The New York Times Obituary of J.R.R. Tolkien

Excerpts from “J.R.R. Tolkien Dead at 81; Wrote ‘Lord of the Rings’.” New York Times (September 3 1973), 18.

“It did anything but [flop].  It was just four years later [1965], printed in paperback in this country by Ballantine and Ace Books, that a quarter of a million copies of the trilogy were sold in 10 months.  In the late sixties all over American fan clubs sprouted, such as the Tolkien Society of America, and members of the cult–many of them students–decorated their walls with the maps of Middle-earth.  The trilogy was also published in hard cover by Houghton Mifflin and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.”

Tolkien usually rode a bike–but bought a “stylish car with the success of his books”

“‘I don’t like allegories.  I never liked Hans Christian Anderson because I knew he was always getting at me,’ he said.”

“The trilogy was written, he recalled, to illustrate a 1938 lecture of his at the University of Glasgow on fairy stories.  He admitted that fairy stories were something of an escape, but didn’t see why there should not be an escape form the world of factories, machine guns, and bombs.”

“‘If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth,” Tolkien once said.  His trilogy was filled with his knowledge of geology and botany.”

“His students remember him taking endless pains to interest them.  One recalled that there was something of the hobbit about him.  He walked, she said, ‘as if on furry feet,’ and had an appealing jollity.”

“But World War I had begun, and, at 23, he began service in the Lancashire Fusiliers.  A year later [1916] he married Edith Bratt.”

“The war was said by his friends to have profoundly affected him.  The writer C.S. Lewis insisted that it was reflected in some of the more sinister aspects of his writing and in his heroes’ joy in comradeship.  Tolkien’s regiment suffered heavy casualties and when the war ended, only one of his close friends was still alive.”

“It [The Hobbit] was accepted [because of Lewis’s prodding with the publisher] and the American edition won the Herald Tribune prize as best children’s book.”

“The author always insisted, however, that neither ‘The Hobbit’ nor ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was intended for children.  ‘It’s not even very good for children,’ he said of ‘The Hobbit,’ which he illustrated himself.  ‘I wrote some of it in a style for children, but that’s what they loathe.  If I hadn’t done that, though, people would have thought I was loony.  If you’re a youngish man,’ he told a London reporter, ‘and you don’t want to be made fun of, you say you’re writing for children.’”

“After retirement, he lived on in the Oxford suburb of Headington, ‘working like hell,’ he said, goaded to resume his writing on a myth fo the Creation and Fall called ‘The Silmarillion,’ which he had begun even before his trilogy.  As he said in an interview a few years ago, ‘A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.’”

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