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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Birmingham

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Myths and Legends
Tolkien at his Oxford home, 1966. Photo: Pamela Chandler

© Diana Willson
Talking Tolkien

Since its release back in the 1950s J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has been one of the nation’s favourite flights of fancy. First there were the books which, along with The Hobbit, have sold well over 60 million copies; then there were the phenomenally successful movies. Add to that the merchandising, the DVDs and the computer games and you have perhaps the best-loved and influential piece of fiction of the 20th Century.

Terrace house
86 Westfield Road, Kings Heath
© Reproduced by permission of Birmingham Library
There is strong argument for saying that Middle Earth was made in Middle England. Ronald Tolkien spent 15 years in the city of Birmingham, from the age of four till his departure for Oxford University. Although he was not born in the city, but in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where his parents had emigrated, his family were Birmingham folk for at least three generations. They were piano makers on one side and retailers on the other, all in and around the Birmingham suburbs of Moseley and Kings Heath. To be strictly accurate, we should say that although these are now suburbs of Birmingham, at the time the Tolkiens were in residence they were still part of Worcestershire.

Once Ronald’s father, Arthur Tolkien, had departed for a bank job in Cape Town, that local connection might have been broken, but for a tragic combination of circumstances. While Mabel Tolkien and her two young sons were visiting their grandparents in Kings Heath in February 1896, she received the fateful telegram informing her that Arthur had died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage. And so a life that might have been spent among the white elite of the Cape began instead in the less promising surroundings of Ashfield Road, Kings Heath.

There followed a 15-year trek around the (mostly) cheap suburbs of Birmingham. This was, after all, a one-parent family, and what financial support Mabel Tolkien received from her relations dried up after she converted to Catholicism.

Words: Chris Upton

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Your comments

1 nick dolan from gloucestershire - 5 January 2004
"tolkien actually based parts of his book on the wye valley near the forest of dean would need to visit puzzle wood and lydney park gardens to understand what i mean.... "

2 Terry Dixon from S Leics - 4 January 2004
"Sorry Peter, Tolkiens infuence was definitely the rolling Warwickshire country side, at least for the shire. I don't think that he ever visited Lancs. By the way, I cone from deepest Lancashire originally. "

3 Kieran Keegan from Birmingham - 18 December 2003
"After his mother died and he was left orphaned Tolkien was brought up by the priests at The Oratory on Hagley Road. It was at this location that Tolkien could see Edgbaston Water Tower and the 96 foot Perrott's Folly, which were believed to be the inspiration behind the name of the second volume of Lord of the Rings - "The Two Towers""

4 Emma from Greater Manchester - 18 December 2003
"Tolkien is someone i really look up to and admire. and i believe he is one of the greatest storytellers of all time. i also agree with Peter from Rochdale, the lancs was his inspiration. it was a shame Tolkien couldn't see his work on the big screen."

5 Mike from Boston, USA - 18 December 2003
"Apparentley Tolken was incredibly influenced by the Warwickshire countryside he grew up so near to. He was married in St. Mary's Church in Warwick."

6 Aileen from London - 12 December 2003
"I love Tolkien. He has influenced me incredibly."

7 Peter Whitworth-Hilton from Rochdale - 12 December 2003
"Not coming from the depths of Lancashire and so not in any need to promote it; I strongly believe that having read the Trilogy many times, Lancashire was his inspiration. The detail and description with which he writes can put your mental picture firmly in the Lancashire countryside with its rolling pastures and inclement climate. Read the books and then visit the countryside around Darwin and you may see what I mean."

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