Today – 3rd of January 2023 – marks Professor JRR Tolkien’s one-hundred and thirty-first birthday.
This is strangely significant as ‘131’ is the same age that Bilbo Baggins was when he was gifted passage aboard one of the last ships to Valinor, when he, Frodo and Gandalf sailed west to the Undying Lands.
I wanted to celebrate the Professor’s birthday by sharing one of his very few interviews hosted by Denys Gueroult from 1964.
I adore listening to this conversation. To hear Tolkien himself talking so matter-of-factly about his languages and histories, describing his process of creating names and words and places; answering every one of the interviewer’s questions with both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ as befits a man well-versed in Elven lore.
“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”
He speaks with a humble, yet self-assured authority on the subject of Middle-Earth. He holds himself as quite separate from his creation And as a result, he speaks with seemingly little ego on the matter.
More historian than storyteller. More curator than creator.
I believe this interview will chime with fantasy writers, or any creative in fact, as Tolkien describes very eloquently the idea that one ‘has’ ideas; one does not ‘make’ them. It is as though they’re gifted to you. From somewhere.
But this is coupled with his unbridled dedication to accuracy. Or rather ‘authenticity’.
For example, in the interview, he describes the lengths he went to to ensure that the ‘moons’ he depicts in his books were consistent with the moon’s actual phases.
Very few readers would ever notice such a thing. But the fact it’s there creates a very tangible sense of depth. And that is felt in all aspects of his work. His languages, most of all.
I particularly enjoyed this exchange; when the interviewer asks if Frodo was written to be purposefully christlike. As he ‘carries the cross’, so to speak; faces the most appalling danger, struggles on and wins through.
But that seems, well I suppose, more like an allegory to the human race. I’ve always been impressed that we’re here, surviving because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds.”
Which is arguably the heart and soul of most of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Lord of the Rings.
It is a subtle, poignant and incredibly insightful observation.
One that nourishes the soul with a feeling of gratitude and courage.
I wish you all a happy New Year.
And a very Happy Birthday to the Professor.
Alasse merendenna i Carmo
JR Leach is a fantasy author and graphic designer whose debut novel The Farmer and the Fald was published earlier this year. You can follow him on Twitter or Substack and see more of his work on his website
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