Thoughts on Tolkien’s World and Creativity

J. R. Tolkien was an English academic. He finished university, then served in World War I, getting sent home to recover from trench fever.

He became a professor at Oxford University and was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis.  I’m linking to a Learnist board about Tolkien, to which we will add as a class.

Tolkien’s story of creativity is an interesting one.  He reported that one day he wrote the following: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”   Then, he stated, he became determined to discover just what a hobbit was.

Creativity often follows similar paths–we get an idea, we put it off or we develop it, and something emerges.  So many ideas start with a solid spark that dies out because we fail to execute them.  It could have gone this way for Tolkien, too.

This quarter, we will examine the life and times of Tolkien, who was humbled by his success but at the same time taken off guard that his work was adopted by much of the 1950’s beatnik and 60’s counterculture.

Critical Questions:

1. How do human themes like “the seven deadly sins” fit into this trilogy?

2. Do the archetypes (representations/character types) of these characters fit into other stories?

3. What is the role of language and structure in this work? (Recall: Tolkien was a linguist. He created entire linguistically correct languages for this trilogy–“elvish” is a language  in the scientific definition of the word)

4. We will look at selections from the written text, which Tolkien wrote at “an elementary school level.”  Do you consider this to be an elementary school level today? Why or why not? What does that say about literacy today? What suggestions would you make to correct this?

5. Tokien created these master works because he had an idea “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” and he executed on that idea–he decided to discover just what a hobbit was.  Give an example of an idea you have had that you began to develop or put aside.  How could you better develop that idea into a solid innovation?

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