This day in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Mable Suffield and Arthur Reuel Tolkien. His father’s name would be the name J.R.R. would become famous under some 60 years later, but his heart was in the ancestral home of the Suffield’s in England’s West Midlands. Mabel and Belladonna Took surely bear some resemblance, and so do the Tolkien’s and the Baggins’, but John Ronald’s sub-creation grew out of the leaf mold of much more than ‘mere biography’.
For John Ronald, the Road started in a windy, dusty yet strangely beautiful foreign country, far away from what would become the home of his heart. It ended in the heart of Oxford, seventy-some years later. And in between, something wonderful grew. Read his Mythopoeia poem to peek behind the scenes.
And for us, the Road still goes on, from the Door where it began to wherever our feet, willing or weary, will eventually lead us.
Happy Birthday, dear John Ronald. And Thank You. You have given us so much…
Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme / of things not found within recorded time.
But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.
No, said Tolkien, they are not.
And indicating the great trees of Magdalen Grove as their branches bent in the wind, he struck out a different line of argument.
You call a tree a tree, and you think nothing more of the word. But it was not a ‘tree’ until someone gave it that name. You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely ho YOU see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.
We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man ascribe to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
In expounding this belief in the inherent TRUTH of mythology, Tolkien had laid bare the center of his philosophy as a writer, the creed that is at the heart of ‘The Silmarillion’.
The account of this conversation is based on Tolkiens poem Mythopoeia, to which he also gave the titles ‘Misomythos’ and ‘Philomythos and Misomythos’. One manuscript is marked ‘for C.S.L.’.
~ Humphrey Carpenter: J.R.R. Tolkien. A Biography.