Monday, March 22, 2010

J.R.R. Tolkien trivia

I was going to say "Mental Health Break", but that's a bit of a sore subject of late. But as a change of pace (and to lighten the mood), here's some trivia about the man and his work:

Only two of the seven ring bearers voluntarily gave up the ring:
Sauron (amputated finger)
Isildur (killed)
Déagol (killed)
Sméagol/Gollum (robbed by Bilbo, fell into fires of Mt. Doom)
Bilbo (gave ring to Frodo)
Frodo (robbed by Sméagol/Gollum)
Sam Gamgee (took ring when Frodo was poisoned by Shelob, gave ring back to him)
Tolkien received a letter in March 1956 from a Mr. Sam Gamgee of Brixton Rd, London, asking how he came up with the name for the character. Tolkien sent him a letter that began and ended:
Dear Mr. Gamgee,

It was very kind of you to write. You can imagine my astonishment when I saw your signature! I can only say, for your comfort I hope, that the 'Sam Gamgee' of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic.


I do not suppose you could be bothered to read so long and fantastic a work, especially if you do not care for stories about a mythical world, but if you could be bothered, I know that the work (which has been astonishingly successful) is in most public libraries. It is alas! very expensive to buy - £3/3/0. But if you or any of your family try it, and find it interesting enough, I can only say that I shall be happy and proud to send you a signed copy of all 3 volumes, as a tribute from the author to the distinguished family of Gamgee.
Yrs sincerely
J.R.R. Tolkien
It turned out that Mr. Gamgee had not read the books, and so Tolkien sent him a signed set of volumes. I wonder how much they'd sell for at auction.

Samwise Gamgee was my favorite character in the books. Astonishing is one of my favorite adjectives.

The Lord Of The Rings is the second highest selling work of fiction in history (150 million units sold), behind Charles Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities (200 million sold). Astonishing, indeed.

In 1965, Tolkien received a letter from a certain Zillah Sherring, who had bought a copy of The Fifth Book of Thucydides in a second hand bookstore in Salisbury (Wiltshire). In it, she found an inscription in a strange script that someone had written there. The book also had Tolkien's name, and so she wrote to him, sending a transcript of the characters and asking him if he knew what it said. He replied that that had in fact been his book during the first decade of the century, and that the writing was ancient Gothic. He had made some translation mistakes in the transcription, which he kindly corrected for her.

I wonder how much that book would be worth at auction?

Tolkien was famous for speaking very rapidly. Here he is in an interview with the BBC in the late 1960s.

My least favorite part of the books was the songs, which I skipped over. Tolkien, of course, loved the songs, and placed great emphasis on them. Unlike me, he could recite them, and his rapid-fire way of speaking shifted into a proper dramatic style when he did:

The stories of the letters are from (of course), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (p 244 and 356, respectively). Why yes, I am a geek.


WoFat said...

This may not be the place for this, but anyway: My new novel- Murder For The Love Of Cops - is now availlable at

Anyone liking cop novels might have a look. Thanks. If you don't take ads like this, BP, my feelings won't be hurt.

Long time Tolkien fan.

Borepatch said...

WoFat, I'm happy to flog your book here. ;-)

wolfwalker said...

There are worse things to be than a geek.

Borepatch said...

Wolfwalker, I wear it as a badge of honor. ;-)

Jack'o'all Trades said...

So, your insight into Tolkien's love of the songs in his stories go me thinking of something tremendously humorous (at least to me) and in a round about way linked to JayG's post about William Shatner's Birthday...

I present:

Leonard Nimoy singing about Bilbo Baggins!

Best Regards!

WoFat said...



ASM826 said...

Bored of the Rings. Harvard Lampoon's parody of Lord of the Rings. Consistently funny. I read it 30 years ago, but I still remember parts of the story, we used read parts of it aloud to each other and laugh until we cried.

Atom Smasher said...

"Letters" is awesomely cool. My copy is on loan, and I miss it.

JP said...

Thank you for this post. I love Tolkien's work and this is information I had never seen before.

Borepatch said...

ASM826, Bored of the Rings is a guilty pleasure indeed. Emphasis on "guilty".

Atom Smasher, what's impressive is how often he has to tell people this isn't allegory. He's too polite to add so knock it off but you get the feeling he wants to.

No extra charge, JP. ;-)

Jay G said...

Wow. Now THAT is geeky.

Yep. You are my blogson...


Atom Smasher said...

I have a few posts about LOTR at MANP:

Just me yakking a bit; no useful links or media.