Thursday, July 01, 2004

Tolkein sells real estate?

A recent article in the London Daily Telegraph wrote about the imminent sale of the Wrekin, a very old (geologically) hill in Shropshire. The real estate agent in charge of the sale is promoting this lump of rhyolite as an important site that fired the imagination of J R R Tolkein for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This has to be snake oil salesmanship at its 21st century worst.
Tolkein grew up in Birmingham/North Warwickshire/Worcestershire and spent the rest of his life after the Great War in Oxford. According to his official biography (writen while he was still alive) he may well have been influenced by the geography of his childhood in establishing the description of the Shire.

So let me cast forth my thoughts on some of the geographically significant sites (and remember, I am not selling real estate!):

Take a look at Tolkein's map of the Shire. It is divided into four "farthings". The center of the Shire may well be just east of Moreton-in-Marsh where the Four Shire Stone celebrates the coming together of four counties (Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire).

The first major hill that Frodo encounters after leaving the Shire is Weathertop, a historic site where the Nazgul attack Frodo and maim him. Various antecedents for Weathertop could include the Lickey Hills (near Rednal, a place the Tolkein family loved), Meon Hill or High Spinney on Brailes Hill. Both the latter are steeped in folklore and evidence of the "craft". Meon Hill was the site of a grizzly murder in the 1930s while High Spinney, east of Shipston-on-Stour, is considered to be at the intersection of two important ley lines. These hills are between Birmingham and Oxford and must have been well known to Tolkein. In my opinion, all three carry far greater weight than the Wrekin as influences on the Lord of the Rings.

The two towers are probably located in Birmingham - Perrot's Folly and the Edgbaston Reservoir Tower. The City of Birmingham certainly thinks so, but then they are likely to be a little biased. Other Birmingham locations include Moseley Bog (a.k.a. Ancient Forest) and Sarehole Mill.

Bag End really does exist in the Vale of Evesham. Tolkein's brother Hillary ran an orchard farm there - very Shire-like!

The main theme in the Lord of the Rings is the fight against an evil mechanized society. Tolkein loved trees and saw "leafy Warwickshire" falling to the ever increasing expansion of the industrial Midlands. Perhaps the Ents are a reference to the fallen oaks of the Forest of Arden, largely hewn down to build the Royal Navy's ships in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Tolkein helped to preserve both Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog for posterity, suggesting that he really did care a lot about the places of his childhood.