A Tolkien tradition

John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien is the author of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion, among others. His works often appear on students’ reading lists in literature classes.

This week, students can celebrate Tolkien Week, a tradition that started in 1978. It began Sunday and runs until Saturday as a celebration of the famous fantasy author. Tuesday is considered “Hobbit Day.”

In his novels, Tolkien single-handedly created a magical world called Middle Earth
and filled it with creatures such as Elves, Hobbits and Ringwraiths, each with a distinct culture and language.

Captivated by different languages as a boy, Tolkien learned both Latin and Greek at a young age and was later an expert in languages such as Finnish.

New evidence shows that during the ’30s, he was secretly trained by the British Government Code and Cypher School to crack Nazi codes. He learned Spanish and Scandinavian languages during training and was offered a full-time job, which he declined, according to the Telegraph. Instead, Tolkien continued writing and teaching at Oxford University.

In his works, Tolkien created languages such as Elvish, but languages and cultures were not his only inventions. Some of his creatures, such as Elves, are based on earlier mythology, but Hobbits (small men with large, hairy feet) and Ents (large, magical talking trees) are from his own imagination.

Tolkien’s ability to create an entire world filled with completely different cultures may be attributed to his upbringing. Tolkien’s introduction to two vastly different cultures at a young age gave him a worldly perspective and guided his writing. He was able to develop worlds of creatures and show how a Hobbit’s traditions were outlandish to those of Dwarves and Elves in the fictional world of Middle Earth.

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He and his mother, Mabel, moved the family to Sarehole, England for the birth of her second son, and they remained there after his father died in Africa. Mabel died 8 years later, leaving Tolkien and his younger brother to a priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan.

Morgan left such a mark on Tolkien that he helped convert fellow author C.S. Lewis to Christianity, according to the Notable Names Database at nndb.com.

Despite being an orphan, Tolkien went through college, where he became friends with C. S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia tales.

Lewis first encouraged Tolkien to write Lord of the Rings when they were members of the “Inklings,” an informal literary discussion group at Oxford University. The two authors often encouraged one another.

Tolkien’s devotion to his religion also influenced his writing, which has spiritual themes, but he denied that the Lord of the Rings trilogy – which tells tales of good and evil – was allegorical.

The influence of Tolkien’s work can be felt at USF, as many continue to discuss his books.

Susan Ariew, a research librarian at USF, said more students should read Tolkien’s work before venturing on to other fantasy novels.

“You find elements of Tolkien everywhere,” she said.

Randi Laing, a junior fine arts major, admires Tolkien’s ability to create an entirely new language and geography in The Lord of the Rings.

“I read all of (the series) my sophomore and junior year of high school,” Laing said. “I used to speak some (Elvish) my sophomore year.”

Senior creative writing major Melody Hadsock said she is reading the first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring.

“I’ve read it before but am reading it for my 20th Century Literature class,” she said.

Hadsock said reading Tolkien expanded her knowledge. His addition of good vs. evil and unity vs. chaos are now common archetypes in other writings.

She said she loves Tolkien’s writing because he creates believable characters in a fantasy world. One of Tolkien’s most popular characters, Frodo Baggins, shows that size does not alter a person’s capability to do great things.

“Frodo represents the character that goes through so much and comes back better in the end because of it,” she said.

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