Where did The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit come from? Are they exclusively medieval and nostalgic in their inspiration? Was J.R.R. Tolkien ’stuck in the past’ and dismissive of modern culture, as is commonly assumed? In fact, as I discovered in my research, he enjoyed a broad range of contemporary works and even named specific modern sources upon Middle-earth. In Tolkien’s Modern Reading, I show that he brought to the workings of his fantastic imagination a deep knowledge of both the facts and the fictions of the modern world.
On the Word on Fire Academic page for Tolkien’s Modern Reading, you can find a lot more about the book, including interviews with me about my findings, and what early readers have said about it
You’ll also find there my “Tour of Tolkien” – 19 videos giving a preview of what’s in the book, all done “on location” at various Tolkien-related sites in the UK! Here’s the first video in the series, giving an overview of the book.
What’s in the other 18 videos?
We visit Birmingham to look at the earliest artifact of Tolkien’s childhood in South Africa, as well as to consider his connection to the Birmingham Oratory, and we visit the young Tolkien’s neightborhood in Birmingham (where we find the site of the “Inglesant House,” the home of an author who was significant to Tolkien), and the Plough & Harrow hotel, to trace a link with William Morris.
In Oxford, we get a view of the Dreaming Spires and trace the Matthew Arnold connection that inspired the book’s cover; we visit the “Dragon School” in Oxford and his home on Northmoor Road to consider his reading of children’s literature, and the River Cherwell to make a connection with The Wind in the Willows.
We stop at the Oxford Union, the Oxford college of Christ Church, and the Bodleian Library, to consider Tolkien’s reading as both a student and a professor (and discover that he translated a Lewis Carroll poem into Elvish). At the Eagle & Child pub we talk about the intriguing figure of the poet Roy Campbell, and at Holywell Cemetery and Holy Trinity Headington Quarry, we trace the important literary connections between Tolkien and his fellow Inklings, Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis (the latter with an intriguing connection to Treebeard and the Ents!).
A side journey to Beaconsfield takes us to the grave of G.K. Chesterton, and to consider how Tolkien appreciated the writings both of those who shared his faith and those who didn’t. Back in Oxford, we visit the Eastgate Hotel (where Tolkien lunched with Arthur C. Clarke) to learn more about his love of science fiction; we stop by Merton College to consider his reading of American authors; and we wrap up our ‘Tour of Tolkien’ by paying our respects at his grave in Wolvercote Cemetery, where we consider the literary significance of the “Beren and Lúthien” inscription on the headstone which he shares with his beloved wife Edith.
All these videos can be found here! (And every author and connection that I mention in the videos is covered in Tolkien’s Modern Reading… plus a lot more.)