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]

  • 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", in 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.'

On Fairy-Stories (1939)[edit]

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]

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]

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]

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.
  • 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]

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.

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