When one thinks of widely acclaimed books like The Fellowship of the Ring or those from ages long past, often such thoughts are wrought with fondness for the connection these novels have with the reader. In other words, the connection is sprung from the relationship between what the reader has experienced in life and that which is paralleled within the book. This may be in Aragorn reminding one of their father or protective friend, or in Jay Gatsby reminding the reader of that extravagant businessman they newly work under. Relating the text to personal experience is an assuredly valid and fruitful venture in interpreting and connecting with literature. There is, however, another likewise mode of understanding that to not be taken would leave much to be desired. Such is the coupling between reader and author, as opposed to solely reader and text. To learn of the author’s influences and life experiences, as well as the processes that helped create works like the two mentioned above is an avenue duly deserving of attention.
As The Fellowship of the Ring was first mentioned above, so shall we start our investigation into J.R.R. Tolkien’s influences and writing process. It may be reasonably assumed that most who have heard of or read Tolkien know that he wrote The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and also taught at Oxford University. Few know, however, that he was born in South Africa, fought for England in the trenches during World War I, or that he was a well-established academic in the fields of Old English and Linguistics before he wrote his fictional epics (Doughan, 2002). Knowing Tolkien beyond the fact of him being a pipe-smoking academic is undeniably crucial in understanding his place in the works he himself wrote. Knowing that the spider Shelob, the hairy horror that Samwise and Frodo encounter outside Cirith Ungol, was likely born through a similar encounter between young Tolkien and a spider too close for comfort during his time in South Africa, only helps in bringing an already engaging and dramatic scene in The Return of the King to life, seen both textually and through the reader (Doughan, 2002).
Another example of Tolkien’s influence may be seen in Tolkien’s modeling of the Shire upon his childhood experiences growing up in the sleepy, rural community of Sarehole, which was just outside the filthy, industrialized tomb of a city that was Birmingham, England (Doughan, 2002). The water and flour mills of Sarehol undoubtedly found their way into the Shire’s quaint and green-natured landscape. So too did Birmingham, the city in which Tolkien was schooled, find a place in Tolkien’s world of Middle-earth. Isengard, once a place holding the knowledge of the five wizards, soon becomes a hell of industry, fire, and disregard for life seen in the pits of Orcs and fiery blazes raging in the forest. Such has made apparent the importance of events in Tolkien’s childhood. Spiders and rural landscapes and filth-ridden...