Tolkien at Exeter College by John Garth

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Tolkien at Exeter College

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien at Exeter College
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

John Garth provides in-depth biographical detail about J. R. R. Tolkien’s undergrad years at Exeter College.

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Review

At 64 pages and bound more like a brochure than a book, Tolkien at Exeter College is a concise overview of J. R. R. Tolkien’s undergrad years, perfect for those readers who always long to know more about one of their literary heroes. It works as a supplement to John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, which focuses on how WWI shaped Tolkien’s literary works, and so does not dwell at length on Tolkien’s time in school. The stories of Tolkien’s undergrad social life are amusing, but the wealth of images, including sketches by Tolkien, will be the key attraction for many Tolkien fans.

Because Tolkien at Exeter College focuses on only a few year’s in the author’s life, the book admittedly may not be for casual Tolkien fans. They may want to start with a book like Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, which attempts to cover Tolkien’s entire life, or with Garth’s own Tolkien and the Great War, which combines biography with astute literary analysis. However, for those who already know a good deal about Tolkien’s life, but always wondered more about his early days, Tolkien at Exeter College is a treasure indeed.

The focus here is not really on Tolkien’s authorial development, although some of his sketches, as well as some of his writings for his school’s clubs are included. Notable is his account of a meeting that he recounts in a satirical manner, as if it were an epic battle. But readers should not hope to find much about Middle-earth or Hobbits here. That is largely in the future. Rather, they can enjoy learning more about Tolkien’s personality–he really more sociable, and more wild, than the famous photo of him smoking a pipe in his older years might suggest.

Tolkien at Exeter College will be welcomed by any reader who can never get enough of Tolkien. It deals with a small interlude in Tolkien’s life, but the detail it uncovers is precisely the kind treasured by avid fans. John Garth does an excellent job of drawing attention to a period in Tolkien’s life that not all biographers are interested in addressing, more concerned as they are with Tolkien’s work on Midlde-earth.

4 stars

The Most Impactful Scenes from Tolkien

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Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! See the full schedule of posts here.

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The Most Impactful Scenes from the Works of JRR Tolkien

We asked our followers:

What do you think one of the most impactful or moving scenes from Tolkien’s work is? Why?


Sammie @ The Writerly Way

I read Tolkien when I was around 11, but “The Ent and the Entwife” always just hit home for me. So much so that I memorized it right after reading it. I was really big into poetry at that point, so I loved the structure and flow of the poem in itself, but if you sit back and really think about the content? And the fact that it’s been so long since the Ents have seen any Entwives? It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I could totally relate to wanting someone to come back and having them be completely lost to you. The overall story in Lord of the Rings felt like one that brought you to the brink of despair and tested your hope, but never truly extinguished it. But for the Ents and Entwives? It never felt like there was any hope. Just regret and longing. Somewhere along the way, they had lost the compromise the poem promised, by being unyielding and stubborn. And that was why it stood out so much against the rest of the story: because it seemed like there was never any chance for a happy ending.

Krysta @ Pages Unbound

Sam’s discovery of Frodo’s paralyzed body in Cirith Ungol moves me every time. Sam sees himself primarily as a servant, one whose role is to help his master succeed. When he sees Frodo lying seemingly dead, Sam believes that he has failed. So accustomed to seeing himself as a helper rather than a hero, Sam does not even know what he should do. Surely he is not good enough, not brave enough, not strong enough to take up the Ring and destroy it himself. But, finally, he decides to do so, reasoning that there is no one left to finish the Quest. Sam possesses such humility, he needs to give himself permission to take up Frodo’s burden. There is, for him, never a question of whether he should turn back because he is scared–only whether he would be “putting himself forward” taking on great matters all alone. But he knows the right thing and he is willing to do it, no matter the cost.

Notably, once Sam realizes that Frodo is not dead, but only paralyzed, he immediately knows his new path: he has to save Frodo. His love for Mr. Frodo is so great that Sam becomes, after Bilbo, the only person to wear the Ring and then willingly give it up. Sam understands that he does not need world domination. To be happy, he only needs a bit of garden to call his own and his own two hands. Sam’s great humility and great love always stand to me in these scenes. They are the two qualities that make him the true hero of the story.

Anonymous

(based on the movie) I usually find the end of The Return of the King the most moving, especially after watching all three films in a row. I haven’t finished reading the book, yet, but expect the feeling would be the same. You kind of feel like you’ve made the whole journey along with the Fellowship, and the sense of reaching the journey’s end seems like something you share with the characters. I also like the scene where Aragorn tells the Hobbits, “My friends, you bow to no one.” He is one of the most powerful and respected people in the land, and he is acknowledging their service. And that is a moving thing to witness.

