The north door of St Edward's Church, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, flanked by centuries-old yew trees, is thought to have been Tolkien's inspiration for the Door of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring.
"There is a shadow, but it is the shadow of the fear of Death, and the shadow of greed. But there is also a shadow of darker evil. We no longer see our king. His displeasure falleth on men, and they go out; they are in the evening, and in the morning they are not. The open is insecure; walls are dangerous. Even by the heart of the house spies may sit. And there are prisons, and chambers underground. There are torments; and there are evil rites. The woods at night, that once were fair -- men would roam and sleep there for delight, when thou wert a babe -- are filled now with horror. Even our gardens are not wholly clean, after the sun has fallen. And now even by day smoke riseth from the temple: flowers and grass are withered where it falleth. The old songs are forgotten or altered; twisted into other meanings."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lost Road and Other Writings, page 68.
Tolkien started and abandoned the novel The Lost Road in the mid-1930s. The political situation described above takes place on the island of Numenor in the Second Age, but it's hard not to read into it an awareness on the author's part of events in Europe in the Thirties.
There's a book to be written about this anthology, by somebody who knows Oxford, English publishing history, and the First World War. These poets came up in the short Georgian period, so there is nature, mythology, and twilight, metred and rhymed. Tolkien is often spoken of as a twentieth-century outsider, but in this book you can see him as a member of a cohort. Sayers went on to become a medieval scholar, and Haldane kicked the phrase Middle Earth around in her career.
This 1966 Gene Deitch adaptation of The Hobbit owes as much to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Fractured Fairy Tales as to Tolkien. You could think of it as the film of the Ballantine paperback cover illustration -- the one with the emus.
I must have been 15 when I bought my first set of The Lord of the Rings. Up until then I had been a hardcore science fiction reader and wanted nothing to do with fantasy. But Tolkien's cultural weight, and/or high school peer pressure, eventually drew me in. I bought my copies at the Sundry Shop, one of two places to buy books in 1970s Kingston, Nova Scotia; the other being the drug store. Judging by Google Street View neither building exists today.
Canada was unusual in having a separate edition of The Lord of the Rings. Most English-speaking countries imported either the UK or US imprint. The Canadian paperback was put out by the Toronto branch of Methuen in 1971 and reprinted about once a year through the early Seventies. Its text is the second edition prepared by Tolkien in 1966 to establish his copyright and correct certain errors introduced by the original copy editors' lack of Middle Earth lore. So, apart from pagination, these Methuen paperbacks differ little from other modern editions, except for perhaps a few typographical errors that I for one am too otherwise occupied to hunt down.
The cover illustrations are by Pauline Baynes and I think are recycled from a British edition. Baynes is still my favourite Tolkien illustrator, owing to her understanding and use of the medieval illuminated manuscript tradition. Her best Tolkien book to my mind is Farmer Giles of Ham.
I think I must have read The Lord of the Rings just twice as a teen. I'm tempted to say three times, but I might be mixing in a memory of The Hobbit, which you will admit has a very similar plot. I discarded most of my Tolkien stuff (including the calendars!) at some point in the Eighties, and then regretted it, and bought the copies pictured above at Seeker's Books in Toronto in the Nineties. I will probably never read these particular paperbacks because the glue has gotten brittle. I have HarperCollins hardcovers with properly sewn spines if I need to refresh my memory. Still, they're nice to have if only as a piece of personal cultural heritage, and as a reminder that, though millions have read The Fellowship of the Ring, relatively few know it as the green book. Douglas
Hobbits like to snack. In the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien writes, "And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them)." In "An Unexpected Party", the first chapter of The Hobbit, a dozen uninvited dwarfs strain but fail to defeat Bilbo's abilities as host, and still leave enough food in the larder for Bilbo's breakfast the next morning after they've left. In all, the meals tea, supper, breakfast and second breakfast are mentioned. The screenwriters of the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring supply the following piece of dialogue, nudging the daily total of meals to seven:
Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop till nightfall. Pippin: What about breakfast? Aragorn: You've already had it. Pippin: We've had one, yes. What about second breakfast? [Aragorn turns and walks off in disgust] Merry: I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip. Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he? Merry: I wouldn't count on it.
Bilbo Baggins, the first of Tolkien's hobbits, provided the template for the rest of his hobbit protagonists, all of them homesick though venturesome, and food-obsessed. Even his name encodes who he is and what he's doing. A bilbo is a small sword, like his weapon Sting. Baggins suggests a burglar's bag, and is also associated with his home at Bag End, Tolkien's pun on cul-de-sac. But Baggins also carries the sense of snack. Map L56a of The Linguistic Atlas of England illustrates the variety of English dialect words for snack. In much of Lancashire and Cheshire the predominant word is bagging or baggings. (Other English dialect words are biting on, crib, crust, elevenses, lunch, nammet and ten o'clock). Did Tolkien hear the word baggings as a child in Evesham, a county or so south in Worchestershire? Evesham falls in the lunch zone, on the far side of elevenses from bagging, but perhaps. Food for thought. Douglas
Here's a cheery tale. Húrin, the lord of one of the kingdoms of Men in Beleriand during the First Age of Middle Earth, is captured and imprisoned by Morgoth. who places a curse on Húrin's family, that anything they turn their hand to shall come to evil, then sets Húrin up on a throne and condemns him to watch the curse unfold. Túrin, Húrin son, carries most of the ensuing action, wandering Beleriand and rising to a position of influence wherever he goes. Characters in Tolkien always surrender decision-making to the kingliest one around, but Túrin's decisions are almost always bad. He kills one of the Elf-king's advisers in Doriath, then impulsively goes into self-exile before he can learn of his pardon, he falls in with outlaws and ultimately leads them to slaughter, he counsels the king of Nargothrond to a war policy that results in a dragon curling up in the middle of the city, he kills his best friend, and he marries his own sister. And he regifts an Elvish knife. In the end he slays the dragon, but he and his sister both commit suicide upon learning each other's true identity. (I'm not spoilering anything. It's all there in chapter 21 of the Silmarillion.) All of which would add up to a tragedy of Greek proportion, if it weren't so Victorian. A great amount of time is spent arguing over who's a churl and who isn't. Then there's the endemic racism, even if it is directed at made-up peoples. It left me wishing for something set in a less aristocratic universe, with snappier dialogue.