Thursday, 19 September 2013

JRR Tolkien died 40 years ago this month

In September 1973 JRR Tolkien died. The creator of the Lord of the Ring trilogy was well known in North Staffordshire. His eldest son John was the parish priest at Hartshill and led the funeral service for his father. John Tolkien commented that his father was last in Stoke in Easter and had spent many Christmas’s at the presbytery. The Sentinel carried a picture of JRR sitting on a bench at Kibblestone Scout camp taken in the early 70s.

 He did have strong connections with Staffordshire predating John’s position as a local priest as he lived in Great Haywood in 1916 while convalescing from wounds received whilst fighting on the Somme.

Tolkien’s reputation as the creator of Middle Earth and the Hobbits remains very high nearly 40 years after his death. In 2003 in the BBC Big Read survey the Lord of the Rings was voted Britain’s best-loved book. I read the book in 1975 appropriately enough besides the fjords of Norway.

Tolkien did claim in a radio interview in the 50s that he also knew the Leek area and that a boy he stayed in Leek with his parents at the George Hotel. The hotel was demolished in the late 60s.

An intriguing question exists over the medieval poem “ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” written, it is alleged by someone who knew Leek and the Roaches well. Tolkien worked on the translation of the poem in the 20s

 The first references to Lud’s Church being associated with the Green Chapel, to my knowledge, only happen after the publication of a letter by Professor RWV Eliot’s to the Times on 21st May 1958. He linked the poem with the Cistercian Abbey of Dieulacres beside the River Churnet about 1 mile from Leek. Some however believe that JRR also knew the legend.

The creator of the Lord of the Rings trilogy remained proud of his West Midlands associations. In a letter to the “New York Times” Tolkien described the geographic inspiration for the books the third and final volume of which was to be published in October 1955.

“ I am a West Midlander at home only in the counties upon the Welsh Marches; and it is I believe , as much due to descent as to opportunity than Anglo Saxon and Western Middle English and alliterative verse have a childhood attraction and my main professional sphere”