Why The Fellowship of the Ring is Worth Reading (Guest Post by Elli @ NeedtoRead)

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

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Why The Fellowship of the Ring Is Worth Reading

A beautifully-written book about wizards, elves, hobbits, and a treacherous journey to save the world.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure, Fiction

Summary

The One Ring holds a power that could destroy their entire civilization, if it gets back to its master. The only way to stop it is to destroy it. But doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds. The adventure starts with two hobbits, Frodo and Sam, who set off on an journey to bring the One Ring to Mount Doom in Mordor, the only place where it can be destroyed.


When I first decided to read The Fellowship of the Ring, I was intimidated.

I’d tried reading the book before, but it always took so long to get through the beginning. I also had other books that I wanted/needed to read, and I thought that The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t worth my time.

But a few weeks ago I decided that I was going to commit to reading it. I wasn’t going to read anything else until I finished it, and I was going to push through the boredom no matter how much I wanted to stop.

Now I realize that I was wrong: reading The Fellowship of the Ring was definitely worth it.

From the beginning of the book, the reader’s attention is grabbed. You right away become interested in Bilbo and Frodo, the most mysterious hobbits in the Shire. Frodo was an orphan when he was taken in by Bilbo, and they both share a love for adventure that most hobbits don’t have.

But something fishy is going on; it seems that Bilbo’s Eleventy-First (One Hundred and Eleventh) birthday party is going to be different from the usual. At the end, Bilbo disappears into thin air while giving a speech.

Frodo is left with Bilbo’s Ring,and doesn’t know how much power it holds until years later, when the wizard Gandalf tells him of its magic and what danger Frodo is in while he has it.

You are introduced to many different characters, many of whom have a bigger part in the story within the next two books, in addition to their roles in the first one. The Fellowship is comprised of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry the hobbits, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, Boromir and Aragorn the men, and Gandalf the wizard.

Sam Gamgee is the most lovable character, in my opinion. He vows to follow Frodo wherever he may go and is always by Frodo’s side as a loyal friend and companion.

The hobbits are underestimated because of their size, but they show true signs of bravery when the Fellowship is in peril. All four of them, especially Frodo, grow and mature as time goes on.

I know that I said this book is overly-descriptive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You are able to imagine settings in immense detail, as if you were there yourself. You can almost feel the grass under your feet and hear the trees swaying in the wind.

There’s something beautiful about the way it’s written, a sense of adventure that keeps readers turning the pages. After reading it, I decided to watch the movie again, as well, which is also definitely worth watching (if you haven’t already).

There is a lot of plain walking around and background information given in this book, since the journey to Mount Doom is just beginning. But you have to get through it to be able to experience more action in the next two books.

Though it is slow-moving, The Fellowship of the Ring is a great start to The Lord of the Rings. If you are a Tolkien fan and haven’t read it yet, then I highly recommend starting it today.

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About the Author

Elli is a Canadian blogger who wants to share her love of writing and literature by posting about books on her blog, NeedtoRead. She enjoys reading through Pages Unbound reviews, and wants to contribute to their Tolkien event by writing one herself.

Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Information

Goodreads: Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1997

Official Summary

What are millions of readers all over the world getting out of reading The Lord of the Rings? Newly reissued with a new afterword, Patrick Curry’s Defending Middle-earth argues, in part, that Tolkien has found a way to provide something close to spirit in a secular age. His focus is on three main aspects of Tolkien’s fiction: the social and political structure of Middle-earth and how the varying cultures within it find common cause in the face of a shared threat; the nature and ecology of Middle-earth and how what we think of as the natural world joins the battle against mindless, mechanized destruction; and the spirituality and ethics of Middle-earth, for which Curry provides a particularly insightful and resonant examination that will deepen the understanding of the millions of fans who have taken The Lord of the Rings to heart. 

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Review

Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry is a classic in the world of Tolkien scholarship, so I find it somewhat surprising I haven’t read it before now.  Perhaps on some level I don’t feel that Middle-earth needs defending; I love The Lord of the Rings and have ideas about why I do and why other people do.  However, finally reading Defending Middle-Earth has sparked some more reflection in me about why other people love Tolkien’s work and why it continues to resonate with readers year after year.

To be fair, the book was published in 1997 and revised in 2004, so it can feel a bit dated at times (I think some of the disgruntled Goodreads reviews are a reaction to this).  This is both in regards to the real-world examples Curry gives about how Tolkien’s work can be applicable to our own lives and to the positioning of the scholarship.  For instance, although there certainly are still academics today who disdain genre fiction, fantasy, and Tolkien’s work in particular, I think the tide has generally changed and the idea that “scholars don’t take fantasy seriously” is today a bit overblown.  University students can take classes on everything from zombie books to children’s literature.  PhD students can specialize in science fiction.  An incredible amount of serious work has been published on Tolkien alone.  So while Middle-earth might need defending to certain people, I think some of the contempt that Curry was responding to at the time of original publication is much less of an issue today.

