If you're a dedicated fan and essentially consider Middle Earth a second home, you probably have your own extensive knowledge of trivia surrounding J.R.R. Tolkien's work. Since The Hobbit was released in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings 17 years later in 1954, Tolkien has garnered an extensive following, and has sold hundreds of millions of books. It'd be a decent bet to guess you own at least one of those copies.
Maybe you're a close reader and know that in the book, Gandalf the Grey actually says, "You cannot pass" rather than the iconic, "You shall not pass!" from the movie. The trivia below, however, actually comes from outside sources, such as widely forgotten interviews and profiles. Hopefully these will be facts you truly haven't come across before.
In honor of J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday, here are five things you didn't know about The Lord of the Rings.
Samwise Gamgee's heroic qualities were mentioned by J.R.R. Tolkien on multiple occasions. For example, when responding to a letter from a fan who happened to also have the name "Sam Gamgee," Tolkien wrote, "I can only say, for your comfort I hope, that the 'Sam Gamgee' of my story is a most heroic character, now widely beloved by many readers, even though his origins are rustic."
A letter Tolkien wrote to his publisher, Milton Waldman, further expressed his feelings about the character. In the letter, Tolkien is trying to explain why The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion should be published at the same time, despite their extensive length. The letter is a doozy itself -- it's around 10,000 words -- and describes the general plot and themes of the stories. At one point in all of this, Tolkien reveals his belief about Sam's role:
But the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond's daughter is only alluded to as a known thing. It is told elsewhere in a short tale. Of Aragorn and Arwen Undómiel. I think the simple "rustic" love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero's) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the "longing for Elves," and sheer beauty.
It has been disputed whether the "his" before "(the chief's hero)" refers to Sam or Aragorn due to the sentence almost seeming like an aside, but the belief he is referring to Sam has become the common understanding because of the double use of "his" and the sentence's context among the larger paragraph. Furthermore, publishers commenting on the fan forum, The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza, mentioned how they reached out to Christopher Tolkien, the son and frequent collaborator, for clarification on the line. They explained his response: "To this Christopher replied, very succinctly, that he was certain that 'the chief hero' referred to Sam."
The translation for this is a bit shaky, but going by Google and other publications who wrote about the story, in 2012 Christopher Tolkien gave a rare interview to the French publication, Le Monde, saying, "They gutted the book by making an action film for 15-25 years. And it seems that 'The Hobbit' will be of the same ilk." Also within the interview, Tolkien voiced his irritation that the movies had brought another level of commercialism to his father's work.
It was often rumored that J.R.R. Tolkien actually wrote The Hobbit for his children, but in a profile by The New York Times from 1967, Tolkien explained:
The Hobbit wasn't written for children, and it certainly wasn't done just for the amusement of Tolkien's three sons and one daughter, as is generally reported. "That's all sob stuff. No, of course, I didn't. If you're a youngish man and you don't want to be made fun of, you say you're writing for children. At any rate, children are your immediate audience and you write or tell them stories, for which they are mildly grateful: long rambling stories at bedtime.
Tolkien had a deep respect for his children and kids in general, even allowing Christopher to help shape the series extensively while growing up. Further in The New York Times profile, Tolkien said:
Children aren't a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. It remains to be seen if they rise above that.
As a younger man, Christopher Lee somewhat randomly met J.R.R. Tolkien. Lee, however, was a huge fan of his work and was barely able to muster any greeting whatsoever.
In a 2003 interview with Cinefantastique, Lee explained how he was in Oxford at a pub called The Eagle and Child and "quite by chance" one of his friend's recognized professor Tolkien. Lee's group approached the author and had a short conversation. Explaining the situation in another interview, Lee said that he "knelt of course" before the author.
Lee was arguably the biggest fan of Tolkien out of the main cast on the movie and the others on set would try to trip him up in his deep knowledge of the books. In the Cinefantastique interview, Lee also said:
Members of the cast and crew where always trying to catch me out. They’d ask me questions like, "what was the name of Frodo’s father," or "what was the name of this or that sword." Things like that. Well, they never caught me out -- not once! They tried, but they never did.
According to the 1967 profile in The New York Times, the Elvish language was Tolkien's main passion in the series. As the Time writer Philip Norman explained:
If it had been left to him, he would have written all his books in Elvish. "The invention of language is the foundation. The stories were made rather to provide a world for the language rather than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. But, of course, such a work as 'The Lord of the Rings' has been edited and only as much language has been left in as I thought would be stomached by the readers.
J.R.R. Tolkien actually came up with the whole first sentence of The Hobbit on this student's exam, writing, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." According to The Tolkien Society, the urge to write this down came when the student had left a whole exam page blank. Tolkien wasn't really sure why he wrote this, but this "hobbit" intrigued him, so he decided to dive deeper into the hobbit hole and created one of the most beloved works of all time.
As The Tolkien Library mentions, there initially wasn't supposed to be a connection with the mythological work Tolkien was working on that would become The Silmarillion, but the hobbit soon entered the world of Middle Earth and the rest is fantastical history.
"To go to college without Tolkien is like going without sneakers."
The New York Times writer Philip Norman explained in the previously mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien profile just how fanatical American audiences were for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the 1960s. In New York, Norman noticed "louder enthusiasts chalk" the names of popular characters on walls, "sometimes in three-foot-high letters." Fairly polite to use chalk, but "graffiti" as it's recognized now didn't really start until the late 60s anyway.
The quote above comes from a student's mother quoted in the profile. Of course, many hobbits barely wear shoes, so maybe best to just travel with Tolkien regardless.