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Thursday, January 10, 2013

"J.R.R. Tolkien" (Colin Duriez)

TITLE: J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend
AUTHOR: Colin Duriez
PUBLISHER: Oxford, England: Lion Hudson plc, 2012, (240 pages).

This book traces the life of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, most popularly known as J.R.R.Tolkien. While his novels, "Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," and several of his writings have achieved worldwide fame, not many people know the background of the fantasy novels, much less the author's life. With vivid flashbacks of the life of Tolkien, and the revelation of the origins of Tolkien's fictional characters, readers essentially get two stories for the price of one unique biographical sketch.  Much of Tolkien's writings are drawn from his life as an orphan seeking to make sense of purpose in life, friendship, hope, learning, love, war, and his passion for the English language. In particular, the Gothic dialects and old English cultures (especially the 14th Century language) that Tolkien has fallen in love with, helps to spawn a whole new philological (Philology simply understood is a study of languages) culture that has influenced his story and characters of the Elves, the Hobbits, and his many poems. His LOTR and Hobbit novels took him 50 years to write, many of the stories a direct result of his own life happenings. In his early years, the Scouting movement had just begun to be pioneered. Duriez surmises that this scouting background may have helped tolkien to incorporate the natural scouting skills of Sam Gamgee the Hobbit when he cooked rabbit for Frodo and himself in one incident at LOTR. The idea of the 'Fellowship of the Ring' comes about from his own inner club called the TCBS (Tea Club Barrow's Society) that comprises himself and his three very good friends, Christopher Wiseman, Rob Gilson, and Geoffrey Bache Smith. His rich imagery of Middle Earth comes from his early exposure to places and events in Switzerland. The world wars in Europe strongly shape his overall plot of the novels, that a great war is coming, and there is a big struggle between the forces of good and evil, and one needs to fight when the time is right.

Like many aspiring writers, Tolkien has his fair share of rejections and discouragement. It takes friends like CS Lewis to encourage him to finish his book. It takes tremendous discipline as his careers switch for one place to another. What is the major push toward the completion of the famous works is his love for language. Like many young lovers, Tolkien has to struggle with issues of faith and marriage (his wife Edith was an Anglican before she converted to Catholicism). Like young men who enlisted in the army during the war, he is well aware of how uncertain life and death can be. He endured the painful loss of his bosom buddies as well as his wife Edith in his later years.

My Thoughts

Colin Duriez has given readers a unique insight into the life of Tolkien and the background of the now famous characters and plot of LOTR and the Hobbit, as well as the uncompleted the Silmarillion. It is the love of language and the encouragement from friends that have enabled Tolkien to write, and to tell stories in a way that is so 'Tolkien,' that is to say, to marry real life with fantasy, to express himself through storytelling, and in the process, invite readers to journey together, wary of hell below and heaven above, while we all live on Middle Earth. He teaches themes of courage, betrayal, love, faith, good, evil, and many more, which many people around the world are now familiar with.  There are also many things that Tolkien himself is passionate about that has given form to many of his writings and his living. Like the need for self-control, to pursue a relationship with his girlfriend Edith, be obedient to both his guardian as well as his passion. Or the theme of courage, where he stands up for what is right, even when his own life is at stake.  There are several instances which look as if his literary career will be shortlived. Yet, for the blessings of friendship, of a love for language, of a vivid imagination, and an ability to connect fantasy with reality, Tolkien's completed works have enabled the world to catch a glimpse of what one person can do. This book is a tremendous encouragement in three ways. Firstly, we all have a need for fellowship. We are not meant to live alone. The TCBS high school club that Tolkien is a part of, helps keep his interests alive. Secondly, love and sacrifice come about together. His love for Edith, for country, and for his unique desire to learn 14th Century culture, comes with a sacrifice. Thirdly, for writers and those involved in creative work, Tolkien is a testimony of passion that comes alive through story telling and publishing. Nothing is ever easy, and no one goes into publishing for the sake of trying to be famous. It all comes from a passion. A passion that needs to be driven from within, though it can be encouraged from without.

The novels, poems, and writings of Tolkien when read with Tolkien's life story in mind, usher in a whole new perspective of the Hobbit and the LOTR. If you love the works of Tolkien, this book is a must read.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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