Nonetheless, the general scope of Curry’s analysis of what makes Tolkien’s work popular and beloved feels timeless.  He focuses on three main categories: the social, the natural, and the spiritual.  One might reductively say this is about the sense of community in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s obvious love of nature, and the clear sense that there is some spiritual meaning in the world of Middle-earth, even as Tolkien’s books rarely overtly mention anything resembling religion.  Curry, of course, goes much more in-depth on these topics, drawing on scholarship and literary theory and even touching on broad topics like why fantasy or myth might resonate with readers in general.  The result is thought-provoking, even if a reader does not agree with all of Curry’s points.

If you’re a Tolkien fan who wants to think more about The Lord of the Rings and the general question of “why people like this stuff,” Defending Middle-Earth is worth a read.

Briana

Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!


Tolkien and the Great War

Information

Goodreads: Tolkien and the Great War
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2005

Summary

John Garth traces the influence of Tolkien’s early friendships and his experiences in WWI, and how they shaped his mythology.

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Review

John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War is groundbreaking look at the ways in which J. R. R. Tolkien’s early friendships and experiences in WWI influenced his later mythology. Most works tend to focus on Tolkien’s later years, the influence of C. S. Lewis and the Inklings on his writing, and the development of Middle-earth through various drafts. Garth, however, argues that the roots of Tolkien’s work can be found in his grammar school and college days, as well as in his response to the War to End All Wars. Tolkien and the Great War is a thought-provoking analysis that positions Tolkien’s work, not as an aberration during a period of disenchantment, but as an alternative response to the hopelessness espoused by so many canonical WWI writers.

Much has been made of J. R. R. Tolkien’s friendship with C. S. Lewis and his involvement in a writing group known as the Inklings. Before the Inklings, however, was the T.C.B.S or Tea Club, Barrovian Society, the core members of whom were Tolkien, Geoffrey Bache Smith, Robert Gilson, and Christopher Wiseman (after whom Tolkien would name one of his sons). The four engaged in deep philosophical and theological arguments, not always agreeing, but always pushing each other towards greater understandings of their positions. Tolkien believed, along with the others, that the members of the T.C.B.S. were destined for greatness. Part of that greatness would be re-Christianizing society through art. It is this friendship, and that belief, that would ultimately, Garth suggests, form the core of Tolkien’s mythology.

WWI, however, was not a good time to be young, especially for young men in pr just out of college. Tolkien was in a demographic whose chances of survival during the war were significantly lower than most. Before the war’s end, Smith and Gilson would both be dead. Garth notes that Tolkien later refers to the loss of all but one of his closest friends when responding to critics who saw The Lord of the Rings as an allegory for WWII. Tolkien, Garth argues, wants readers to look farther back, back to WWI.

Garth’s analysis of The Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth as WWI writings is especially interesting because, as Garth notes, the WWI writers we have canonized (such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen) present a philosophy much different than Tolkien’s. For such writers, WWI was a pointless waste of life. Their poems are full of disillusionment and bitterness. However, Garth reminds readers that not all veterans of WWI saw the conflict in this light. Some resented the idea that their sacrifices were pointless and others wished to see and remember the honor and the glory. Tolkien’s work, understood as part of the outpouring of WWI literature, seems to straddle these perspectives, offering a vision of world where victory seems doomed from the start, but where Men and their allies fight on anyway. It is a medieval perspective, made relevant again by the experiences of Tolkien’s generations. Fighting may be ugly and it may be pointless, but there is honor and goodness left in the world, as well.

Tolkien and the Great War is a masterful piece of Tolkien criticism, challenging the way in which readers view Tolkien’s life work. It is a must read for anyone interested in Tolkien’s biography or in his work.

5 stars

Online Learning Resources for Kids During Isolation

DC Kids Camp

Learn how to make crafts and more with DC writers like Shannon Hale, Meg Cabot, and Gene Luen Yang!

Resources for Preschoolers from School Library Journal

Includes online story time resources, as well links to educational apps, crafts to make at home, and virtual field trips.

Junior Library Guild Presents Rex Ogle’s Aiden Tyler, Quaran-Teen

Join Rex Ogle, author of Free Lunch, weekly as he reads a chapter aloud from his new web serial. The presentations will be archived so you do not need to tune in live.

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems

The author of the Piggie and Elephant books invites readers and aspiring artists to join him online each day at 1 p.m. E.T. to learn how to draw.

Storyline Online

Features celebrities reading picture books along with illustrations. Supplemental materials are available for teaching and encouraging literacy.

Kids Ask Authors

Grace Lin hosts a podcast where she and another author answer questions from kids.

Jbrary

Learn songs and fingerplays to sing with your child at home.

Amazon Makes Some Kids’ Shows Free

Now anyone with an Amazon account, even if they do not have Prime, can stream 40 children’s programs, including many popular PBS offerings.

Which Tolkien Book Should You Read? (Flow Chart)

Tolkien Event 2020 banner

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Nature and Industry. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts.