There is a story that we just made up about how J. R. R. Tolkien asked his university students what is the first thing they should do when writing a book, and then beat the crap out of one of them when they didn’t answer “Create an entire language and writing system from scratch.” That’s kind of how a lot of people perceive Tolkien nowadays. Less of a whimsical writer of fantasy and more of a mad linguist who mainly created The Lord of the Rings to show off the collection of all the weird words he invented in his spare time. Either that, or he really wanted a plausible excuse to call one of his buds a “mellon” (“friend” in Elvish.) 

But in reality, the real reason why LOTR exists is that Tolkien was a loving -- albeit a slightly potty-mouthed -- father. LOTR would not exist without The Hobbit, which in turn would not exist without Tolkien’s children, especially Christopher. See, The Hobbit started out as a bedtime story about dwarves, elves, and those little dudes with the hairy feet whose name escapes us (hobos?).

Tolkien would tell these tales to his kids to get them to sleep, with the emphasis on “tell.” He wasn’t beta-testing any made-up languages on his kids, and he definitely wasn’t writing anything down… until, that is, the 5-year-old Christopher started getting curious and asking questions, like some kind of kid or something. In the 50th anniversary printing of The Hobbit, Christopher Tolkien admitted to interrupting his dad’s bedtime stories with comments like “Last time, you said Bilbo’s front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a gold tassel on his hood, but you’ve just said that Bilbo’s front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin’s hood was silver!”

After one such comment, Tolkien reportedly muttered “Damn the boy” and went over to his desk and wrote down the first few details of the story. And, one would assume, a list of chores for Chris to do tomorrow. This became the kernel from which The Hobbit eventually came into existence, which might not have happened if Tolkien simply told Chris: “Ah, well, whenever you notice something like that, a wizard did it.” But then the kid would probably ask, “BUT WHICH ONE? You said there are five of them!”

The thing is, Tolkien indulged Christopher because he was just an affectionate father. Throughout his life, he wanted his children to know he loved them, and he tried to spend as much time with them as possible, even popping into his house for lunch and conversation with the family while lecturing at Oxford. As his children got older, he even hired them to proofread his Hobbit manuscript, paying Christopher two pennies for every mistake he found. The kid probably thought he hit the mother lode when he got to all the elvish and dwarven words, only to have his hopes dashed. Because J. R. R. Tolkien knew how to play the long game.

Follow Cezary on Twitter.

Top Image: New Line Cinema

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