JRR Tolkien disliked novels that tended toward autobiography, though he did not dispute the fact that an author has no choice but to use his or her own experiences in writing fiction. The Lord of the Rings is most assuredly not an allegory for the 20th century, nor are any of his protagonists a reflection of Tolkien himself. Yet, if there is a domain inextricably intertwined with the life of our author, it is linguistics: comparative philology, to be precise.
For Tolkien, language and literature necessarily go hand in hand; this is the only way to ensure proper understanding of a text, particularly in the case of ancient texts. Tolkien conveyed this point of view in his analysis of Beowulf, published in The Monsters and the Critics: And Other Essays, which combined philological rigor with literary appreciation at a time when critics generally saw the epic poem merely as a source of historical information distorted by myth.
The importance of language is easily discernible in Tolkien’s obsession with finding the perfect turn of phrase, even if it meant reworking certain sentences countless times. His preoccupation with linguistic detail also found its way into his stories themselves, focusing on the languages spoken by the various characters. No one who has read The Lord of the Rings can fail to have been struck by the passages in Quenya or Sindarin, the two main Elvish languages, and in perusing the novels’ appendices, it becomes clear to the reader that these are true languages, each with its own specific grammar and vocabulary, and that Tolkien also paid close attention to the evolution of these languages, and to their relationships to one another.
In my own forthcoming novel, The Deceptions, the Greek and Roman statues, and their representations, give my character agency and move the narrative forward. Here are five novels, all from different milieux, that use art— whether in a museum, a church, a city, a drawing room, or a catalog—to inspire a result in a meaningful and unexpected way.
Lucy Honeychurch is a young naïve woman locked in conventions and social mores who visits Italy with her cousin Charlotte. George Emerson is the person of interest for Lucy, though she doesn’t quite know it until much later. George is of a different social class than Lucy and was brought up by his father to reject social norms, religion, and to follow his heart. Lucy on a stroll alone finds herself at the Basilica Di Santa Croce without her guidebook. “Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.” She runs into George Emerson and his father marveling at the Giotto frescoes. She says of Santa Croce, “though it is like a barn, has harvested many beautiful things inside its walls.” Lucy is transformed by the art and beauty of the inner sanctum of the Santa Croce and finds the Giotto “wonderful.”
Editor’s Note: Read more, see link below for original item…
Ray Bradbury met his first girlfriend—and his future wife—in a bookstore. But they didn’t lock eyes over the same just-selected novel, or bump into each other in a narrow aisle, sending books and feelings flying.
It was a warm afternoon in April 1946, and 25-year-old Ray Bradbury—an up-and-coming pulp fiction writer—was wearing a trench coat and carrying a briefcase while he scanned the shelves at Fowler Brothers Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
Naturally, Marguerite McClure—Maggie—who worked at the bookstore, “was immediately suspicious.” Someone had been stealing books, but hadn’t yet been caught. So she struck up a conversation. “I expected him to slam his briefcase down on a pile of books and make off with a few,” she said. “Instead, he told me he was a writer and invited me to have a cup of coffee with him.”
Coffee became lunch became dinner became romance; Maggie was the first woman Ray had ever dated, but he managed all right, and they were married on September 27, 1947.
When I set out to write a book about love in 2017, I was not happy. I was pretty sad. But I was still in love, or at least so I thought. All the messages from the culture around me were telling me what they had always told me: that being in love was about being happy. Being happy ever after. Happy with someone. Happy together.
I had questions. What if I’m not happy? What if I’m sad—or worse, depressed? Does that mean I’m no longer in love? Am I now unloving? Unlovable? I desperately hoped the answer to the last two was “no.” And I strongly suspected that was the answer.
Even though I wasn’t happy, and didn’t know when, how, or even whether I would become happy in the future, I didn’t seriously doubt that I was in love with my partners. So instead, like any good logician, I questioned the other assumption: the one about how being in love means being happy.
Shakespeare and Company’s green-and-yellow facade and weather-beaten sidewalk book bins telegraphed old-world charm. Inside, thousands of books both new and used lined the shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling. More books were heaped on tables crammed into corners. I’d never seen so many books packed into a space. Tara had told us on the way over that this English-language bookstore, founded in 1951, had long been the center of expat literary life and that many famous writers had visited and even slept there over the years. Looking around the store, an extraordinary tribute to reading and writing as surely as the Musée d’Orsay was to art, I could see why.
I ran my fingers absently over the spines of books, picking up one classic novel and then another. A tattered copy of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders caught my attention. It looked just like the one I’d been assigned in boarding school long ago. As I leafed through it, the words on the page brought me powerfully back not to the lessons in the classroom but to the countless letters I’d written to my friends in those years. What happens to you as a teenager matters. Sometimes, the intervening decades can feel all but gone.
It’s easy to get kicked out of most boarding schools. All you have to do is break just one of the cardinal rules: no leaving campus without permission, no alcohol, no drugs of any kind, no cheating, no sex, and, above all else, no breaking of the school’s beloved honor code.