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You've written a marvelous essay. I suppose just about everyone here is as obsessed about Middle Earth as you, although in different ways. You have also unwittingly responded to my earlier challenge: "Middle Earth Forever!" Please see my bio page and challenges.
I think Tolkien's work is so successful for two reasons: one, he loved it and lived it far deeper than any of us ever will and it was the lifelong sweat of his creative brow, and two, he used language as a foundation for culture. In his building of the Elvish tongues from archaic to later dialects, by giving them roots and a proper evolution, he made a nation of races real. Language defines us even as we define it; human reality is sung into life through our use of language. Interweaving that with universal mythic themes created a fantasy so real that it's no longer precisely a fantasy--it's more like a lost land mapped out at the center of the great word pool where we all go down to drink.
Author's Response: I agree with you compltetly. When I first read The Fellowship I was surpised and fascinated that Tolkien created Elvish and other languages. He lived in his work and created a beautiful world.
Ahh, one has to love deep reflections! I agree with the fact that Middle Earth existed before Tolkien because it is, in many ways, a reflection of our own world, but purer and with more majesty. Actually, though, I wish Tolkien would have described the characters more- I would kill to know exactly how he envisioned the four Travellers to look like. I think he describes the scenery way too much- like the color of the dirt thing you mentioned, lol. My take on this probably has a lot to do with my obsession with characters. My own stories rely very heavily on characterization and interactions between the characters, as anyone who's read them has no doubt noticed. And since we're talking about favorite movie scenes, mine's the one in RotK where Pippin looks after Merry on the battlefield. It's what set the tone for every Merry-Pippin angst scene I've ever written.
Loved this thoughtful essay!
Author's Response: Well, I thought it was high time I wrote exactly how and why I fell in love with Middle-Earth. For me it is a lot of different elements, and like Frodo I've always been in love with The Shire at heart. =]And yes, I would also die to see how Tolkien envisioned the characters! They are some of, if not, the best characters I've ever read. I think how he had such a realistic and enchanting world + the characters, it was bound to be so sucessful.
He says earlier that he never believed Tolkien 'created' Middle-Earth but that it existed long before him. I agree with that.
That is actually true. Tolkien used a great deal of northern European myth in his histories - being a professor of Anglo-Saxon, he obviously knew these legends and worked them into his legendarium.
The reason it hooked me is grounded in that - it's a sense of familiarity, that I knew it before I read it, and it may be something deep within the race I belong to, who also knew these myths.
The Elves were not invented by Tolkien, he simply used the myths of them from long ago, before they were made into Santa's helpers or 'fairies'. The 'real' Elves were as he writes them and resemble the Tuatha de Danaan of Ireland and the Lios Alfar of Scandinavia. Fallen Númenor is the Atlantis legend from Plato, the Noldor landing on Middle-earth and burning their white ships is a borrowing from the Tuatha de Danaan who landed in Ireland and burned their ships. Tolkien interwove many existing myths into his work. There is an ancient legend, older even than Homer, of a deathless land in the uttermost west - it had many names, but he called it Valinor.
I am not a fan of the LOTR films any more, I was a book fan long before, and primarily a lover of the Silmarillion, but I think the popularity of Tolkien is the richness of his fully-realized universe, with it's politics, history, geography and cultures. He was a 'world-builder' and there are very few writers who have that epic mindset. But the material that he used was often sourced in existing mythology, which, I think, is why so many people read it, and like me, think, 'I know this!'
Author's Response: I also love how Tolkien interwove such myths and elements from European cultures, it makes it seem on that level all the more believable and realistic. And it does take an incredible writer to 'world build' like that, to use parts of history to create worlds. You bring up an interesting point, with existing mythology I think people are familiar with it, and it makes them understand and love Middle-Earth.