly all are grim and tragic: a long account of the disasters that destroyed the beauty of the Ancient World, from the darkening of Valinor to the Downfall of Númenor and the flight of Elendil.
    • No. 247

Quotes about Tolkien[edit]

"Leaf by Niggle" ends as a comedy, even as a "divine comedy," on more levels than one. ~ Thomas Shippey
Alphabetized by author
  • The battle between Good and Evil is a theme of much of fantasy. But I think the battle between Good and Evil is fought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make. It’s not like evil dresses up in black clothing and you know, they’re really ugly. These are some of the things that Tolkien did; he made them work fabulously, but in the hands of his imitators, they become total clichés. I mean the orc-like creatures who always do dress in black and... they’re really ugly and they’ve got facial deformities or something. You can tell that if somebody’s ugly, he must be evil. And then Tolkien’s heroes are all very attractive people and all that, of course, again this became cliché in the hands of the Tolkien imitators.
  • Much as I admire Tolkien, and I do admire Tolkien — he’s been a huge influence on me, and his Lord of the Rings is the mountain that leans over every other fantasy written since and shaped all of modern fantasy — there are things about it, the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling bad guys, Good versus Evil, while brilliantly handled in Tolkien, in the hands of many Tolkien successors, it has become kind of a cartoon. We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys."
  • "Leaf by Niggle" ends as a comedy, even as a "divine comedy," on more levels than one. But while it looks forward to "divine comedy", it incorporates and springs from a sense of earthly tragedy: failure, anxiety, and frustration.
  • I believe, that certain people — especially, perhaps, in Britain — have a lifelong appetite for juvenile trash. … You can see it in the tone they fall into when they talk about Tolkien in print: they bubble, they squeal, they coo; they go on about Malory and Spenser — both of whom have a charm and a distinction that Tolkien has never touched.
    As for me, if we must read about imaginary kingdoms, give me James Branch Cabell's Poictesme. He at least writes for grown-up people, and he does not present the drama of life as a showdown between Good People and Goblins. He can cover more ground in an episode that lasts only three pages than Tolkien is able to in one of this twenty-page chapters, and he can create a more disquieting impression by a reference to something that is never described than Tolkien through his whole demonology.
    • Edmund Wilson, in "Oo, Those Awful Orcs!" : A review of The Fellowship of the Ring, in The Nation (14 April 1956)

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