JRR Tolkien was a bit of a celebrity against his will. He was a professor at the university of Leeds where he wrote such blockbusters as "A Middle English Vocabulary" and "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics". Yeah, riveting stuff.
Not pictured: life of the party.
The Hobbit, the book that came before the script for the blockbuster series, was intended as a bedtime story for Tolkien's children. Some fathers park you in front of Sesame Street, some sing communist party songs to you (thanks, dad.) or hand you a copy of the Watchtower (thanks, dad, again. I had a strange childhood), others write you a book. Not that I'm bitter.
What story do you want son? The one about homosexuals burning in hell or the one about capitalists getting shot?
One thing led to another and The Hobbit was published, in one fell swoop re-igniting public interest in High Fantasy literature and giving adults an excuse to read children's books.
Not that kind, you perv.
It became so popular that even Nazi Germany wanted a translation. All the German publisher asked was that Tolkien drop them a short note confirming that he wasn't Jewish. A reasonable request, given that the Nazis had this thing about burning books by Jewish authors.
Fritz, I just want to know one thing: did they pay for those books?! Tell me you rang them up and took the cash! Tell me, Fritz!
Tolkien refused on the grounds of, fuck you, Nazis. He also wrote a scathing letter:
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. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject?which should be sufficient. 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.
Fuck you too! I'll just download a pirated copy onto my kindle!
Still, this didn't mean he was, like, a liberal or anything. A devout Royalist and Catholic, he supported the Fascist movement of Franco in Spain on the basis that the rest of the lot were even worse. He might have had a point, too, from his vantage point since Franco's opposers were known to engage in the occasional church-burning and nun-raping. These days we all know about rule 34, but those were simpler, more innocent times.
Oh boy, after I shoot these Fascist bastards, I'm gonna rape me some nuns!
So, when his publisher asked about more books and politely declined a treatise on the use of the word 'thus' in late Nordic sagas, Tolkien caved and promised a sequel.
He immediately set to work and rushed delivery on the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. And by rushed I mean it only took him ten years.
By then the world was well past the horrors of the Second World War and geared up for the sixties, which brought with it what was almost the final nail in the coffin of western civilization; Hippies.
For some reason, the hippies really liked Tolkien's books though. Perhaps being a right-wing old geezer was only bad if you were, like, their dad or anything. Or perhaps they simply didn't care because the books were so great.
Hobbit hugging hippy crap.
But Tolkien wasn't writing for his kids this time, and presumably he didn't hold much truck with smelly hippies and their love and peace crap either, so the books took on a darker tone. He also went hog-wild on the mythology and linguistics, his true passions. One reason the books took so long to write was that Tolkien wasn't a cheater like most other authors. If he gave a race in his book their own language, he made damn sure the language had a grammar, enough words to 'work' and all the trimmings. Contemporaries, when faced with some chapters to fill, threw in sex scenes with underage girls (Heinlein) or a few chapters describing the effects of various illicit drugs on the characters (P.K. Dick). Tolkien invented whole mythologies, languages and threw in family trees to put the Bible to shame, just for kicks and giggles.
But even a man like Tolkien had some vague notion that books sell better if they take less than a lifetime to read, so he cut and scrapped quite a lot of it.
His son, however, had no such qualms. After daddy-writes-us-books passed away, one of Tolkien?s sons gathered up all the notes and scrapped chapters littering his late father's desk, made a half-hearted effort to put them in some sort of logical order and had them published as 'Silmarillion'.
The book is a slightly worse read than the Bible. At least in the Bible, you can sortof skip ahead past all the 'and Joshua begat whatshisname, who begat that guy, you know, who owes that guy a tenner' and find some pretty interesting sex and violence. The Silmarillion ... No.
Still, if you want to truly understand Middle Earth and it's inhabitants, you have to read it. The book ties up most of the loose ends in the good books, explains all the stuff that didn't make it into the movies and even some that did.
Don't expect to enjoy it, is all I'm saying.
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