Friday, March 6, 2009

MYTH MAKER J.R.R. Tolkien by Anne E. Neimark

This one's for all you storytellers, no matter how you tell them. I know Tolkien is a Fantasy genre icon, but, really, Science Fiction is the geeky kid sister of Fantasy. And Fantasy, in my opinion, is just the re-telling of myth.

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I've found it enormously helpful as a writer to follow the careers of great storytellers, from George Lucus to Tolkien. George Lucus, I discovered, is an impatient storyteller, which I believe can account for all his mistakes with the STAR WARS universe. Nevertheless, he is a great storyteller because he's touched the hearts and minds of billions. In contrast, it seems J.R.R. Tolkien had patience which would put a saint to shame. It took him years to write THE LORD OF THE RINGS. However, he wasn't so patient when it came to marrying the love of his life.

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Tolkien was born in South Africa, the son of English parents, both of whom died while he was a child. After being shuffled from family member to foster parent, he eventually landed in the care of a priest, Father Frances, who was truly a father to him. Nevertheless, Father Frances was horrified when Tolkien fell in love with Edith, a girl three years older than him, and wanted to marry her while he was still a teenager. And she was of a different religion too! In England at the start of the 20th century, men didn't marry until their late twenties and always to girls at least ten years younger. And it caused family wars to consider marrying someone outside one's own religion too.

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After much grief, Tolkien finally had to concede to Father Frances or he wouldn't be able to complete his education. And if he didn't do well in college, he'd never be able to support a wife and children. Back then, it was a shame for one's wife to work outside the home. And so Tolkien and Edith waited to marry, which couldn't have been easy. Contraception was illegal back then and good girls never, ever had babies outside marriage. If you've ever wondered about the romance of Aragorn and Arwen, or one of the other more powerful romances in Tolkien's novels, this is where it came from.

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Tolkien did complete his education, thought it was interrupted by World War I. This was where all the evil and violence of Mordor originated He and Edith just couldn't wait any longer and got married, just the two of them, no fancy wedding.
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An injury sidelined Tolkien from the war and he went on to great heights as a professor while Edith stayed home with their ever-expanding brood of little baby Tolkiens. During this time, he sat down late one night and wrote the sentence, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." And that's how it all began. He had no other ideas about Middle Earth until that starting point.
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If you're a storyteller, I strongly recommend you get this book. It will both inspire and reassure you. You'll see how everything an author is and experiences contributes to the tales he weaves.

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