There and back again: J R R Tolkien and the origins of the hobbit

Author(s): Mark Atherton

Literary Criticism & Essays & Journalism

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future." The prophetic words of Galadriel, addressed to Frodo as he prepared to travel from Lothlórien to Mordor to destroy the One Ring, are just as pertinent to J. R. R. Tolkien's own fiction. For decades, hobbits and the other fantastical creatures of Middle-earth have captured the imaginations of a fiercely loyal tribe of readers, all enhanced by the immense success of Peter Jackson's films: firstThe Lord of the Rings trilogy, and now his newest movie, The Hobbit. But for all Tolkien's global fame and the familiarity of modern culture with Gandalf, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam, the sources of the great mythmaker's own myth-making have been neglected.
Mark Atherton here explores the chief influences on Tolkien's work: his boyhood in the West Midlands; the landscapes and seascapes which shaped his mythologies; his experiences in World War I; his interest in Scandinavian myth; his friendships, especially with the other Oxford-based Inklings; and the relevance of his themes, especially ecological themes, to the present-day.


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"When J R R Tolkien died in 1973, his friend and academic colleague C S Lewis praised his 'unique insight at once into the language of poetry and into the poetry of language'. Generations of readers have responded to the power, precision, and delicacy of J R R Tolkien's linguistic imagination. This absorbing new study of The Hobbit brings a philologist's eye to that work's creation, structure, and expression, positioning it within the broader development of Tolkien's professional thinking about philology and the evolving mythography of his creative writings. Mark Atherton, himself what Tolkien calls 'a scholar of gramarye', imaginatively shows how Tolkien's academic interests in philology, linguistic-aesthetic and in reconstructive philology spilled over into the crucible of his own mythography, and was catalysed by the alchemy of his own reading in myths and contemporary fairy stories by writers such as William Morris, Edward Thomas, Francis Thompson and Robert Graves. This book gives them new ways of appreciating the interplay between his narratives and the linguistic enchantment of their imaginative world. Atherton's insights bring to mind Tolkien's own comment: 'How those old words smite one out of the dark antiquity!' " - Vincent Gillespie, J R R Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language, University of Oxford 'Mark Atherton's treatment of one of the most famous books of the twentieth century is timely and welcome. On the face of it, The Hobbit appears an engaging fantasy adventure for young readers; but, as it later transpired, Mr Bilbo Baggins' exploits "there and back again" were simply a prelude to the apocalyptic drama that was to unfold in The Lord the Rings. One reason for the enduring appeal of both of these works is that J R R Tolkien imbued his tales of a fictional realm with resonances of ancient themes and universal truths. In this detailed exploration, Mark Atherton provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the

Mark Atherton is Lecturer in English Language and Literature at Regent's Park College, Oxford. He is the author of Teach Yourself Old English/Anglo Saxon and contributed to A Companion to J R R Tolkien (edited by Stuart Lee, forthcoming).

General Fields

  • : 9781780769271
  • : I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited
  • : I. B. Tauris & Company, Limited
  • : November 2014
  • : 228mm X 155mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : July 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Mark Atherton
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 823.912
  • : 320
  • : 46 integrated bw