The future writer was born on January 3, 1891. Although his birthplace was the South African Orange Republic, although his father, bank manager Arthur Ruel Tolkin, was a descendant of Saxon Germans who had emigrated to England at the end of the eighteenth century, nevertheless John Ronald Ruel Tolkien grew up to be a real Englishman.
From South Africa, the boy had only a vague memory – of heat and dust: the hot climate had a bad influence on his health, and five years later he moved with his mother to Birmingham. But the stronger was the child’s impression of the English rural landscape as a magical land – in contrast to the South African steppe. The father is imprinted in the memory of young Ronald only initials on the suitcase: Arthur Tolkien died of fever soon after he sent the family to England. The decisive influence on the formation of his personality had a mother, one hundred percent Englishwoman, the daughter of a Birmingham salesman Mabel Saffild. “Although my name is Tolkien, I’m a Suffield for tastes, talents and upbringing,” the writer considered.
The real Englishman is supposed to be an original person (“original”) and at the same time a conservative. So Tolkien was. The original features were clearly inherited from his mother. After the death of her husband, she unexpectedly accepted Catholicism for all and, despite the persecution of her relatives, brought up Ronaldo as a true Catholic. Moreover, when
Tolkien’s conservatism affected not only his political views (he accepted British imperialism as a phenomenon of nature and could not tolerate communists) and not only in his literary tastes (English literature for him ended where it began for all others-on Chaucer’s work) . What is more important is Tolkien’s profound worldly conservatism.
It is from here that his amazing permanence. In 16 years, Ronald fell in love with 19-year-old Edith Bratt, also an orphan. This was the usual “first love” of the then educated teenager – a romantic, chivalric, read from books. It only lasted an unusually long time – until the writer’s death. As usual, lovers had to face severe obstacles. Soon the guardian Ronalda forbade him to meet with Edith and even write to her. And what? He obeyed – as a real conservative, accustomed to respect the law and authority. And three years later, on the day of his majority, Edith sent a letter with a proposal of the hand and heart; When she found out that she was already engaged to another, she broke off the engagement. In marriage, they lived happily and happily for almost 60 years; he survived it for two years. And all this time Tolkien’s feeling remained all the same romantic and bookish. He did not cease to cultivate the myth of Edith as the immortal elven maiden Lucien, who fell in love with him, the mortal hero Beren. These names invented by Tolkien-linguist and became the outcome of the plot: on its tombstone engraved the name of Lucien, on his – Beren.
Tolkien was constant in everything: in exalted feelings, and in everyday life. For decades, he kept the same circle of friends-“inclings”, gathering at the fireplace or in the bar “Eagle and Child” for a beer mug. And he was invariably faithful to the habits of his bourgeois ancestors: he was photographed by the whole family (his wife, his three sons and his daughter), dressed not so modestly, but according to the standard of the middle class, he was neat and worked hard. The only feature that distinguished him in everyday life was the manner of snuggling up the phone – also a sign of the English style.
In whose still character can we see this typically English combination of high chivalry and the bourgeois middle? Of course, in the nature of the hobbit, Tolkien’s alter ego. In the hobbit the reader will find, perhaps, the most convincing apology of the middle bourgeois in the 20th century, the reason for this is the deep relationship of the author and the character.
And yet the fate of the real Englishman Tolkien would be the most common, if not for one miracle. A miracle of this was a book published when the author was already 63 years old. The book, recognized by experts as a masterpiece of “high” literature and at the same time unheard of. The path to it was long and difficult. And it all began with the game.
For many years Tolkien was known as a wonderful university lecturer and a philological scholar – but nothing more. Meanwhile, it was not so much a philological career that occupied him as much as a philological game. Tolkien was a philologist, you might say, from childhood; played the same – until old age. Playfully learned languages: by the age of eight already knew French, German, Latin, Greek; to eighteen – Spanish, Middle English, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Gothic, Finnish; to twenty – also Welsh. And then he played with languages. The schoolboy could turn into a mandatory debate in Latin: then, portraying the ambassador, speaking before the Roman Senate, easily speak Greek, then, entering the role of the messenger of barbarian tribes, just as easily go to Gothic.
