Friday, February 22, 2008

J. R. R. Toykins

My recent influx of The Lord of the Rings action figures got me to thinking about the influence of toys on authors. I suppose everybody knows that the Winnie-the-Pooh books were based on the toys of A. A. Milne's son, Christopher. But less widely spoken of is the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien's children on his work.

The character of Tom Bombadil, for instance, was based on a Dutch doll belonging to Tolkien's son, Michael. In a fit of childhood waywardness Michael tried to flush it down the toilet, but it was rescued and went on to become the hero of several longish poems by Tolkien and eventually a character in The Lord of the Rings, right down to the feather in his hat.

Michael had had misfortunes with toys before. When he was four, he lost a little lead dog he was very attached to on a beach in Yorkshire. To console him, Tolkien wrote a story about "Roverandom", a real dog who gets turned into a lead dog, is lost by a boy at the beach, has adventures on the moon and under the sea, and eventually becomes a real dog again, reuniting with the little boy in the end. When his publishers wanted another story after The Hobbit, Tolkien offered them Roverandom, but they wanted a Hobbit sequel. The story was finally published some 70 years later.

Another posthumous publication influenced by his children's toys was Mr. Bliss. In this tale, Mr. Bliss buys a new motor car and has a series of misadventures with a mischievous family of bears. These bears are all based on actual teddy bears owned by Tolkien's daughter Priscilla, who had such a huge collection that once, when Tolkien was transporting a selection for her on a family outing, a stranger asked him if he was a travelling teddy salesman. A "family" of bears owned by his children (please note bears in Tolkien family photo above) called the Bingos supplied what was Frodo Baggins original name: Bingo Bolger-Baggins.

Perhaps in later years Tolkien now and then felt a little ashamed of the humble beginnings and influences on his mythos. But he could console himself with this thought, published in his late tale, Smith of Wootton Major. Here Smith has journeyed in the Perilous Realm of Faerie, and at last met the terrible beauty of it's Queen face to face. He remembers how his journey began, years before, when he received a magical star hidden in a cake with a small fanciful doll on top.

"Then his mind turned back retracing his life, until he came to the day of the Children's Feast, and the coming of the star, and suddenly he saw again the little dancing figure with its wand, and in shame he lowered his eyes from the Queen's beauty.

"But she laughed again as she had laughed in the Vale of Evermorn. 'Do not be grieved for me, Starbrow', she said. 'Nor too much ashamed of your own folk. Better a little doll, maybe, than no memory of Faerie at all. For some the only glimpse. For some the awaking.' "

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