7 Little Known Facts About J.R.R. Tolkien

Hated industrial England, owned cars.

While his feelings about industrialization are pretty apparent, cough Isengard cough, Tolkien did own a car for a short period of time. He purchased a Morris Cowley in 1932, which he named “Jo.” A few years later he replaced Jo with a new car, creatively named “Jo 2.”

Tolkien was not a good driver; on an early visit to his sister he knocked down part of a stone wall. However, he was brazen, speeding down Oxford streets with little concern for other drivers or pedestrians, crying “Charge ’em and they scatter!”

By the start of the second World War, Tolkien gave up driving, as rationing had begun. Around the same time, he noticed the damage that cars did to the landscape and never drove again, which gave rise to his more well known negative views on cars.

His LoTR is different from yours.

Tolkien never wrote three Lord of the Rings books. What he wrote, in his mind, is a single work instead of a trilogy. A 473,000 word-long work, roughly the same as reading “Fahrenheit 451” 11 times consecutively.

Because of this, he was certain that his work could never be filmed, but ended up selling the film rights anyway.

Of those involved with the Peter Jackson films, Christopher Lee was the only one to have ever met the author. Tolkien thought Lee could fit the role of Saruman well, although Lee always wanted to play Gandalf. Lee makes a point of re-reading the novels yearly.

As for other characters, Tolkien considered himself most alike to Faramir, thought of Samwise as the true hero, and considered Tom Bombadil unimportant (obviously). Additionally, he always thought of Lord of the Rings as a Christian work, which makes sense because he was:

More religious than CS Lewis.

“More so than C.S. Lewis? But he wrote the books about lion-Jesus!” Slow down for a second. Lewis became an atheist when he was 15, only to have Tolkien persuade him to become Christian after long discussions.

Despite his conversion of Lewis, Tolkien never agreed with his choice of the Anglican church over Catholicism. You see, Tolkien was so Catholic that he walked out of a mass that he felt was too informal.

Church where tolkien was married
The church where Tolkien was married.

The reason for his devotion stems from his mother, Mabel Tolkien, who converted to Catholicism, for which the family cut her off from their money. This led to complications with her diabetes, leading to her death four years after she converted. In later life, Tolkien called it “a disease hastened by the persecution of her faith.”

As an orphan, the Catholic church raised and schooled him, leading to his status as:

A language geek.

His mother taught him Latin, French and German; in school he learned Middle and Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Italian, Greek, Old Norse, Spanish, Medieval and Modern Welsh. Of those, four are considered “dead” languages.

Tolkien enjoyed the dead ones especially, working to recreate them. He even wrote a poem in Gothic, the first written work in the language in over a millennium. Readers familiar with his work know that he invented languages, such as elvish, for fun. In total, he created at least 20 languages and had developed more still.

An example of Tolkien’s Elvish script.

As for other languages, Tolkien was familiar with Dutch, Danish, Lombardic (another dead one), Norwegian, Russian, Serbian and Swedish, as well as other historical forms of Germanic and Slavic languages. In total, Tolkien worked with 50 some languages.

He fought in the trenches of WWI.

During the first World War, Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme, where nearly a million died. As a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, he was in several assaults on German trenches.

In order to communicate with his wife, the pair needed a way to get around wartime censors, so Tolkien encoded his letters in such a way that his wife Edith could track him through Europe. Eventually, he had to return to England due to health issues from lice. His entire unit was wiped out upon his return.

When we watch the war scenes in the films or read them in the novels, Tolkien’s experiences shine through. In fact, although many think of the Lord of the Rings as heavily influenced by World War II, Tolkien disagreed with such thought, instead pointing to the first one.

Hated hippies.

Hippies loved the Lord of the Rings, especially the free-spirited hobbits who smoked “pipe weed” constantly. Tolkien referred to these people as a “deplorable cultus” and removed his phone number from public listings after several late-night calls from fans.

Remember, he called Tom Bombadil “unimportant” for a reason.

Again, he was super Catholic. This is one reason why he wrote The Silmarillion, as an attempt to explain the creation myth of Middle Earth in a Judeo-Christian manner. The adoption of his works by the hippie subculture kept his works from gaining influence as fast as they should.

Not racist.

One major criticism of Lord of the Rings is over race, with some critics pointing out the skin tones of certain in-universe races, such as orcs. Western dualism-based morality (light versus dark) aside, Tolkien was not racist. In fact, he absolutely hated “that ruddy little ignoramus Adolph Hitler” and felt that he could make a better soldier the second time due to this.

Later, Tolkien wrote in a letter on apartheid in South Africa, saying: “The treatment of color nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain.”