"There was a willow hanging over the mill-pool and I learned to climb it. It belonged to a butcher on the Stratford Road, I think. One day they cut it down. They didn't do anything with it: the log just lay there. I never forgot that."
"I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and beautiful at whatever cost of peril."
"I remember nothing about it except a philological fact. My mother said nothing about the dragon, but pointed out that one could not say 'a green great dragon', but had to say 'a great green dragon'. I wondered why, and still do. The fact that I remember this is possibly significant, as I do not think I ever tried to write a story again for many years, and was taken up with language." ~Commenting on his own story about a dragon
"I pass over pangs to me of passing through Hall Green--become a huge tram-ridden meaningless suburb, where I actually lose my way--and eventually down what is left of beloved lanes of childhood, and past the very gate of our cottage, now in the midst of a sea of new red-brick. The old mill still stands, and Mrs. Hunt's still sticks out into the road as it turns uphill; but the crossing beyond the now fenced-in pool, where the bluebell lane ran down into the mill lane, is now a dangerous crossing alive with motors and red lights. The White Ogre's house (which the children were very excited to see) is become a petrol station, and most of Short Avenue and the elms between it and the crossing have gone. How I envy those whose precious early scenery has not been exposed to such violent and peculiarly hideous change." ~On his return to his childhood home in 1933
"Having the romantic upbringing, I made a boy-and-girl affair serious, and made it the source of effort." ~On his romance with Edith
"Probably nothing else would have hardened the will enough to give such an affair (however genuine a case of true love) permanence." ~On his forced separation from Edith until he was 21
"Her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes bright, and she could sing--and dance." ~On Edith Tolkien
"She was (and knew she was) my Luthien. I will say no more now. But I should like ere long to have a long talk with you. For if as seems probable I shall never write any ordered biography--it is against my nature, which expresses itself about things deepest felt in the tales and myths--someone close in heart to me should know something about things that records do not record: the dreadful sufferings of our childhoods, from which we rescued one another, but could not wholly heal wounds that later often proved disabling; the sufferings that we endured after our love began--all of which (over and above personal weaknesses) might help to make pardonable, or understandable, the lapses and darknesses which at times marred our lives--and to explain how these never touched our depths nor dimmed the memories of our youthful love. For ever (especially when alone) we still met in the woodland glade and went hand in hand many times to escape the shadow of imminent death before out last parting." ~On why we wishes to include the name "Luthien" on Edith's tombstone (written to Christopher Tolkien)
"[Christopher, Tolkien's third son, had grown into] a nervy, irritable, cross-grained, self-tormenting, cheeky person. Yet there is something intensely loveable about him, to me at any rate, from the very similarity between us."
"Most English-speaking people, for instance, will admit that cellar door is 'beautiful', especially if dissociated from its sense (and its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. Well then, in Welsh for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent." ~On the appearance and sounds of words
"I am a West-Midlander by blood, and took to early West-midland Middle English as to a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it."
"It is not a language long relegated to the 'uplands' struggling once more for expression in apologetic emulation of its betters or out of compassion for the lewd, but rather one that has never fallen back into 'lewdness', and has contrived in troublous times to maintain the air of a gentleman, if a country gentleman. It has traditions and some acquaintance with books and the pen, but it is also in close touch with a good living speech--a soil somewhere in England." ~On the West Midland dialect as a whole
"A man inherited a field in which was an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to discover whence the man's distant forefathers had obtained their bulding material. Some suspecting a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said: 'This tower is most interesting.' But they also said (after pushing it over): 'What a muddle it is in!' And even the man's descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been about, were heard to murmur: 'He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion.' But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea." ~On the way earlier critics had treated the Beowulf poet's work
"A dragon is no idle fancy. Even today (despite critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who have yet been caught by the fascination of the worm."
"The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not 'influence' as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my 'stuff' could be more than a private hobby."
"Lewis would regress. He would not re-enter Christianity by a new door, but by the old one: at least in the sense that in taking it up again he would also take up again, or reawaken, the prejudices so sedulously planted in childhood and boyhood. He would became again a Northern Ireland protestant."
"It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S.L.'s work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his." ~On C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia"
"So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age--like an old tree that it losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots." ~On the death of C.S. Lewis
"I've always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds." ~On the English people
"Gentlemen are non-existent among the superiors, and even human beings are rare indeed." ~On his fellow English officers in WWI
"These grey days wasted in wearily going over, over and over again, the dreary topics, the dull backwaters of the art of killing, are not enjoyable." ~On his time serving in WWI
"One fancies that Russia is probably ultimately far more responsible for the present crisis and choice of moment than Hitler."
"The War is not over (and the one that is, or the part of it, has been largely lost). But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and War always goes on; and it is no good growing faint." ~On the end of WWII
"My 'Sam Gamgee' is indeed a reflexion of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war, and recognised as so far superior to myself."
"Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the level of romantic fairy-story--the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths--which I could dedicate simply: to England; to my country. It should assess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our 'air' (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe; not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty which some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be 'high', purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd."
"I would that we had more of it left--something of the same sort that belonged to the English." ~On reading the Finnish Kalevala
"They arose in my mind as 'given' things, and as they came, separately, so too the links grew. An absorbing, though continually interrupted labour (especially, even apart from the necessities of life, since the mind would wing to the other pole and spread itself on the linguistics): yet always I had the sense of recording what was already 'there', somewhere: not of 'inventing'." ~On the tales in The Silmarillion
"One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one's personal compost-heap; and my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter." ~On the creation of LotR
"There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about swapping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like. To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. The choice of Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration; but I did not invent it. It was in fact the name when I saw small (in Birmingham) for 'cotton-wool'."
