The Lord of the Rings: Real-World-Inspired or not?
I guess I don't need to introduce J. R. R. Tolkien. This name is enough to make us think of epic, fantasy worlds and fights.
You've probably read or heard most of Tolkien's iconic works that inspired numerous authors and their works. It is Lord of the Rings we are going to mostly focus on in this article.
Tolkien did not just create stories. He created a whole new fictitious world in captuvating details that depict the mythical worlds he brings before the readers' eyes. So, we will focus on the inspiration for the universe of one of his iconic works, the Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of the Rings books - and the movie trilogy that made the Tolkien universe even more famous - narrate the story of Frodo and his three companions from Shire, who set out to destroy The One Ring in Mount Doom and this way save the world from the evil power of Sauron. The Fellowship of the Ring accompanies them, in order to make sure Frodo takes the Ring safely to Mount Doom. So, this is how their adventure starts.
Tolkien's inspiration for the Lord of the Rings needs to be examined in two stages: the world of the Lord of the Rings and the characters/the relations among them.
So, the world: although we don't have Tolkien's interviews to seek advice for the influences of the real world locations in the locations of the world of LOTR (aka Lord of the Rings), we are lucky enough to have his numerous letters to family, friends, publishers or just fans published. Yes, they're so many as to make a 480-page-long book! Tolkien loved writing letters.
According to these letters, his map of the Middle-earth is based on the real-world map. Frodo Baggins's and his fellow Hobbits' birthplace, Shire, is based on the vintage picture we have in mind for the English countryside - and was probably true in the times of World War I approximately. The beautiful Shire is threatened by the destructive, ferocious advance of Sauron's troops in the Middle-earth. It has generally been observed that Tolkien was not a fan of the industrialization of his country, talking place during his youth (the early 20th century). So, although he denied the presence of such metaphors in his work, we can't overlook the striking similarities.
Some may wonder how the writer managed to create the language of the Elves (Quenya). Tolkien, however, was a fine scholar of his time. So although this was anything but an easy task, he had the skills and intelligence needed for it. Despite the initial impression Quenya resembles Latin, the Nordic influences in the Lord of the Rings and a thorough look in Quenya consist evidence strong enough to understand it is Finnish it was based on.
Now, the characters: the real-life influence in the characters we might observe in the Lord of the Rings and the relations among them give enough ground for us to say this trilogy includes the most autobiographical stories for Tolkien. Now's the time you probably ask me: how can a fantasy-world story with Orks, Elves and enemies in the shape of a huge eye include autiobiographical aspects? Well, was it just one thing, we could be exaggerating. But all these things together... It can't be not-autobiographical!
The four Hobbits: we know, thanks to his letters - and of course the movie Tolkien (2019) that young Tolkien had three dear friends as a student. They all had similar interests with him. The four of them called themselves "The Tea Club of Barrovian Society". Their good days, however, were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, when they were called to arms - and we've all heard of the horror in the battlefields during the Great War. In other words, the four friends' beautiful world was threatened and they suffered horrors to save it. In the battlefront, as we saw in the movie, Tolkien befriends a soldier named Sam and they try to find a friend together in the middle of the horror.
Does this remind you of something? Aha! Frodo Baggins accepts to leave his beautiful world behind and cross a whole world striken by the powers of evil to save life as he knew it. His friends Sam, Merry and Pippin stand by his side in this journey.
Arwen & Aragorn - 2 lovers from "different worlds" trying to be together: in the Lord of the Rings Aragorn is a human and Arwen is an Elf - immortal in the LOTR universe. So, according to the common belief, the two of them shouldn't be together. But they're deeply in love. Arwen stands brave for the man she loves and finally sacrifices her immortality to be with him. Aragorn doesn't desire the throne he's destined to have but he fights to exterminate the evil threatening to extinguish the world of the woman he loves.
There is a lot of ground for comparison with Tolkien's life here too. He first met Edith Bratt when still a teenager. The two of them came really close and fell in love. But we're talking about pre-World-War-I Europe. Edith was an Anglican and John (J. R. R. Tolkien) was a Catholic. Such a difference should have kept the two of them away from each other in early-20th century Europe - after all, there has been violence among Christians of different dogma on that ground in the 20th century . However, the two young people married before the end of the Great War.
Gandalf, the mentor: I don't think there's a single Lord of the Rings fan who doesn't like Gandalf the Grey - later Gandalf the White! Whenever the heroes of the trilogy are left sort of options, whenever they need a way out of a dead-end, Gandalf is the one who shows up and gives some piece of advice out of his wise head or brings reinforcements for the good guys when they're falling sort of hope.
Tolkien had his personal Gandalf in real life too - kinda. Like we saw in the biographical movie as well, it was a white-haired professor in Oxford University who mentored young and orphan John. The professor encouraged young John to try and excel in his studies and become the fine scholar he became. We moreover see the professor offer the young man some advice on the "new language" he was trying to create (Quenya or Elvish).
The Universe of a Bright Mind
Concluding the thoughts on the inspiration for the Lord of the Rings, I have to admit things are kind of easy here: J. R. R. Tolkien's inspiration clearly came from his real-life experience, feelings and beloved people. In other words, the writer took his real world to a fantasy setting.
This, however, in no way underestimates his work. It is only a bright mind that could have created an entirely fictitious world so vividly - and even a language or at least part of it. If there had to be a last sentence to be told for Tolkien, I would say he used the devastation and tragedies around him to get inspired for a hymn to bravery and hope.