Did Tolkien write ‘juvenile trash’
Taking Tolkien seriously is inevitably complicated by the fact that he has long been associated in the public mind with a sweaty, furtive gang of misfits and weirdoes by which I mean those critics who for more than half a century have been sneering at his books and their readers. Self consciously highbrow types often have surprisingly intolerant views about what other people ought to be writing, and when the first volume of The Lord of the Rings was published in the summer of 1954, a few weeks before Lord of the Flies, many were appalled by its nostalgic medievalism.
Whether you like Tolkien books or not, they are among the great cultural phenomena of the age. Far from being merely a book for pre teenage children, The Lord of the Rings has been read and reread by generations of adults, inspiring more enthusiasm than probably any other contemporary title. Literary intellectuals love to sneer at polls and surveys, but historians cannot afford to do so: all the evidence shows that if one book, more than any other, captured the Western imagination after the mid 1950s, that book was The Lord of the Rings.
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canada goose coats uk In his trenchant defence of Tolkien, the literary scholar Tom Shippey suggests that much of the criticism is rooted in pure social and intellectual condescension, not unlike the snobbery that upper class grotesques like Virginia Woolf directed at his fellow Midlander Arnold Bennett in the early part of the century. The difference, though, is that while Bennett reputation, tragically and very unfairly, has never quite recovered, Tolkien star remains undimmed. Not even Peter Jackson shameful Hobbit adaptations have damaged his popularity. Shippey suggests that, in the future, literary historians will rank The Lord of the Rings alongside other 20th Century classics such as Orwell Nineteen Eighty Four, Lord of the Flies and Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five. But there is an obvious difference. The Lord of the Rings is much more popular. canada goose coats uk
canada goose outlet near me One of the things about The Lord of the Rings that most annoys its critics is that it is so unrepentantly backward looking. But it probably could never have been otherwise. canada goose outlet near me
canada goose outlet mall For good private reasons, Tolkien was a fundamentally backward looking person. He was born to English parents in Bloemfontein, then the capital of the Orange Free State, in 1892, which made him 16 months younger than Agatha Christie. When little Ronald (as he was known) was three, his mother, Mabel, brought him back from South Africa to her native Birmingham. The plan was for his father, Arthur, to join them later. But Arthur was killed by rheumatic fever before he even boarded ship, so Mabel raised her two boys alone in the village of Sarehole, then in north Worcestershire, on the fringes of the great Midlands metropolis. canada goose outlet mall
canada goose outlet new york city Tolkien had a very canada goose jacket outlet happy middle class childhood, devouring the great Victorian children classics and excitedly exploring the countryside near his home, including Sarehole old mill, the bog at nearby Moseley and Worcestershire Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills. But in November 1904 his mother succumbed to diabetes, which was then often fatal. canada goose outlet new york city
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canada goose stockists uk At the age of 12, Tolkien was an orphan. His mother had entrusted her boys to her Catholic priest, who arranged for them to move in with their aunt in Stirling Road, Edgbaston. But their new home, close to canada goose outlet online Birmingham present day Five Ways roundabout, felt very different from the sleepy tranquillity they had known in Sarehole. They had moved from the city leafy fringes to its grey industrial heart: when Tolkien looked out of the window, he saw not trees and hills, but unbroken rooftops with the factory chimneys beyond It was little wonder that, from the first moment he put pen to canada goose outlet parka paper, his fiction was dominated by a heartfelt nostalgia. canada goose stockists uk
View image of Tolkien in his study at Merton canada goose outlet online uk College, Oxford
canada goose outlet in vancouver An amateur psychologist could have a field day with the fact that both JRR Tolkien and Agatha Christie lost parents in their childhood and nursed a sense of loss for the rest of their careers. What they had in common, though, was that although they continued writing into the early 1970s, they were most deeply influenced by the popular fiction of late Victorian Britain. Tolkien particular favourites were the fantastic fairy stories of George MacDonald, notably The Princess and the Goblin canada goose outlet (1872), and the folk and fairy stories collected by the Scottish poet Andrew Lang. Today fairy stories have a rather weedy, effeminate image: a century ago, however, this was not the case at all. As the Tolkien scholar John Garth notes, many of the soldiers who fought for canada goose outlet jackets Britain on the Western Front had been reared on the tales of MacDonald and Lang, as well as JM Barrie Peter Pan. canada goose outlet in vancouver
canada goose outlet miami Tolkien other great enthusiasm, meanwhile, was more stereotypically canada goose outlet uk masculine: the rousing adventure stories of H Rider Haggard. The American critic Jared Lobdell has even argued that when considering Tolkien influences, Haggard should be first name on the list, and that when Tolkien began work on The Lord of the Rings, his real aim was to produce adventure story in the Edwardian mode not unlike Haggard rip roaring romances King Solomon Mines (1885) and She (1887). canada goose outlet miami
