Tolkien’s formative childhood

Only a few pages into Tolkien’s biography, it’s amazing to see how much of The Lord of the Rings show up already:

Not far from Sarehole Mill, a little way up the hill towards Mosely, was a deep tree-lined sandpit that became another favorite haunt for the boys. Indeed, explorations a could be made in many directions, though there were hazards. An old farmer who once chased Ronald for picking mushrooms was given the nickname ‘the Black Ogre’ by the boys. Such delicious terrors were the essence of those days…


This is of course a parallel to Merry and Pippin stealing mushrooms from farmer Maggot. He always said he himself was a hobbit.

…he liked Red Indian stories and longed to shoot with a bow and arrow. He was even more please by the Curdie books of George Macdonald, which were sent in a remote kingdom where misshapen and malevolent goblins lurked benearth the mountains.


Guns were like evil machines, but bows and arrows were highly regarded.

If every other fantasy book/movie/game since has based their orcs/goblins on Tolkien’s (which is almost universally true), then they should keep in mind that Tolkien’s are based largely on George Macdonald’s. Even their history of genetic deterioration and slavery by dark powers is simply Macdonald’s goblins with an expanded history.

I’ve just began to read the first of the Curdie books to my daughter (nearly five). Unfortunately, it’s over the head of my two-year-old and I will likely have to switch to something else.

Back to J.R.R.’s childhood. Here’s an especially detailed one:

In later years he especially remembered ‘the bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill”: I longd to devise a setting by which the trees might really march to war.’

.-Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, p.35

For years he thought Shakespear’s versions was so lame, it had to be rewritten. In the attack of the Ents on Isengard, he finally got the chance.