Originally posted on the Barrow Downs, these are my contributions to that definitive guide to Tolkien studies, the F.A.Q.E.

The idea of tying fates together with binder string dates back to the reign of Tar-Sumuwin the Absent Minded, who was terrified that his destiny would be lost. He changed his mind when he discovered that his destiny was to get lost on a voyage from Umbar to Mithlond and sail around in circles until everyone was dead. By then, of course, it was too late.

Should two fates prove incompatible, they can be separated quite simply with a Mithril pocket knife or the mystic device known as nál scissar. That a sheet of cartridge paper can do the same thing if walked around three times anti-clockwise beneath the stars is a profoundly idiotic superstition.

Where can I find out more about Middle-earth?

British Library Cotton Vespasian F.CLXVI contains a Latin account, probably translated from Greek, of a journey through what appears to be a part of Eriador made by a group of early ascetic monks. Although its primary interest is in contrasting the eternal joys of Heaven and the ephemeral pleasures of eating mushrooms, it makes for pleasant reading nevertheless.

Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 999 is a heavily condensed account of the events described in The Lord of the Rings, which nonetheless mentions several details that are omitted by the Red Book of Westmarch. Most interesting among these is an account of the actions of Sharkey’s ruffians after they left the Shire. According to this version of events, they used what little money they had left to buy into a pyramid scheme introduced to them by “a certain lord of the Longbeard Dwarves, who appeared to them mounted upon a great wyrm”. Although several lines are illegible at this point, the narrative resumes with the narrator’s account of the last ragged survivor’s rambling lament, so perhaps profits were lower than expected.

Alternatively, you can find some links at Philip Pullman’s personal website. He’s always happy to answer questions about Middle-earth from enthusiasts, particularly novices.

Are there any more books in the series?

Yes. A trilogy of novels was released in 1968-9, entitled The Lord of Gifts, The Shadow in the East and The Last Alliance. These three prequels are not widely known, since most fans hold them to be vastly inferior to The Lord of the Rings. These are sometimes referred to as ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship’, and in a satirical reference to this phrase, the chapter of LotR originally known as The Parting of the Ways was renamed in the 1975 Swedish edition. The change was taken up in all future publications.

Who began the first ‘who’s your favourite?’ thread?

Hercules Athelred Grimthorpe of 12 Waterloo Gardens, Churston Magna, Wiltshire. It was begun not long after the publication of the first edition of The Hobbit in 1921, and began with a letter to the editor of The Salisbury Gazette.

I’ve heard that Elvish is based on real languages. Is that true?

Elvish (more accurately Balearic) was influenced by four human languages: Navajo, Old French, Afrikaans and Aramaic.

Who were the Inklings?

They were an obscure group of Icelandic Marxists, who published a radical left-wing newspaper between 1947 and 1950. When they were eventually arrested for stealing paper clips, a copy of Farmer Giles of Ham was found among the furnishings of their camper van. Due to this association, the book was banned in several European countries, the last to lift the restriction being Luxembourg in 1987.

Are there any translations of the Elvish poetry on the web?

No, but Galadriel’s song in Farewell to Lórien roughly means

I dreamed a dream next Tuesday week
Beneath the apple trees
I dreamed my eyes were two pork pies
And my nose was Stilton cheese
The clock struck twenty minutes to six
When a frog sat on my knee
I asked him to lend me eighteenpence
But he borrowed a shilling of me.

The verbatim use of this anonymous nonsense rhyme suggests that its author may have been J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

Did Tolkien know C.S. Lewis?

They did meet once at a meeting of the Oxfordshire Mothers Union. Both had got the wrong evening for a lecture on the development of the Arthurian tradition in medieval French romance. Owing to the obvious embarrassment of the situation, they avoided each other studiously for the remainder of their careers.

How long did it take Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings?

Its length is deceptive, since Tolkien was a genius. It took him thirteen weeks to write and a further month to revise for publication. It would have taken less time, but he originally wrote it in Hebrew and had to translate.

Are any of the locations in Middle-earth based on real places?

Yes. Gondolin is a pastiche of the picturesque Berkshire village of Staines; Tol Eressëa is Manhattan Island, and Barad-dûr is intended to represent the Eiffel Tower.

Where can I find a copy of Tolkien’s letters?

Tolkien’s letters are unpublished. Some people were lucky enough to receive letters from him, but most of the quotations you will see on the internet have been made up to win arguments.

What is the Silmarillion?

It’s a detailed sylistic critique of a progressive rock group, and was originally entitled Silly Marillion. The corruption is due to a typographical error in the first edition that was never corrected.

I’ve heard that Tolkien was interested in Old English: what is that?

Old English is old-fashioned or long-winded English, such as you will find in nineteenth-century legal journals. Tolkien liked the style because it made it more difficult for people to understand what he was saying.

On what date was Frodo’s birthday?

January the eighteenth. This is the Feast of St. Spurius in the Julian calendar.

I’ve seen a book called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with Tolkien’s name on the cover: what is that?

Sadly, when an author reaches Tolkien’s stature he acquires many imitators; and some are unscrupulous enough to use his name to promote their own fiction. E.V. Gordon was such a man, and his lightweight fairy-tale about the king of the land of Blancmangia and his transformation into a beetle was mistakenly attributed to Tolkien for decades.

Why ‘Middle-earth’?

In Magdalen College (actually pronounced Muslin Collage), the Senior Common Room and Junior Common Room lie on opposite sides of the main building. C.S. Lewis’ rooms, being placed directly between them, constituted a ‘middle hearth’ (all these rooms were heated by fireplaces). Being a family man, Tolkien quickly came to regard the bachelor’s study as a fairy-tale wonderland, in which knocking out one’s pipe on the furniture, drinking dangerous amounts of crusted port and belching names from Norse literature were permissible. Lewis’ marriage therefore constituted a threat to this escape route, which is why his wife became the model for Sauron.

On which academic subjects did Tolkien publish?

His scholarly works include A Post-Structuralist Analysis of Sino-Japanese Military Law 1804-1912 (1924), The Existentialism of Beatrix Potter (1931), Geoffrey of Monmouth: Pioneer of Historical Realism (1942) and Arthur’s Economic Policy: a Numismatic Reconsideration (1949). He was also one of the contributors to Eustacia Psmyth’s pioneering work: Demn’d Elusive: Baroness Orczy and the Theology of the Early Orthodox Church (1951). Much of this work was so ground-breaking that scholarship has yet to catch up with it.

What was the TCBS?

These initials stand for ‘Tripe Crumble, Beans and Sprouts’. This was Tolkien’s favourite item on the menu of R.N. Dill’s Cafe, Birmingham. While still a boy, he formed a secret society based on the appreciation of this unusual delicacy.


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