Tolkien at The Rebel

Well, left with The Avengers and Pokemon to watch, if you missed Tolkien at the Rebel, you missed a decent film. So many seem to be all action and special effects, that it is good to have a film with an easy to follow storyline. I’m not really into fantasy films, but I do enjoy Lord of the Rings, probably because one of my earliest memories at primary school was of a lovely student teacher who read us a chapter of The Hobbit each Friday afternoon. I was fascinated by Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, and the whole concept of Middle Earth. The biopic film wasn’t well-rated, considered by many to have been a loose account of his life, largely linked to Lord of the Rings references, but to be honest, watching someone write (even a great novelist) does not make a great film.

What surprised me was that I knew nothing about Tolkien, but what an amazing life he led. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned at 12, having moved from rural Sarehole Mill to urban Birmingham. He attended King Edward’s school there and gained a scholarship to Oxford. Born in 1892, Tolkien was an academic specialising in Old and Middle English (which sounds like gibberish to the less gifted among us). I did learn that he is Tolkien, not Tolkein which is how I think I used to spell it (wrongly). He was born in Bloemfontein to his immigrant parents (possibly Baltic or Prussian) and moved to England after his father died from rheumatic fever.

The Tolkien Society mentions how his linguistic imagination was fired in Birmingham:

By then the family had moved to King’s Heath, where the house backed onto a railway lineyoung Ronald’s developing linguistic imagination was engaged by the sight of coal trucks going to and from South Wales bearing destinations like” Nantyglo”,” Penrhiwceiber” and “Senghenydd”.


His mother was received into the Catholic Church (thus disowned by her Baptist family) and Ronald and his brother, Hilary, were both raised as devout Catholics. Father Morgan of the Catholic Oratory was assigned to raise them, after his mother died at 34 of acute diabetes (pre-insulin) when JRR was 12,  leaving the boys destitute.

Ronald was an amazing linguist. He mastered Latin and Greek early on and was competent in many other complex languages, notably Gothic, and later Finnish. For fun, he made up his own languages. He met and later married Edith Bratt who also converted to Catholicism. Tolkien achieved a first-class degree at Oxford, having switched from Classics to English. He eventually enlisted and was involved in the Battle of the Somme where he developed trench fever, eventually returning home. His close school friends, bar one, were killed in action. This is all covered in the film.

He later slipped into life as an Oxford don quite nicely. Family life was straightforward. He and Edith had 2 sons and 1 daughter and lived in north Oxford, later Headington. As for the film, the Tolkien Estate disowned it, which always makes me want to watch something! It is a respectful film about his formative years, detailing how his imagination was fired by his mother who homeschooled the boys. It’s a beautiful tale with many references to his writing therein. His relationship with Edith is portrayed tenderly, and his friendship with his fellow pupils at school is robust, with drunken student jocularity alongside the serious study; the War scenes are sobering. Certainly, the film ends before he really starts his literary career which would have been an interesting inclusion.

Apparently, the estate didn’t like the filming of the Lord of the Rings films, either.



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