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Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Broadcaster, musician, song writer, tea drinker and curry lover.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Jack & Tollers

Having discovered the joy of reading over the last 18 months or so, the latest book I have finished (literally minutes before writing this, in fact) was Humphrey Carpenter's excellent biography of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Great though it was I could not help but feel a sense of sadness as I read though the account of the author's life. having read several years ago George Sayer's wonderful account of the life of C.S. Lewis ("Jack"), with whom Tolkein was for many years a close friend and literary ally, there is a marked comparison to the perceived atmosphere around both men.

Lewis undoubtedly endured hardships aplenty in his life, including a somewhat difficult childhood and youth, not to mention the death through cancer of his wife Joy Davidman in later years, but the impression one gets when reading "Jack", despite all of this, is one of celebration, achievement and satisfaction.

When it comes to Tolkein, he also experienced hardships when young, but most of the sadness and dissatisfaction it seems comes from his own inability to finish his major works to his own satisfaction.

The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (NOR a trilogy according to the author, neither - he was at pains to point out was it allegory) and particularly his earlier work The Silmarillion suffered from endless revisions, rewritings, numerous manuscripts and versions to the extent that the author sometimes was unable to remember which manuscript represented his most recent version.

Lord Of The Rings took some 16 years to finish, and even then it wasn't completed properly, since an index of elf names promised in volume 1 never materialized, prompting an apology in early editions of volume 3.

This failure to ever - seemingly - be satisfied with the end product of Tolkein's work appeared to attach itself to the author's later life, in which he complained of an unfulfilled and sometimes boring post-retirement lifestyle. Maybe he also lacked the level of intellectually stimulating company that he needed.

Nonetheless, two very differing impressions are left of two very great authors, and it was sad to come away from such a great read on the life of Tolkein feeling some measure of sadness for the man who, maybe in his own estimation, never quite got there. Wherever THERE was, of course!

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