Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Fantasy

J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Fantasy

David R. Collins
Illustrator:  William Heagy 
For ages 12 and up
Lerner, 1992   ISBN: 0822596180

It seemed as if John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was destined to have a hard life. First his father died in South Africa leaving his mother poor and alone in England. Then when Ronald was just twelve his much loved mother died and left him and his brother Hilary alone in the world with very little money and no real family to take them in. Luckily for the boys, their mother had made arrangements for them should something happen to her and they had a kind and sensible guardian who did his best by them.

It was at the King Edward’s Boy’s School in Birmingham that Ronald first began to fall in love with words and languages and it was a love that would continue to grow throughout his life. At this school he learned Latin, Greek, Anglo Saxon, Middle English and even Old Norse.

Whilst in Birmingham Ronald met Edith and despite opposition from his guardian Edith and Ronald remained true to one another and kept in touch, writing when they could and seeing one another when possible, even after Ronald went up to Oxford to begin his studies there. It was in the wonderful atmosphere of Oxford that Ronald began to write pieces of poetry and then prose of his own. He felt that England needed her own epic tales, her own mythology and he wondered if maybe he might not be the person to write such a work. Why could England not have a mythological tradition as strong and powerful as that found in Norway, Iceland, or Finland he wondered?

Unfortunately for Ronald the war got in the way of his writing and after he finished his studies he dutifully went to the battlefields of France even though the whole business horrified him. At the end of each day he wondered what had been achieved. One of the few things that helped him through the terrible time was the knowledge that Edith was waiting for him back at home in England for the pair had got married just before Ronald had left for France.

Several of Ronald’s closest and dearest friends from his school days died in the war and he decided that it was up to him and his words to “endure” and to make a difference. He began to write his epic collection of tales “The Silmarillion” in honour of his friends. Though this was truly a work that came from the heart it was another work which really changed Ronald’s life. It all began when he wrote the words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on a blank piece of paper. Once the story of Bilbo Baggins was complete people began to talk about it and Ronald was approached by a publisher. The book was an instant success and soon the public was clamouring for another hobbit story.

It took a while and its final form was the subject of much discussion, but eventually the three books that made up “Lord of the Rings” were in the book shops. At last the public had more stories about hobbits.

“The Silmarillion” was not published until after Ronald’s death and it is not as well known as the “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.” These two wonderful tales are however a literary gift that J.R.R. Tolkien gave to England, and to the world, and there is no doubt that they will stand the test of time much as the mythologies of Finland and Norway have done.

This wonderfully written biography takes us into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, showing us what a fascinating and delightful man he must have been. Despite all manner of difficulties, he persevered to give us some of the most magical literature that exists in the English language today.