The Plimmers Interview Tolkien, 1968

Excerpts from: Plimmer, Charlotte, and Denis Plimmer. “The Man Who Understands Hobbits.” London Daily Telegraph Magazine (March 22 1968), 31-32, 35.

“‘Spiders,’ observed Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, cradling the word with the same affection that he cradled the pipe in his hand, ‘are the particular terror of northern imaginations.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“Discussing one of his own monsters, a man-devouring, spider-like female, he said, ‘The female monster is certainly no deadlier than the male, but she is different.  She is a sucking, strangling, trapping creature.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“When John Ronald Reuel Tolkien leads you into the cramped garage that serves as library, he leads you at once into the magic and legend of Middle-earth, the three-dimensional cosmology of The Lord of the Rings .  Not that the garage itself is any cave of wonders.  Jammed between the Professor’s own house and the one next door, in an undistinguished Oxford suburb, it would be no more than a banal little room, filled with files and a clutter of garden chairs, if it were not for the man.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“Tolkien, who describes himself as ‘tubby,’ has grey eyes, firm tanned skin, silvery hair and quick decisive speech.  He might have been, fifty years ago, the model of the kindly country squire.  Any hobbit would trust this man, any dragon quail before him, any elf name him friend.  Effortlessly, he compels you to admire as much as–and herein lies his charm–he clearly admires himself.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“Tolkien cultists, though predominately academic and egghead, are not wholly so.  Housewives writes him from Winnipeg, rocket-men from Woomera, pop-singers from Las Vegas.  Ad-men discuss him in London pubs.  Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Poles, Japanese, Israelis, Swedes, Dutch and Danes read him in their own language.  He is also a literary opiate for hippies, who carry his works to their farthest-flung pad, from San Francisco to Istanbul and Nepal.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“‘I never expected a money success,’ said Tolkien, pacing the rooms, as he does constantly when he speaks.  ‘In fact, I never even though of commercial publication when I wrote The Hobbit back in the Thirties.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 31)

“‘I knew no more about the creatures than that, and it was years before his story grew.  I don’t know where the word came from.  You can’t catch your mind out.  It might have been associated with Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt.  Certainly not rabbit, as some people think.  Babbitt has the same bourgeois smugness that hobbits do.  His world is the same limited place.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“Tolkien let a few of his Oxford friends read The Hobbit.  One, a tutor, lent it to a student, Susan Dagnell.  When, some time later, Miss Dagnell joined Allen & Unwin, the publishers, she suggested it as a children’s book.” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“Sir Stanley Unwin, whose competitors called him man when he published the first two volumes in 1954, told us, ‘I was in Japan when the manuscript arrived.  Rayner wrote to say it seemed a big risk.  It would have to be published in three volumes, at a guinea each–this at a time when 18 shillings was top for a best-seller.  But Rayner added, ‘Of course, it’s a work of genius.’  So I cabled him to take it.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“‘Anyone who invents a language,’ he said, ‘finds that it requires a suitable habitation and a history in which it can develop.  A real language is never invented, of course.  It is a natural thing.  It is wrong to call the language you grow up speaking your native language.  It is not.  It is your first learnt language.  It is a by-product of the total make-up of the animal.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“Tolkien’s friend and fellow author, the late C.S. Lewis, ‘was immensely immersed’ in the development of the Ring, but not always mutely admiring.  ‘He used to insist on my reading passages aloud as I finished them, and then he made suggestions.  He was furious when I didn’t accept them.  Once he said, ‘It’s not use trying to influence you, you’re uninfluenable!’  But that wasn’t quite true.  Whenever he said, ‘You can do better than that.  Better, Tolkien, please!’ I used to try.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“Professor Tolkien sold his original 4,200 page typescript of the Ring to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: ‘I wanted the money very badly to buy this house.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“He was born in Bloemfontein in South Africa.  ‘I was three when I was brought to England,’ he said.  ‘After the dry, barren places I had known, I had in a way been ‘trained’ to savour the delicate English flowers and the grass.  I had this strange sense of coming home when I arrived.  The hobbit business began partly as a Sebnsucht for that happy childhood which ended when I was orphaned, at twelve.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“He recalled, ‘As a child, I was always inventing languages.  But that was naughty.  Poor boys must concentrate on getting scholarships.  When I was supposed to be studying Latin and Greek, I studied Welsh and English.  When I supposed to be concentrating on English, I took up Finnish.  I have always been incapable of doing the job in hand.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“‘The book,’ he said, ‘is not about anything but itself.  It has no allegorical intentions, topical, moral, religious or political.  It is not about modern wars or H-bombs, and my villain is not Hitler.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“Must fairy-tales be confined to legendary times and places, or could they be staged in modern settings?  ‘They cannot,’ he said, ‘not if you mean in a modern technological idiom.  The reader must approach Faerie with a willing suspension of disbelief.  If a thing can be technologically controlled, it ceases to be magic.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“He said to us: ‘Believable fairy-stories must be intensely practical.  You must have a map, no matter how rough.  Otherwise you wander all over the place.  In The Lord of the Rings I never made anyone go farther than he could on a given day.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 32)

“It is the appendix, Tolkien things, which has helped trigger the enormous new enthusiasm for the Ring among students in the United States: ‘A lot of it is just straight teen-age stuff.  I didn’t mean it to be, but it’s perfect for them.  I think they’re attracted by things that give verisimilitude.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 35)

“Tolkien received innumerable offers for film rights, musical-comedy rights, TV rights, puppetry rights.  A jigsaw-puzzle company has asked permission to produce a Ring puzzle, a soap-maker to soap-sculpt Ring characters.  Tolkien worshippers are outraged by these crass approaches.  ‘Please,’ wrote a 17-year old-girl, ‘don’t let them make a movie out of your Ring.  It would be like putting Disneyland into the Grand Canyon.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 35)

“He [Tolkien] feels strongly that the Ring should not be filmed: ‘You can’t cramp narrative into dramatic form.  It would be easier to film The Odyssey.  Much less happens in it.  Only a few storms.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 35)

“Some people have criticized the Ring as lacking religion.  Tolkien denies this: ‘Of course God is in The Lord of the Rings.  The period was pre-Christian, but it was a monotheistic world.’  Monotheistic?  Then who was the One God of Middle-earth?  Tolkien was taken aback: “The one, of course!  The book is about the world that God created–the actual world of this planet.’” (Plimmer interview 1968, Daily Telegraph Magazine, 35)

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