"One of the candidates had mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it (which is the best thing that can possibly happen to an examiner) and I wrote on it: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit'. Names always generate a story in my mind. Eventually a I thought I'd better find out what hobbits were like. But that's only the beginning." ~On the beginnings of The Hobbit, taking place while Tolkien marked exam papers
"A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, but there he came walking through the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir."
"Do you think Shelob is a good name for a monstrous spider creature? It is of course only "She+lob" (=spider), but written as one, it seems to be quite noisome." ~On the origins of Shelob's name (from a letter to Christopher Tolkien)
"What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful 'sub-creator'. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside."
"Every writer making a secondary world wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it."
"We are being at once wisely aware of our own frivolity if we avoid hitting and whacking and prefer 'striking' and 'smiting'; talk and chat and prefer 'speech' and 'discourse'; well-bred, brilliant, or polite noblemen (visions of snobbery columns in the Press, and fat men on the Riviera) and prefer the 'worthy, brave and courteous men' of long ago." ~On justification of a high style of writing
"If you're going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you'll never make a map of it afterwards."
"It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other." ~On the writing of LotR
"As for the reviews, they were a good deal better than I feared." ~On the reviews of LotR
"For some time I lived in fear of receiving a letter signed 'S. Gollum'. That would have been more difficult to deal with." ~On receiving a letter from a real Sam Gamgee
"The pictures seem to me mostly only to prove that the author cannot draw." ~On submitting a number of his drawings to be published in The Hobbit
"What has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs?" ~On a cover painting for The Hobbit that depicted a hill, two emus, and a Christmas tree.
"I begin to feel that I am shut up in a madhouse." ~On hearing that the artist of the aforementioned painting had not read The Hobbit
"Art moves them and they don't know what they've been moved by and they get quite drunk on it. Many young Americans are involved in the stories in a way that I'm not." ~On being asked if he was pleased by the enthusiasm of his American fans
"Being a cult figure in one's own lifetime I am afraid is not at all pleasant. However I do not find that it tends to puff one up: in my case at any rate it makes me feel extremely small and inadequate. But even the nose of a very modest idol cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense."
"It is an astonishing situation, and I hope I am sufficiently grateful to God. Only a little while ago I was wondering if we should be able to go on living here, on my inadequate pension. But saving universal catastrophe, I am not likely to be hard up again in my time." ~On his income
"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."
"Middle-earth is our world. I have (of course) placed the action in a purely imaginary (though not wholly impossible) period of antiquity, in which the shape of the continental masses was different."
"They are made by man in his own image and likeness; but freed from those limitations which he feels most to press upon him. They are immortal, and their will is directly effective for the achievement of imagination and desire." ~On the nature of Elves
"The Hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination--not the small reach of their courage or latent power."
"Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased." ~On LotR being compared to Wagner's Ring Opera
"Do not let Rayner suspect 'Allegory'. There is a 'moral', I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between darkness and light (as he calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phrase of history, one example of its patterns, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals--they each, of course, contain universals, or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such." ~On Rayner Unwin (son of Allen and Unwin Publishers' chairman Stanley Unwin) saying he thought LotR was an allegory
"Touching your cap to the Squire may be damn bad for the Squire, but it's damn good for you." ~On respect for one's superiors
"There are many things that a man feels legitimate even though they cause a fuss. Let him not lie about them to his life or lover! Cut them out--or if worth a fight: just insist. Such matters may arise frequently--the glass of beer, the pipe, the non writing of letters, the other friend, etc., etc. If the other side's claims really are unreasonable (as they are at times between the dearest lovers and most loving married folk) they are much better met by above board refusal and 'fuss' than subterfuge."
"I dislike allegory wherever I smell it."
"I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author."
"Never mind about the young! I am not interested in the 'child' as such, modern or otherwise, and certainly have no intention of meeting him/her half way, or a quarter of the way. It is a mistaken thing to do anyway, either useless (when applied to the stupid) or pernicious (when inflicted on the gifted)." ~On talking down to children
"A pathetic and shadowy medley of half-remembered traditions and mutilated beliefs." ~On the Church of England
"I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life." ~On his time spent working on the New English Dictionary
"Charge 'em and they scatter!" ~On driving a car among other vehicles
"I was very much surprised at the result. The audience was apparently not bored--indeed they were generally convulsed with mirth." ~On reading Farmer Giles of Ham to an audience at Worcester College
"I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much."
"Venice seemed incredibly lovely, elvishly lovely--to me like a dream of Old Gondor, or Pelargir of the Numenorean Ships, before the return of the Shadow."
"We liked one another and enjoyed talking (mostly in jest). [But] we had nothing to say to one another at deeper (or higher) levels." ~On Charles Williams
"I travelled all the way from Motherwell to Wolverhampton with a Scotch mother and a wee lassie, whom I rescued from standing in the corridor of a packed train, and they were allowed to go 'first' without payment since I told the inspector I welcomed their company. My reward was to be informed ere we parted that (while I was at lunch) the wee lassie had declared: "I like him but I canna understand a word he says." To which I could only lamely reply that the latter was universal but the former not so usual." ~On a 1953 railway journey returning from Glasgow