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AutoMatters & More: ‘Tolkien’ – The Formative Years of the Author of ‘The Hobbit’

Movie poster
The movie poster for “Tolkien.” Courtesy

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien may be best known as the author of the books “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of The Rings” – rich, wonder-filled, intricately woven, epic and brilliant tales of fantasy and adventure. He envisioned and illustrated a world populated by wizards, hobbits, dragons and mythical beings that represent the best and most inspirational aspects of human nature, including our love of quests, self-sacrifice, strength that comes from camaraderie, and the hope that good, in the end, will defeat evil. He was a creative genius.

“Tolkien” (pronounced “TOL-KEEN”) paints an exquisitely visual and linguistic story, from childhood, of J.R.R. Tolkien. We learn about his transition from being an imaginative but sad loner, to becoming one of the most celebrated and beloved authors of fantasy that our world has ever known. His early life’s deeply tragic experiences, his artistic, creative talents and the unwavering support of his friends and mentors, helped mold him into a prolific and beloved author of a vast body of literary works. His is an inspiring story of one man’s courage in the face of potentially overwhelming adversity.

Film photo
(From L-R): Anthony Boyle, Tom Glynn-Carney, Patrick Gibson and Nicholas Hoult in the film Tolkien. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

While knowledge of, and familiarity with, his vast body of work will no doubt give you an even greater enjoyment of, and appreciation for “Tolkien,” that is by no means a necessary prerequisite.

Insightfully directed by Dome Karukoski (of Finland, and a huge Tolkien fan from a young age), and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford, “Tolkien” is set in early 20th century England, during the time leading up to, during and following World War I.

Tolkien was very young when his father passed away. The family had to leave their home in South Africa, which Tolkien loved.

Living in the literal and figurative darkness that they would endure in England, he was comforted by the wondrous tales of fantasy that were vividly and enthusiastically told to him and his brother by their loving and devoted mother. Her stories imparted to him an appreciation for, knowledge of and fascination with language and literature.

Sadly, she passed at the age of 36 from untreated diabetes (there was no insulin at that time), leaving Tolkien and his brother as orphans to be cared for as wards of the Catholic Church, represented by Father Francis Morgan (Irish actor Colm Meaney, from TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). Thus, orphaned at the age of 12, Tolkien would have to overcome the potentially devastating adversity of losing both of his parents, being penniless and far from his native South Africa.

Lily Collins
Lily Collins, who portrays Edith Bratt, in the film Tolkien. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) found strength and motivation from the unwavering support of a fellow orphan named Edith Bratt (talented English-American actress Lily Collins, daughter of musician Phil Collins), with whom he would fall in love; three dear friends and fellow artists: Robert Gibson, Christopher Wiseman and Geoffrey Smith who, together with Tolkien formed a brotherhood and a secret club that they called the “Tea Club and Barrovian Society” (TCBS) to change the world through the power of art; and his steadfastly uncompromising mentor Father Morgan. Together they encouraged and contributed to Tolkien’s lifelong journey of scholarly, artistic and literary creativity.

Despite his humble circumstances as a penniless orphan, Tolkien was nevertheless educated at the prestigious King Edward’s School in Birmingham, and at Oxford, thanks to his extraordinary abilities, diligence and hard work; and the kindness, support and generosity of others. He wrote and illustrated stories of fantastic journeys that we take to prove ourselves, bringing together adventure, friendship, fellowship, loyalty, love, war, courage, loss, vision, inspiration and wonder. A skilled linguist, Tolkien spoke in Old English and invented languages.

Tolkien Director
Tolkien Director Dome Karukoski and Lily Collins. David Appleby

When situations were at their darkest, Tolkien imagined a world of fantasy, escaping ever so briefly to magical times and places. That helped him to survive, despite the odds that were at times stacked heavily against him. He nearly died in the Battle of the Somme.

Contrary to what one might expect, given the horrors and utter brutality of WWI trench warfare that we are shown in disturbing detail, “Tolkien” is on balance a beautifully crafted, deeply emotive movie that will lift up your spirits and give you hope for the future, no matter how bleak a prospect that may seem at times.

Dragon battlefield
Tolkien imagining a dragon on the WWI battlefield. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

To see a trailer, visit www.foxsearchlight.com/tolkien, and to see additional photos, visit www.drivetribe.com, click on the magnifying glass, select “POSTS” and enter “AutoMatters & More #589” in their search bar. Please send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2019 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #589r2