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Tolkein in 1916

If Enid Blyton’s celebration of the English countryside was in addition to her main subjects, it seems to have been the very stuff of J R R Tolkien’s increasingly celebrated description of a triumph, also of youthful and innocent forces over wickedness, but of a very different sort. His Trilogy of the Ring became a cult when it was published in the fifties, though I must confess I had not heard of it while at school. At Oxford though, where Tolkien spent much of his life as a Professor of Old English, many undergraduates adored it, and were scornful that I knew nothing of the work. Carried away however by other concerns, I only caught up with it when I was back home.

It was a gripping story, in three parts, with a prologue called The Hobbit which introduces Bilbo Baggins, one of the homely race of Hobbits which lived in the shires, clearly meant to evoke England’s green and pleasant land. Bilbo had acquired possession of a mysterious ring, which turns out to be the Ring of Power, sought by the evil Sauron to set the seal on his mastery of the world. Standing against him is the wise wizard Gandalf, who convinces Bilbo that the Ring must be destroyed. Unfortunately it is almost indestructible, and has to be thrown into the fires where it was forged to be got rid of, a task that is undertaken by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo.

The first book in the trilogy is entitled The Fellowship of the Ring, a group that includes elves and dwarfs as well as humans, which allows for some entertainment because of their rivalries. Rapidly however the story gets darker, as Sauron’s power increases, aided and abetted by the corrupted wizard Saruman who has been overcome by a lust for power himself. Though he sees himself as Sauron’s rival, his efforts to get hold of the Ring and destroy the forces of good, in particular Gandalf, increase Sauron’s power too.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2010
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