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J.R.R. TOLKIEN AND HIS “FALSE” EPIC



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J.R.R. TOLKIEN AND HIS “FALSE” EPIC


John Ronald Ruel Tolkien (03.01.1892 – 02.09.1973) was an English philologist, writer and university professor who is best known as the author of the Trilogy of the Lord of the Rings (The Company of the Ring; The Two Towers; The Return of the King), as well as many other work.

In fact, in addition to the Trilogy, Tolkien’s published fiction includes The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and other posthumously published books (most of them were compiled from Tolkien’s notes by his son Christopher) covering a period that goes from 1917 (the first version of The Sirmarillion) to the death of the author in 1973.

Together, all books, are a connected body of tales, fictional histories, invented languages and literary essays about an imagined world called Arda, and Middle-earth (derived from Old English word “middangeard”, that is the land inhabitable by human), in particular, loosely identified as an “alternative” remote past of our own world.

Tolkien applied the word “legendarium” to the totality of these writings.




The great success and enduring influence of his work have led to him being popularly and identified as “the father of modern fantasy literature'.


Tolkien was an Oxford professor of Anglo-Saxon language (from 1925 to 1945) and English language and literature (from 1945 to 1959) and with the cycle of his works he tried to recreate and imitate the ancient sagas and Nordic legends that he studied and taught for all the life.

This imitative will is obvious in many details, first of all in the choice of some characters as the Elves, the Dwarves, the Ogres, the Dragons, all typical ones of the Nordic sagas, and also, for example, in the choice of many names, like some Ogres’ names, that are taken by Nordic poems, or as the Middle-Earth, where the vicissitudes of The Lord of the Rings happened and that it is so called because situated between the tenebrous West of the Gentlemen of Badly, Sauron, and the luminous East of the Gods, Valars, rulers of the world, that recalls very close Midgar, the ancient Scandinavian word meanings “Earth”, situated between Hel (hell) and Asgard, the fabulous city of Gods leaded by Odin.

Remarkable are loans from the Arthurian cycle: Gandalf , the wizard, is a kind of Merlin; Aragon seems an invincible knight like Lancelot; characters’ travels recall the travels of the Arthurian errant knights, as they take place in a natural scenery where several cities and kingdom stand out.

Also the long and dangerous search of the volcano in Mordor’s land, where the ring must be destroyed, recalls the hard search of the Holy Graal in the Arthurian cycle and similarly who will find the Holy Graal (Galaad, Lancelot’s son) ascend the sky near God, at the end of Tolkien’s work the ring- bearer, Bilbo and Frodo, will sail on Elves’ ships towards the luminous East.

Another very important element is the language used by Tolkien, imitating the Anglo-Saxon and so giving a patina of ancient epic to the modern es of the whole cycle of works.

On the base of these revivals and basing himself to other universal elements (such as the ht between the Good and the Evil), Tolkien has carried out his story, inventing new vicissitudes that result well constructed and interlaced.

The author has done what medieval ballad singers already did: they invented new interlaces and new characters inserting them in an epico- mythological general view already preconstructed by others.

Moreover they asserted to tell true stories.

Tolkien has done that. How? He gives notice about languages of the characters, he tells the story of various eras, he reconstructs genealogies.

Moreover he was very accurate in the elaboration of his world: he worked 14 years to complete The Lord of the Rings and the whole cycle covers nearly 60 years.

In effects, the most surprising element of The Lord of the Rings isn’t the interlace, but the numerous and complicated appendixes: Appendix A that collects The Annals of the king and governors (history of men’s reigns from the first to the fourth era); Appendix B that contains the Chronology of the West (four eras); Appendix C with the genealogical tree of the main Hobbit families; Appendix D with the Calendar of the County; Appendix E containing notices about alphabets, writings and pronounces of the several languages spoken by Tolkenian characters; Appendix F with linguistic and ethnographic News on people and languages of the third era and at the end a very detailed map of the Middle-Earth.


As medieval ballad singers, the author has therefore composed an epic poem, but there are two fundamental differences: his one is a “false epic poem”, because it has not been composed in the Middle Age but in modern age, and Tolkien isn’t a medieval ballad singer but an university professor.



Tolkien has “imitated” like a forger the ancient epic poem describing scenes and languages that give an impression of authentic antiquity.

But the writer isn’t a fraudulent forger who wants to spread his work for authentic medieval epic poem (like for example Macpherson made in the 1700’s with his Ossian’s Songs: another “false” epic that the author wanted to make people believe it was an authentic Celtic poetry written by the ancient bard Ossian).

Tolkien published the false epic poem under his name, so the work was showed without any possible deceit for the readers.

But the writer’s success, in addition to the fantastic-epic collocation of his work, consists in this: Tolkien was good to create a parallel universe to ours, with its precise history , its people, its languages, its use and customs.

The author’s worlds is so exact in the least detail to seem absolutely true and not few readers believe to meet stories that are quite true.


J.R.R. Tolkien - A Biography


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, as he was christened, was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1892. His early and barely memorable years were spent divided between the city and a country farm. His father, an English banker, was making efforts to establish a branch in that country. Many of Tolkien's early memories of South Africa, including an incident when he was bitten by a tarantula while visiting a rural district, are reported to have influenced his later works.