At the same time, Tolkien had a purposefulness in the game that was rare for gaming consciousness. He was always cramped in the official philology; he also wanted to play in philology – by the rules as systematic as in science.
To do this, he needed a special environment – friends, like-minded people, comrades in the game. His first philological circle, “Tea Club”, Tolkien founded in school – to recite together with friends alliterative poems and retell the sagas. And for the next forty years he invariably organized informal communities and clubs – no matter what.
Even after the heavy shock experienced by Tolkien at the forefront of the Battle of the Somme (1916), and the deaths of his two friends at the Tea Club, the pre-war game plans remained valid for him. Tolkien least of all paid attention to conversations about the “lost generation”; he simply continued his work and his game from the place where it was interrupted by the war. In place of the destroyed by the war, the philological community emerged new, among them – the famous association of “inclings”.
How did Tolkien become a writer? Tolkien’s literature was led by gambling philology. Studying the ancient languages, he invented on their basis new languages; commenting on medieval texts, he composed in imitation of his own texts. Until a certain time, the game did not interfere with the philological career of Tolkien, which at first seemed brilliant: at the age of 27 he already participates in the creation of the new Oxford English Dictionary, at 32 (unusually early) – becomes an Oxford professor. But since the turn of the twenties and thirties, his publishing activity is falling, and teaching is recognized as a routine. Finally, the lectures of the thirties – “Beowulf: monsters and critics” and “About magic stories” – directly announce the author’s transition to opposition to academic science: The theme of lectures is the defense of free fantasy from the rationalism of critics. In these years the philologist breakthrough into literature.
Once the manuscript of Tolkien’s fairy tale “The Hobbit”, written by him during the game with his children, accidentally got into the publishing house “Allen and Anuin”. But in this randomness there is a regularity: when playing, “inclines” were preparing to actively intervene in the literary process. K. Lewis believed that both he and Tolkien are capable of accepting a kind of mission: “There are so few fairy tales that we really love, I’m afraid that we should write them ourselves.” Having sent the manuscript to the editorial office, Tolkien accepted the challenge. The fate of the story was finally solved by the critic, the strictest for the children’s book, the ten-year-old son of the publisher. “A good book, suitable for all children from 5 to 9” – this was his slightly arrogant verdict. After that, the author only had to finish the manuscript,
After the success of the fairy tale from Tolkien, of course, they demanded “more hobbits”. But what followed, other than a miracle can not be called. In the process of working on the continuation of the “Hobbit”, Tolkien suddenly had a plan for a grandiose epic. It all began with the recording of Tolkien in the margins of his manuscript: “Use the motive for the return of the ring.” Just a few words, but containing an idea similar to the Archimedean “eureka”: epic to unfold in a new book one of the episodes of “The Hobbit”.
If to the hero of Tolkien the hobbit in the beginning the ring seemed only a successful find, then its creator Tolkien – a successful plot move. And the hero and the author, it eventually had a wonderful impact. And on that, and on another miracle this imposed a huge responsibility.
The hobbit’s task – to destroy the ring – seems to the reader beyond the reach of the book to the very end of the book. Saying “yes”, Bilbo’s heir, the hobbit Frodo, not only has to face almost insurmountable external obstacles, but is doomed to a painful internal struggle. The power of the ring can not but affect the will of its owner. Henceforth, every sinful thought is reinforced many times with a ring, the body “disembarks,” and the soul seeks death.
But Tolkien’s task was also matched. To fulfill her university professor took 12 years of hard, desperate, sometimes heroic work and another 5 years of refinement and difficult negotiations. After the discovery of the ring, the game ended for him, it began – a painful ascent to the heights of literature. It was not for nothing that Tolkien’s letters sometimes gave rise to the metaphor of creativity as bloodshed; that’s what he wrote to the publisher, preparing the “Lord of the Rings” for publication: “This book is written in my blood,” and before publication admitted that he was haunted by fear: “I put my heart to death.”
When Tolkien completed his work, K. Lewis summed up: “Almost no novel compares to the majesty and formidability of the” Lord of the Rings. “Long years of work on it have been justified.” Moreover, it was with Tolkien’s epic that Lewis linked his hope for a “new era”. What started with a miracle, miraculously ended: instead of a regular children’s fairy tale, readers gained a great epic, a book at the level of the most impressive achievements of 20th-century literature.
