The Apprenticeship of J.R.R. Tolkien

Here is a first part of my study of the making of The Lord of the Rings. I had originally envisaged one single book but I have found the way that Tolkien connected and interwove his ideas so subtle and intricate that a couple of months ago I came to the conclusion that I needed to break the whole into three parts. Roughly:

  1. The Hobbit through the Shire to Bree to Weathertop (1938)
  2. What happens on Weathertop
  3. From Weathertop to the end of the story

Weathertop was a turning-point in Tolkien’s composition. When Bilbo’s heir (originally Bingo) is pierced by the weapon of the Ringwraiths he begins to become a wraith, and I have come to the conclusion that Tolkien surprised himself with this turn of events and that his essay On Fairy-stories was the result, providing new ideas about art and magic that resolved to his satisfaction the meaning of Sauron’s forging of the One Ring and the opposition between such dark magic and Elvish enchantment. All this is to be told in the third part.

But just as the hobbits (for Aragorn was then a hobbit named Trotter) approach Weathertop a mention of Elendil building a fort upon this hill in the ancient past shifted the time frame of the story. Where the story was originally set in days of myth, it was suddenly catapulted into the days of history after the destruction of Númenor. To appreciate what is going on here it is necessary to understand the significance of Númenor in Tolkien’s thought, which is the task of the second part of the study, which I have now set out in a short ebook that is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released on August 29, 2018.

This new ebook is a study of Tolkien’s famous allegory of Beowulf as a tower looking over the sea. It shows how Tolkien’s last myth of the Elves, ‘The Fall of Númenor,’ was originally composed to aid his reflections on the Old English poem and shows the intimate connections between his scholarship and his fairy stories. The final section of the book shows how the view from the tower of his 1936 British Academy lecture became a major theme within The Lord of the Rings.