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Can anyone verify the veracity of this Tolkien quote?


Oct 26 2013, 12:10am

Post #1 of 7 (338 views)
Can anyone verify the veracity of this Tolkien quote? Can't Post

"If you really come down to any large story that interests people for a considerable amount of time, the stories - human stories - are practically always about one thing, aren’t they? Death. The inevitability of death."

I suppose I could plug it into Google, but I'd rather get the answer directly from people I trust. For some reason it doesn't "sound" like something he would have said, so I'd really appreciate if anyone could identify where this quote comes from.

"In the beginning the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Oct 26 2013, 1:27am

Post #2 of 7 (218 views)
Google... [In reply to] Can't Post

It's a quote that Daniel Grotta wrote quoting Tolkien in his 1976 book: J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle-earth. This was the first Tolkien biography written.

http://www.grotta.net/blog.htm?post=899042 On his web site, Daniel Grotta writes his perspective on writing it. There is some interesting background info on how he got the quotes & information to write the book. Doesn't seem like the Tolkien estate was/is on board with it.

I know that doesn't answer if the quote is indeed from Tolkien or not, but it's somewhere to start.

"Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?" -Samwise

(This post was edited by Nira on Oct 26 2013, 1:29am)


Oct 26 2013, 1:41am

Post #3 of 7 (195 views)
Thank You! [In reply to] Can't Post

It does seem that it will be quite difficult (if not impossible) to verify that Tolkien actually said this.

(and in the end, it does seem that Google really is your friend! Wink)

"In the beginning the Universe was created.This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Oct 26 2013, 2:08am

Post #4 of 7 (197 views)
It would be good to geordie to weigh in on this [In reply to] Can't Post

and if he doesn't catch this, I'd PM him.

Grotta doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to Tolkien scholarship.

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Oct 26 2013, 3:53am

Post #5 of 7 (183 views)
Hmmm.... [In reply to] Can't Post

The idea at least is related to Tolkien - in his Letters he talks about this idea and its centrality as a theme in his writing. It sounds very similar in concept to this quote:

"But I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man!" (Letter 203, 1957)

It might be someone else commenting on Tolkien's perspective on the theme, and not the Professor himself.


"Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram, and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla, and fair were the many-pillared halls of Khazad-dűm in Elder Days before the fall of mighty kings beneath the stone."

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Oct 26 2013, 8:44am

Post #6 of 7 (174 views)
It's from a BBC TV documentary caalled 'Tolkien in Oxford' [In reply to] Can't Post

A friend of mine who was an undergraduate at Oxford at the time, and appears briefly in the film, tells me they filmed this part in the Oxford Chaplaincy - Tolkien is sitting facing the camera, in front of a table decked out with piles of books, suggesting a busy office or study..

Anyway; it's an 'artsy' film; one of its peculiarities is that we hear Tolkien answering questions, but we never hear the questions being asked. This quote is accurate - this is what Tolkien actually said. He then illustrated this point by taking a slip of paper out of his wallet and reading a quote by Simonne de Bouvoir. Here's a link to that BBC programme.


Tolkien speaks of this at the 21 minute mark.


(This post was edited by geordie on Oct 26 2013, 8:47am)


Oct 27 2013, 5:09pm

Post #7 of 7 (193 views)
Evidently Tolkien talked in a looser style than he wrote in [In reply to] Can't Post

As geordie has provided the video, and silverlode has retrieved the similar statement from the Letters (which is what I remembered too), it seems clear that when you said "it doesn't 'sound' like something he would have said", you were both right and wrong.

Tolkien did feel that death was a preoccupying theme in human letters - which might be what's surprising you, but that's Tolkien in a thoughtful mood, all right -- but now we see that he didn't usually write in the way he might speak off the cuff. The TV quote is almost charming in is casualness, and somewhat refreshing compared to his carefully balanced and moderate written prose. Now I wonder more than ever how his lectures sounded in the Oxford classrooms.

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