In his epic Tolkien created a whole continent – the “imaginary reality” of Middle-earth with developed geography, a set of legends, legends and songs, a system of invented languages. There is a well-known case, told by T. Mann in connection with his novel “Joseph and his brothers”: “I still remember how amused and how complimentary were the words of my Munich typist with whom this simple woman handed me a reprinted manuscript” Stories about Jacob, “the first novel from the cycle about Joseph.” Now, at least you know how it all really was! “She said, it was a touching phrase – in fact, it really was nothing.” So the readers of The Lord of the Rings have a feeling that the world created by Tolkien’s fantasy exists in reality. Important, that this feeling was shared with the readers by the author himself: “I seemed to write down something that already existed once, and was not invented by me”; it is also important that he did his best to “settle” the readers in his world: “I wanted people to feel inside this story so that they believe in its truth.”
How does Tolkien achieve this effect? Due to the deepening of the background. As in the real world, the reader of The Lord of the Rings has to navigate through maps, learn new languages, and learn the myths and traditions of different peoples. When reading the book, it seems that the story told by the author is only an insignificant part of the history of Middle-earth, that the past of this magical land is as vast as the past of mankind. Behind each of the main characters of Tolkien is an extensive pedigree. Behind every episode in the book is a prehistory that is lost in the centuries. And almost in every word of the epic – references to the branched mythology of Middle-earth.
It is this effect of the authenticity of the imaginary world that has become the main reason for the stunning popularity of the epic. By 1988, Tolkien’s book had withstood 100 editions in one English language – a total circulation of 50 million copies. In 1997, according to several British readership surveys, “The Lord of the Rings” was recognized as the greatest prose work of the twentieth century. Recent polls show that the epic remains one of the most read books in the world.
The result of the reader’s fuss around “The Lord of the Rings” was the birth of a very extensive and ramified commercial genre – “fantasy”. Tolkien did not think so of calling his epic: he quite lacked the traditional term “romance”. But the reader’s appetite, awakened by Tolkien, began to demand from literature a “new reality”, “other worlds”. To serve this need, and needed a whole industry “fantasy”, the same name of Tolkien, declared the ancestor of the genre, became a kind of trademark.
Mass popularity of “The Lord of the Rings” led to paradoxical results. Tolkien hoped that over his epic will be thinking. Indeed, if you do not read it slowly, you can hardly unravel its complex theological subtext, understand why the author called it a “Catholic” book – “about death and the thirst for Immortality.” Instead, millions of readers, mostly young people, started looking for a narcotic dream in Tolkien’s book. Magic, which, it seems, you can touch with your hand, and heroism, which is so easy to try on yourself – only this mass reader chose in a complex, profound book.
Since the mid-60’s in Tolkien began to see the object of worship. Cult “professor” began with American student campuses, where in those years were very popular anarchistic slogans such as “Gandalf in the presidency!” or “We go to Middle-earth!”. Tolkien’s book was perceived as a call for rebellion and flight, and the hobbit – almost like a beatnik. The Professor, who defended conservative values in his book, all this led to regrettable bewilderment. About the young Americans who deified him, he spoke out with a little restrained dislike: “Art affects them, and they do not know what drives them, and they get drunk.”
Having fulfilled his writing mission, Tolkien returns to the philological game in the last twenty years of his life. All these years they have been making constant attempts to systematize their mythology and to assemble it into a single arch. Such a vault should be the “Silmarillion”, a book written in rivalry with ancient epics. However, the “Silmarillion” remained, in the apt words of the publisher S. Anuin, a “book-in-itself”: the posthumous publication of the unfinished manuscript, carried out by the son of Tolkien Christopher (1977), was not so much a fact of literature as a “cult” act. Like 12 more volumes of the “History of Middle-earth”, published by Christopher.
After “The Lord of the Rings” Tolkien’s philological game was no longer just his personal affair: millions wanted to play with him. But did his childhood dream of “mythology for England” come true? No. It turned out just another myth of modern mass culture, another mass game; and no longer an Oxford professor sets rules in it. What is left? Great book that overcame the game. Undoubtedly, she will survive and our games