J.R.R. Tolkien is a name you’ve probably heard even if you’ve never opened a single page of the well-known fantasy series in Middle-Earth. I’m talking about the author of The Lord of the Rings and he’s the subject of the latest biopic from Fox Searchlight.
The film focuses on his formative years both as an adolescent and young adult. The purpose of focusing on these years is not to tell the entire story of Tolkien’s life but to perhaps shed some light on what drove him to become the author to drive the resurgence of fantasy fiction in the late 1930s.
The question, then, is whether a casual fan of Tolkien with have any interest in this movie or is it really meant for diehards of the fantasy series.
That’s where I come in.
As a kid, I loved fantasy and sci-fi novels like my older brother but I didn’t go deep like he did. He devoured novels like they were nothing whereas I was easily intimidated by thick novels. He kept all of Tolkien’s novels on his shelf where I could glance at titles like The Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. But I never read them, even as I became a more prolific reader.
I did, however, see the Peter Jackson film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring released in 2001. As one might expect, I fell in love with this movie (and, on a side note, with Elijah Wood) and when the movies were available, I purchased the entire trilogy, even though I had only seen the first one.
To this day, I’ve only seen one movie and I’ve never read the books. (I’m actually planning to watch the entire trilogy this weekend – long overdue). So what did a casual Tolkien fan like me think of movie?
I thought it was a beautiful story. It’s one of love and loss. Of overcoming obstacles. What it’s not is a story of a man driven by success. It’s about a man who didn’t even understand the gifts he possessed.
As a young man, he’s orphaned and given the opportunity to attend a private school where he meets three other like-minded boys to create the T.C.B.S., or what they called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society. It was a bit of a secret brotherhood, or fellowship between these boys. They were an inspiration to each other to change the world through art.
During this same time period, he meets a fellow boarder by the name of Edith who will eventually become his wife and his muse.
Then England entered World War I and all of the young men were called to serve their country.
Again, through love and loss, Tolkien starts to discover who he is and who he might be.
In the film, Tolkien is not a terribly charismatic man. He doesn’t seem driven or tortured or anything you might expect from someone who creates such a literary legacy. He seems enveloped by his own imagination where he creates his own languages and worlds which would later to give rise to his stories.
If you’re looking to find a strong connection between the events of Tolkien’s life and the fantasy stories he later brought to life, you won’t find that. But you will start to see a correlation for how actual events must have ultimately become the inspiration for many aspects of his stories.
A few things to note if you’re considering seeing this movie:
- You don’t have to be Tolkien geek to appreciate this movie but it would help if you generally know The Lord of the Rings story
- Lily Collins is perfectly lovely as Edith Bratt, Tolkien’s love interest. You may recognize her as Phil Collins’ daughter.
- Look for Patrick Gibson from The OA, speaking in his native accent for his role as close friend Robert Gilson
- If you don’t know how to pronounce his name properly, the film will school you (but you’ll look better if you know it’s Tol-KEEN)
For a fairly simple, dramatic movie, I found myself fully engrossed for the full two hours and even wiped away a tear at the end. I heard a few critical rumblings at the theater about how the film glossed over certain parts of Tolkien’s life but if you’re looking for a glimpse into the man behind the fantasy, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.