Tolkien and the Classical world

— review by Shawn E. Marchese

21 December 2021 | Mallorn, Winter, 2021, 47

When J.R.R. Tolkien began his studies at Exeter College in 1911, he was reading in Classics. He had studied Latin and Greek since childhood and, like most products of the English school system of his day, had been brought up on a steady diet of classical authors from Homer to Virgil and everything in between. But even at King Edward’s School a preference for Germanic philology was emerging; in a 1965 letter Tolkien explains a Gothic inscription he had scribbled on a volume of Thucydides as a precocious eighteen-year-old (Letters, pp. 356 – 58). Between stories like this and Humphrey Carpenter’s assertion that Tolkien’s switch to English in 1913 was a reaction to being bored with Latin and Greek authors” (p. 55), it’s no wonder that Tolkien is sometimes viewed as rejecting the classical tradition entirely, championing the merits of Germanic lore over the outraged cries of Oxford scholars blinkered by centuries of Greco-Roman exceptionalism.…

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date recorded 📅2022-01-01
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