Life Takes Its Toll on The Lord of the Rings – A Research Paper

by Jun 11, 2001Critical Viewpoints

Eowyn fights the Morgul Lord.

20 May 2001
Life Takes Its Toll on The Lord of the Rings

John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien, the famed author of The Lord of the Rings, was born on January 3, 1892 and died on September 2, 1973. Many experiences in life influenced Tolkien when he wrote this best-selling novel. He lived through both World Wars, wrote many books, and was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, at Oxford.

Tolkien lived in South Africa for the first four years of his life. Most of his childhood memories of the aforementioned country were unpleasant. Many areas of it are desert-like, and little lives there. Similarly, Mordor, the domain of the Dark Lord, and the surrounding areas are wastelands.

In a chill hour they came to the end of the water-course. The banks became moss-grown mounds. Over the last shelf of rotting stone the stream gurgled and fell down into a brown bog and was lost. Dry reeds hissed and rattled though they could feel no wind.

On either side and in front wide fens and mires now lay, stretching away southward and eastward into the dim half-light. Mists curled and smoked from dark and noisome pools. The reek of them hung stifling in the still air. Far away, now almost due south, the mountain-walls of Mordor loomed, like a black bar of rugged clouds floating above a dangerous fog-bound sea (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 611).

Nothing can dwell there, with the exception of creatures like Shelob, a huge spider-like creature in The Lord of the Rings that came from Tolkien’s memory of “a scary encounter with a large hairy spider, (which) influenced his later writing to some extent”.

His father died in 1896, and he moved with his mother and brother to England. There was a railroad that traveled through his backyard, on which he saw many Welsh trains travel. “Young (Tolkien’s) developing linguistic imagination was engaged by the sight of coal trucks going to and from South Wales bearing destinations like ‘Nantyglo’ and ‘Senghenydd'”.

Tolkien’s mother died of diabetes in 1904, at which point, the parish priest who used to visit the family, Father Francis, became the guardian of Tolkien and his brother Hilary. Tolkien had done very well in Latin and Greek in school, and created new languages out of boredom.

While staying at one foster home, Tolkien met Edith Bratt. They fell in love, whereupon Father Francis intervened. Tolkien was told that he could neither see nor write to Edith until he was twenty-one years of age. Tolkien did the same to one of his main characters, Aragorn. Aragorn was, by lineage, a direct descendant of the king of Gondor, Elendil. The love of his life was Elrond’s daughter, Arwen Evenstar, but Elrond forbids their marriage until Aragorn claims his rightful place. “Many years of trial lie before you. You shall neither have wife, nor bid any woman to you in troth, until your time comes and you are found worthy of it” (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 1034). After receiving a degree in 1915, Tolkien enlisted in the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers. Before going to France in 1916, Tolkien married Edith.

In France, Tolkien participated in the Battle of the Somme. After about four months of trench warfare, however, he fell ill and returned to England. While he recuperated, Tolkien expanded on a language that he had invented, called Quenya, which would have a major role in The Silmarillion, in addition to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s son said that paper was hard to come by during the war, so he used whatever he could get his hands on to write down ideas. Tolkien lost most of his friends to the war while he was in the hospital , which caused him to begin writing The Silmarillion, partially in memory of them, since they had all shared the same interests as youths. In the same way as Tolkien fell ill on the front lines, and was brought back to England, in volume three of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, King Théoden of Rohan and Lady Éowyn fall in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. They are brought back into Minas Tirith, Éowyn to recover from her injuries, Théoden to his funeral pyre, from their battle with the Morgûl Lord, the leader of the Ringwraiths. (Both of them are thought dead.)

“A mist was in Merry’s eyes of tears when they drew near the ruined gate of Minas Tirith. He gave little heed to the wreck and slaughter that lay about… gently they laid Éowyn upon soft pillows; but the king’s body they covered with a great cloth of gold. So Théoden and Éowyn came to the City of Gondor, and all who saw them bared their heads and bowed. The ascent (to the Citadel) seemed agelong, a meaningless journey in a hateful dream.

(Merry) looked up…there was Pippin! ‘Where is the king?’ he said. ‘And Éowyn?’ Then he stumbled…and began to weep.” (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 841).

After becoming professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. A few years later, Tolkien’s publisher, Stanley Unwin, wrote to him, saying that he believed a sequel to The Hobbit was needed. Tolkien agreed. “I think it is plain that… a sequel or successor to The Hobbit is called for”. Part of the reason why Tolkien decided to write a sequel to The Hobbit was that he wanted to expand upon his studies of languages and mythology. Writing this work gave him an excuse to research both existing languages and mythology, and to further develop his own. Quenya became the language of the Elves in The Lord of the Rings, and Christopher Tolkien says that many names, such as Elrond and Eärendel, come from Norse mythology, and the name of Mirkwood comes from Icelandic legends.

It took Tolkien over sixteen years to accomplish this work. In part, this was due to the fact that he never threw anything out, resulting in the problem of his documents often being cluttered, and partly because he never developed an outline for the work. Because of this, he wrote himself into many corners, but, unlike other authors, he was able to avoid writer’s block by taking another path previously written. However, this also caused him to write four different versions of Chapter One of The Fellowship of the Ring alone.

It is evident that many things influenced Tolkien’s writings, from spiders to love to war. Through study of his work and life history, one is able to see the relationship between the two.


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