He left South Africa to return to England with his mother and his brother, Hilary. His father, Arthur, was supposed also to return to England within the next few months. However, Arthur Tolkien died of rheumatic fever while still in South Africa. This left the grieving family in relatively dire straights and on a very limited income.

They soon moved to Birmingham, England, so that young Tolkien could attend King Edward VI school. His mother, Mabel, converted to Catholicism and the religion would have a long lasting effect on young Tolkien. The family was befriended by the Parish Priest, Father Francis Morgan, who would see the Tolkiens through some troubled times.

An avid reader, Tolkien was influenced by some of the great writers of his day including G.K. Chesterton and H.G. Wells. It was during this period of financial hardship, but intellectual stimulation that Tolkien suffered the loss of his devoted mother. She succumbed to diabetes in 1904 when Tolkien was only 12 years of age.

Father Morgan took over as his guardian, placing him first with an aunt and then at a boarding house for orphans. It was at this boarding house, at the age of 16 that he would meet and fall in love with Edith Bratt. Naturally, their relationship was frowned upon. Tolkien and Edith were caught in affectionate circumstances - they bicycled together out to the countryside surrounding the city and had a picnic.

Edith became somewhat of an obsession for Tolkien, and his guardian, Father Morgan, determined to separate the young couple. For, it seemed that their relationship was interfering with Tolkien's studies and leaving him ill-prepared to take exams to enter college. This was driven home to him when he failed to enter the college on his first try. Tolkien temporarily swore off the love of his life an knuckled down to the work at hand. On his second try he succeeded in obtaining a scholarship to Oxford.

Throughout his life, Tolkien had cultivated a love of language, especially ancient languages. At Oxford he would major in philology, which is the study of words and language. He would be much influenced by Icelandic, Norse and Gothic mythology. Even some of the characters and place names he would later develop would be drawn from the names from ancient sagas. The forest of Mirkwood, which played a prominent roll in both 'The Hobbit' and in 'The Lord of the Rings' was borrowed from Icelandic mythology. The names of many of the dwarves in 'The Hobbit' were actual placenames in the myths.



Having reached the age of maturity in 1914, while still attending college, he looked up his lost love, Edith Bratt, and proposed marriage. She had accepted a proposal from another quarter, but in the end was persuaded to return to Tolkien. They would marry in 1916.

World War I, the war to end all wars, came in 1914. It would forever mark the end of many of the Empires of Europe and would unleash death across the European Continent. Tolkien lost many of his friends in the war, and he himself would serve as an officer on the front lines at the Battle of the Somme. He caught trench fever in 1917 and was sent back to England to recuperate. He would not see front line service again.

Throughout his schooldays he had been a determined poet and scholar. His interest in language was such that he had even developed his own languages based loosely on Finnish and Welsh. It was while recuperating in Birmingham, with his wife at his side, that he began to create a mythology behind his languages. This work would one day result in his famous books.


It was about this time that Tolkien was blessed with the first of his four children. After the war he was offered a professorship at the University of Leeds. Besides lecturing, he continued work on his mythology. He felt that he, in a sense, was creating England's mythology.

In 1925 Tolkien with a colleague published a translation and analysis of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.' It was a turning point in his career. It brought him notice at Oxford where he was offered the professorship of Anglo-Saxon.

'The Hobbit', the work that would make him famous, came out in 1936. He began it one evening while grading exam papers. Seated at his desk, he opened up an exam booklet to find the first e blank. He was surprised and pleased that the student had somehow entirely skipped the e. It seemed an invitation to write, and in that space he began his work on 'The Hobbit'.

The finished manuscript of 'The Hobbit' fell into the hands of George Allen and Unwin, Publishers. Unwin paid his ten year old son a shilling to read the story and report on its publishability. The young man lavished praise on the book, and Unwin decided to take a risk on it.

'The Hobbit' soon became a best seller and made Professor Tolkien famous. He was already well-known as a scholar for his work in Philology, and he was also part of a group of friends who called themselves the Inklings. The center of this group was C.S. Lewis who would long be one of Tolkien's best friends and admirers.

In the late 1930's Tolkien began writing the 'Lord of the Rings'. Work on the story would go on for ten and a half years. He gave first chance at publication to Allen & Unwin, the publishers of 'The Hobbit'. But it was rejected by a staff editor when Unwin was away on business in France. The younger 'Unwin' was now in the family publishing business. He found out about the rejected manuscript, wrote to his father in France, requesting permission to take on the project. Recalling the success of 'The Hobbit', but skeptical about a 'hobbit book' written for adults, he acquiesced to his son's request reluctantly.

'The Lord of the Rings' was published in three parts and would become a huge publishing success.

Fame and fortune were both a blessing and a bane for Tolkien. He enjoyed the popularity of his work. Yet, he was burdened with work responding to his adoring public. After his retirement at Oxford, he and his wife Edith moved to Bournemouth in 1966. Edith died in 1971. The loss of his life's companion did not sit well with Tolkien; yet he struggled on for some two years till his death of Pneumonia on 2 September 1973.







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