“The Desolation of Smaug,” the second installment in the “Hobbit” trilogy, is only weeks away, and now fans of the Middle-earth series may have another film beyond next year’s “There and Back Again” to look forward to. According to the LA Times, a biopic based on the life of author J.R.R. Tolkien is in the works from Fox Searchlight.
In addition to the fantastical adventures that Tolkien wrote about on the page, he also served in one World War — a time the affected him greatly — lived through another, and played an important role in some of literature’s most important works that had nothing to do with Middle-earth. If all you know about J.R.R. Tolkien is that he created hobbits, you’ve got a thing or two to learn about one of the 20th century’s greatest writers.
1. He was inventing languages as early as his teens.
A large part of Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythology involved the complex Latin-based languages of the elves that he developed alongside the narrative aspects of it. As a professor of language at Oxford, their creation was an extension of his studies, but his love of imaginary tongues goes all the way back to his early teens, when he created speeches with his young cousins.
2. His marriage was an epic romance.
Tolkien’s marriage to Edith Bratt lasted 55 years, and some of its more dramatic details fit right along some of the epic love stories of his literature. The pair met when Tolkien was 16, four years after he lost his mother and became an orphan. Bratt was three years his senior and was staying at the same boarding house where Tolkien and his brother Hilary had been living. They quickly fell in love, but Tolkien’s guardian forbade him from seeing or communicating with Bratt, thinking she would distract from his studies and objecting to her Protestant faith, until he turned 21. On the night of his birthday, Tolkien wrote her a letter to propose, only to find out that she was engaged to another man, having thought that Tolkien had forgotten her. The two then met and renewed their relationship. During Tolkien’s time in the war, he wrote letters to his wife in code to avoid censorship, so that she could know his location at all times.
3. He was a close friend to ’Chronicles of Narnia’ author C.S. Lewis.
As it so happens, two of the most famous fantasy authors of all time were good friends. It’s well documented that Tolkien was at least partly responsible for Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, the faith system that would inform much of his most popular series. It was actually on this point that they disagreed. Where Lewis included direct allegories to some Christian teachings, Tolkien purposely shied away from direct corollaries…
4. He didn’t like people making connections between ’Lord of the Rings’ and history.
The connections aren’t hard to make between the Dark Lord Sauron and his Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime, but Tolkien insists that his most famous work does not have a direct connection to the dictator or, as others have suggested, Joseph Stalin. In the opening to “The Lord of the Rings,” Tolkien clarifies that direct allegories were never his style, and that he greatly preferred writing stories that put the onus on the read to make their own connections.
5. ’The Hobbit’ and ’The Lord of the Rings’ weren’t intended to be hits.
Tolkien had been formulating the history of Middle-earth and the world it existed in for years before anything was published. The story of Bilbo Baggins began as a story for Tolkien’s children. When a friend heard about the story of the hobbit and his dwarf companions, she suggested that Tolkien submit it for publication. “The Hobbit” became a hit, and the publisher asked for a sequel. It took him ten years, but “The Lord of the Rings” only rose in popularity throughout the remainder of Tolkien’s life.