Today, nobody stumbles over the name “Tolkien” in the English-speaking world, but back in 1962, when I was in junior high, it was all news to me! The Lord of the Rings was just becoming popular in America, and one of my closest friends, Danny Green, kept me fascinated as he reported day by day what he’d read about the little Hobbit who had to leave his cozy home and go adventuring to save Middle Earth. Since those days, Tolkien’s series has ranked as one of the most popular fiction works of the twentieth century!
Fifty-five years later, I’ve still not read Tolkien’s fantasy books for myself, but I was delighted to watch the recently released movie, Tolkien, based on the youth and formative years of this brilliant and dedicated scholar!
There is so much I didn’t know about Tolkien, and almost everything I learned has made me admire him more than ever! Tolkien lived in Britain and was orphaned at a young age. He was among those who had to make his way in the world through sheer grit . . . for Tolkien—hard work, wisdom, and unending, passionate drive.
At a young age, he fell in love with another orphan, and the movie records their very sweet relationship. (Although, as in all good romances, there were many challenges, twists, and uncertainties.)
Because of his brilliance as a student and the care of the Catholic priest who was his guardian, Tolkien was eventually allowed to attend Oxford, where he succeeded in becoming fast friends with several of his classmates. (This was no easy feat, either! My father, who attended Harvard for graduate school—also in philology—as a young man during the Great Depression, found it very difficult trying to fit in with the wealthy elite without the trappings of material privilege.)
Perhaps the most difficult part of Tolkien’s journey was his military service during World War 1. The movie is PG-13, so the war scenes—though terrifying and disheartening—are not about the gore but rather to give us a feel for the intense suffering and emotional trauma that all soldiers experienced.
Did he survive the war? Did he get to marry the girl of his dreams? Did he get to finish his studies? When and how did he become so famous? All great questions, and most of them were answered in this wonderful depiction of his life!
The very best aspect of the movie (for me) was the goodness of Tolkien’s character throughout (in stark contrast to most stories you hear about the “bright young things” of his era). Sometimes people are so bright and shiny with goodness that it just makes you wonder why, so I studied more of his life from Wikipedia. There I discovered the reason: He had a “deeply religious spirit.” As Tolkien explained: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.”
Ah, ha! Yes, I did know of the connection between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and the good spiritual influence Tolkien had been on Lewis, helping him come to faith. It was C.S. Lewis who later wrote Mere Christianity . . . the book that influenced both my mother and my dear aunt, “Lant Henna,” to believe in Christ many years hence!
Alan and I even made a bit of a “pilgrimage” to Oxford’s Eagle and Child (pub/restaurant where their literary group, The Inklings, met) with two of our sons (one of whom is now an editor and aspiring writer himself). So, we have a very personal experience of being inspired and edified by the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
So, thank you Tolkien, and thank you to those of you who gifted us with this great movie! I hope many people see it and find the story uplifting and encouraging!
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).