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.
As a fiction writer who teaches, I often speak about what I love in fiction, what to me makes it powerful and engaging.
This is a version of a talk I have been giving for years to students and other interested parties; it is a talk I’ve become — what is the right word? — uncertain about in the last five years, not because I don’t believe what I’m saying or that I care about it less but because I’m not sure that people can find it meaningful anymore.
There are a number of reasons I feel this, most of which have to do with how we take in knowledge and information and how that has changed the nature of perception. I’m not saying anything new here: think iPhones and the constant staring there at, a skull-fracturing change which plainly has consequences beyond how people understand the reading and writing of fiction.
There are few authors, if any at all, that can match the influence of Stephen King, an ingenious creative who has given a tremendous amount of stories to cinema and television. From low-key dramas like Stand By Me, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption to blockbuster thrillers such as It, The Shining and Carrie, King has done it all.
Continuing to inspire both the big and small screen to this very day, King has recently seen his novel Firestarter adapted into a new movie starring Zac Efron, as well as his 2006 book Lisey’s Story that has recently been serialised by Apple TV.
Despite writing many of his most iconic stories in the late 20th century, King’s influence in the world of literature and visual entertainment is truly impressive.
If you love to read, podcasts may not be your first choice of medium; however, there are a number of incredible book podcasts out there.
So just for literature lovers looking to step outside the book, we rounded up our favorite podcasts—from a grown-up version of Reading Rainbow to conversations recorded live from the most famous bookstore in Paris to a project centered on immersive poetry reading.
There are podcasters who only read celebrity memoirs, interviewers who only speak with debut authors, and Harry Potter super fans who are rereading the series, one chapter at a time.
Without further ado, here are 27 recommendations for book podcasts spanning genre (fantasy! romance! classics!) and location (books in translation! Indigenous authors! books from the Middle East!). There’s something for everyone here—just as long as you love to read.
You do something strange every day. You consume fictions. It’s such an omnipresent habit, shared by all, that we rarely consider the oddity of it.
I’m a fiction writer myself, but I’m also a neuroscientist, so this activity fascinates me. What’s the cognitive utility of learning things that aren’t true? We’re evolved biological beings who need to understand the world to survive, and yet all facts we learn about Hogwarts are literally false. How can any of this information be useful?
Still, fictions surround us. I grew up in my mother’s independent bookstore and I’ve been a writer since I can remember. A significant change in my lifetime is that media, like TV channels, books, magazines, and films, have been condensed into a single one-stop shop: the screen. I call this the supersensorium. Screens are now supermarkets for entertaining experiences. Such easy access to fictions means we often binge watch, we stuff our faces.