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Lord Alton on Tolkien

The Patron of our Ficino Society, Professor the Lord David Alton of Liverpool, has recently given a talk on Tolkien:

‘More knowledgeable people than me have written prodigiously about JRR Tolkien. I rashly accepted your invitation to give this talk about Tolkien’s hidden story, not because I have anything original to say, but in scratching the surface of interest it might stimulate those who read this to go deeper: As Tolkien’s great friend, CS Lewis put it in “The Last Battle”:

“Welcome, in the lion’s name. Come further up and further in….the further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

Later, as we go deeper and further in, I want to say more about that friendship and the links between the two men. They had a huge amount in common  – both experienced great suffering, the  pain of early bereavement and the traumas of the trenches: and those experiences and their faith were given expression in their books.

Half a century after their deaths, the books of both men continue to sell in phenomenal numbers.     The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies worldwide.

The famous opening line of The Hobbit , “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” paved the way for “The Lord of the Rings”, which followed in 1954. The trilogy has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide . Voted Amazon’s Best Book of the Century in 1997;  it subsequently emerged as the most popular work of fiction in surveys by Waterstones and Channel Four.  Peter Jackson’s magnificent screen adaptation, and critically acclaimed film trilogy, has further popularised the saga of Middle Earth.

Some of Tolkien’s best known short stories include “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil” (1962) “Leaf by Niggle” (1964), “Smith of Wooton Major” (1967) and “Farmer Giles of Ham” (1949).

Following Tolkien’s death, in 1973, his youngest son, Christopher, who, like his father, became a philologist and taught Anglo-Saxon, Middle English and Old Norse at Oxford, posthumously published “The Silmarillion”(1977); and then, between 1983 and 1997, his twelve-volume “History of Middle Earth” ; and, in April 2007, “The Children of Hurin.”

Often called “the father of high fantasy” Tolkien weaves together a connected world of fictional histories, mythology, legend, poems and tales linked to imaginary realms, such as Middle Earth. His letters were edited and published in 1981 by his principal biographer, Humphrey Carpenter. In 1998 Joseph Pearce published “Tolkien Man and Myth” and in 2003 came Stratford Caldecott’s “Secret fire: The Spiritual Vision of JRRTolkien”.

Countless people have become devotees of Tolkien’s books. If readers simply see the books as fantasies about Middle Earth they are both missing the hidden stories and misunderstanding the motives and intentions of the man who wrote them.

I want this evening to talk about three things:

Who was JRR Tolkien?
What influences formed him; and
What he believed.’

More can be found here.



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