January 3rd: Happy Birthday JRR Tolkien!

On January 3, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Growing up in poverty and already having to grieve his parents at the young age of 12, his childhood did not seem to be an easy one. Regardless of this series of unfortunate events Tolkien successfully graduated from Oxford University and secured his employment as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army. 

However, it is not just his biography that makes his persona so important but his literary works that are still immensely popular today. 

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

  • Lord of the Rings is a book series most people have probably heard about, if not even read it themselves, or watched the movies. Its trailblazer The Hobbit was originally a children’s book published in 1937, however, the story world grew enormously and a high fantasy world emerged. 

Leaf by Niggle

  • This is one of Tolkien’s short stories that is not as well known as the Lord of the Rings franchise. The character Niggle is an artist, however, the part of society he resides in does not appreciate art in any way. Because of this, he only paints for his own pleasure, and he took on the big project of painting a great tree. The work starts with a single leaf and grows around it. Because of his good character, he takes time off his work to help his neighbour, unfortunately, while doing so, he falls ill. Due to this, he is sent on a journey as a gardener to a forest. He discovers that this forest is the one he had painted all along and the tree he sees in real life is the perfected version of his flawed painting. 

Further Recommendations

  • The Silmarillion (1977)
  • Unfinished Tales (1980)
  • Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936)
  • The Rings of Power (dir. J.A. Bayona, 2022)

Lisa A.


“The World always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before” is a popular quote from the British writer Neil Gaiman and I believe that every time Gaiman contributes to the literary world, exactly that happens. While his name might not immediately sound familiar, most people have read, watched or heard of at least one of his works. 

Today, in honour of his birthday, I would like to talk about one of his older works recently attracting a large audience. Neil Gaiman is well-known for his graphic novels as he introduced a completely new way of looking at comics, he worked with a new subgenre- the dark fantasy/ horror comics. However, he does not only publish comics but also very well-written fantasy novels such as Good Omens. The novel has already been published in 1990, his early years of being credited as an author, and is a collaboration with Terry Pratchett. In 2019 and 2023 Amazon released two seasons of a series under the same name. The story follows the Demon Crowley and the Angel Aziraphale who attempt to prevent the end of the world- the Armageddon. The chain of events leading to the end of the world is introduced in a satanic order of nuns where the son of Satan is supposed to be switched at birth to a mortal human family. Due to some unfortunate events, the switch does not happen as planned and the set plan for Armageddon 11 years later is challenged. 

Generally, Good Omens is a satirical fantasy and comedy novel about religious themes such as the biblical Apocalypse, portraying the Antichrist as one of the main characters and introducing the Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. In its religious takes, the novel also looks at the theme of Good and Evil. The most obvious images here are Crowley, as the symbol of evil, and Aziraphale, as the symbol of good. But throughout the story many lines between good and evil get rather blurry- Crowley also has good characteristics and does good deeds, while Aziraphale is not as pure as an Angel is expected to be, both show that no one can be either good or evil, there are always choices that determine a direction but elements of the respective side will always be present. 

Unfortunately, only season 1 of the show follows the original novel’s storyline and plot, so if you have been a big fan of season 2 you will not be able to read about its events in the book. Nevertheless, I would recommend reading Gaiman and Pratchett’s book as it is a humorous and enthralling read and, if you are familiar with the show, it is also rather interesting to see how the book came to life in the Amazon adaptation.

Further Book Recommendations:

  • American Gods (Novel)
  • The Sandman (Comic Book Series)
  • Coraline (Novella)
  • The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel)

Movie/Series Recommendations:

  • Good Omens (BBC and Amazon Studios, 2019)
  • Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, 2009)
  • Sandman (Netflix Series, 2022)
  • Stardust (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2007)
  • American Gods (dir. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, Amazon 2017-21)

Fun Facts:

  • Did you know that the TV series Lucifer has loosely adopted the character of the Devil portrayed in Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman?
  • In 2006 an album with a collection of songs by various artists was released. Each song was inspired by Neil Gaiman and his literary works. The album is called “Where’s Neil When You Need Him?”

Event Recommendation:

On November 20, 2023, Neil Gaiman will appear in the British Library for the event “Why We Need Fantasy: Neil Gaiman in Conversation”. The event will also be live streamed and the recordings are available online for a week. The event and the online stream are not free and require tickets, pricing from £3.25-16. If you are interested in this event you will find further information through the link below. 

https://www.neilgaiman.com/where/details.php?id=351

Lisa A.


Thirty white horses on a red hill, first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.

‘Teeth! teeth! my preciousss; but we has only six!’

Can you guess who answered that riddle? The fact that a character like Gollum can be recognized by two words alone speaks volumes on the talent behind Tolkien’s writing. His magical storytelling has shaped the fantasy genre of today, with readers all around the world falling in love with his novels. In honour of Tolkien’s birthday, I’d like to revisit some of my favourites!

The Hobbit transports you to the magical world of Middle-earth, filled with magical creatures, some more pleasant than others… and a rather unadventurous hobbit. Bilbo Baggins never wanted an adventure, he was very content staying at home. But when a company of dwarves drags him on a journey of battling goblins and trolls he discovers a side of him he’s never seen before.

Written in verse, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a collection of illustrated stories ranging from poems about magical elves to hungry trolls. The stories are a joy to read and are ideal for a short coffee-break.

Bonus The Hobbit riddles at the bottom at the page!

Sarah

A box without hinges, key, or lid. Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

What has roots as nobody sees, Is taller than trees, Up, up it goes, And yet never grows?