When the house in which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit came up for sale, we decided it would be a good adventure to try to buy it with the support of his global fanbase. The aim is to turn it into the first literary centre in honour of the author (www.projectnorthmoor.org). In honour of this, come with me on a brief tour of his house.
5 Ways Tolkien’s Home And Faith Inspired His Fiction
- The Garden Genesis begins with the story of the Garden of Eden, so it is fitting to start with Tolkien, the keen gardener. He loved the act of growing things, created the most famous gardener-hero (Sam Gamgee) – and he carried this creative mindset over to his fiction. As part of his conversation with C.S. Lewis as to the place of myth in God’s conversation with humanity, Tolkien wrote a poem called ‘Mythopoeia’ to defend myths and legends that C.S. Lewis at that stage (1931) saw as lies and worthless even though ‘breathed through silver’. By contrast, Tolkien argued that by creating our own worlds, we are fulfilling our nature to be made in the image of God as a creator – or sub-creator. He writes:
“man …keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act”
Middle-earth and the effort to which Tolkien went to give his fantasy historical depth, geographical realisation and linguistic grounding can be seen as the man claiming his ‘rags of lordship’ – a spiritually significant act of fictional garden planting.
- The Children’s Bedrooms – Tolkien told many stories to his own children, including fairy-stories that he took very seriously. He follows up his creator’s delight in the act of writing with thought about the meaning to which such creations might point. In his essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’, Tolkien names joy as the characteristic of true fairy stories. The creator of fantasy stories is motivated by a desire to be in some measure a real creator tapping into reality. He then links the two: ‘The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in a successful fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.’ For Tolkien this reality was the ‘eucatastrophe’ of the birth of Christ, by which he means the great turning point of history and Christ’s ‘story begins and ends in joy.’ You can see such an echo of an eucatastrophe in The Lord of the Rings in the destruction of the ring. As Sam says on waking up after being rescued from Mount Doom: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?’ And when Gandalf laughs, the sound fell upon Sam’s ears ‘like the echo of all the joys he had ever known.’
- The Kitchen – the heart of most houses is the kitchen, the place where conversation is exchanged over a boiling kettle. ‘The Pot of Soup, or Cauldron of Stories has always been boiling,’ he writes in ‘On Fairy-Stories’, ‘and to have it continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty’. Perhaps this is why The Hobbit starts with an overcrowded tea party of dwarves and a wizard in Bilbo’s kitchen? We each add to the stock, and he says that it is like the fairy-tale pot that never runs out: ‘Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on.’ There is no worry that the contents are not worthy of our time: ‘The Evangelium [the Gospel] has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending’. So we can sit and eat with pleasure.
- The Study – Tolkien created his fiction in circles of trusted listeners. The first of these was his own family, but he was also inspired by his conversations with his male friends. He belonged to many groups – from the schoolboy TCBS, to the Coalbiters, who met to read Icelandic sagas. However, most famous is the Inklings, a group of friends, all of whom were Christian and included C.S. Lewis, and it was to this circle Tolkien first read extracts The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For Tolkien, fiction was not the solitary pursuit of the isolated artist, but something to be shared with a group of Christian well-wishers. Little wonder that fellowship is one of the key themes in his most famous book.
- The Front Door – The deepest meanings of his fiction come from his faith. Tolkien stated in the foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring that he ‘cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations’ but he preferred ‘history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of reader’. Putting applicability alongside allegory, he concludes ‘one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.’ This is why he is such a welcoming author, an open door, for readers who come to him from a different faith or no-faith background: he is not out to bludgeon them over the head with an allegorical meaning. The deeper themes are there if you want to look. He says in one letter that the fact that he is a Christian, and in fact a Catholic, ‘can be deduced from his stories’. When Frodo cannot destroy the ring on his own strength, when Gandalf returns from the dead, and mercy and love overcome the forces of darkness, we are seeing echoes of the Christian story – and that deduction is deeply satisfying for many readers.
Learn more about the Kickstarter Campaign to purchase the home of J.R.R. Tolkien HERE.
More On The Faith Of J.R.R. Tolkien
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