The most obvious influence on Tolkien, though, was that Victorian one canada goose outlet black friday man industry, William Morris. It is a pretty safe bet that when most people see Morris name today, they think: But in the first years of the 20th Century, what earnest young men like Tolkien loved about Morris was his nostalgic idealism: his evocation of a lost medieval paradise, a world of chivalry and romance that threw the harsh realities https://www.cagooseclearance.com of modern, materialistic industrial Britain into stark relief. Both Morris and his friend Edward Burne Jones were arch medievalists, besotted with the legends of King Arthur and, in Morris case, the ancient myths goose outlet canada of northern Europe. In 1876 Morris had published The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Nibelungs, adapted from the Old Norse sagas that won so much international popularity in the late Victorian period. Largely forgotten today, Morris epic poem made an enormous impression on his contemporaries. Tolkien seems to have first read Morris at King Edward the outstanding Birmingham boys school that had previously educated Burne Jones. Addressing the King Edward literary society, the young Tolkien even claimed that canada goose outlet canada the story of Sigurd the dragon slayer the Norse equivalent of Wagner Siegfried represented highest epic genius struggling out of savagery into complete and conscious humanity while other boys grew out of their obsession with the legends of the ancient North, Tolkien fascination only deepened. After going up to Oxford in 1911, he began writing his own version of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, in a distinctly Morris esque blend of prose and poetry. When his college, Exeter, awarded him a prize, he spent the money on a pile of Morris books, notably the epic poem The Life and Death of Jason, the proto fantasy novel The House of the Wolfings and Morris translation of the Volsunga Saga. Indeed, to the end of his life, Tolkien continued to write in a style heavily influenced by Morris, not just mixing prose and verse, but deliberately imitating the vocabulary and rhythms of the medieval epic. In this sense, it was as though his clock had stopped before the Great War.
canada goose outlet seattle Other clocks, however, ticked canada goose outlet new york city on. On 7 June 1914 Tolkien and his fellow students enjoyed a lavish dinner to celebrate Exeter 600th anniversary. Two years later, on 7 June 1916, he awoke in northern France, having just landed on a troop transport from Folkestone. Tolkien was 24 years old, an Oxford canada goose black friday sale graduate with a young wife. He ought to have been establishing a name for himself canada goose outlet store uk in his chosen career: academic philology, the study of language. Instead, he was a signals officer in the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, commanding miners and weavers from the industrial north west. canada goose outlet seattle
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But this was not war as it had been portrayed in the adventure stories he had loved as a boy; this was carnage on an industrial scale. In early canada goose outlet store July his unit moved to the Somme, and there Tolkien remained until the end of October, when he was invalided home with trench fever. What he experienced there was a chaotic, muddy, bloody nightmare. Tolkien himself might easily have been killed: in the three and a half months he spent on the Somme, his battalion lost almost 600 men. Unpleasant as trench fever might have seemed, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. For the war fell like a scythe on his generation. Among the dead were no fewer than 243 boys from King Edward as well as 141 young men from Exeter College. John Garth opens his book Tolkien and the Great War with a rugby match between the Old Edwardians and the school first fifteen, played in December 1913. Tolkien himself captained the old boys team. Within five years, four of his teammates had been killed and four more badly wounded. The sense of loss haunted him for the rest of his life. be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years, he wrote in the foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings. 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead. is no doubt that the Great War was one of the genuinely defining moments in Tolkien life, as it was for so many other young men. The extraordinary thing, though, is that it was at precisely this point, amid the horror and suffering of war, that he began work on canada goose outlet his great cycle of Middle earth stories. Years later, in a letter to his son Christopher, then serving with the RAF in another world war, Tolkien recalled that he had begun writing grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire And despite the lazy assertions of the Philip Pullman tendency, Tolkien never saw his work as pure escapism: quite the opposite, in fact. He had begun writing, he explained, express [my] feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering Tolkien believed that medievalism, myth and fantasy offered the only salvation
canada goose outlet in chicago Given that this was the age of high modernism, it might seem odd that Tolkien should have chosen to express his feelings in the form of a pseudo medieval fantasy. For Ezra Pound and his fellow modernists, the only way to deal with the horrors of the modern world was to it new For Tolkien, however, the reverse was true. More than ever, he believed that medievalism, myth and fantasy offered the only salvation from the corruption of industrial society. canada goose outlet in chicago
canada goose outlet woodbury And far from shaking his faith, the slaughter on the Somme had only strengthened his belief that to make sense of this shattered, bleeding world, he must look backwards to the great legends of the North. canada goose outlet woodbury
Extracted from The Great British Dream Factory by Dominic Sandbrook, published by Allen Lane.
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