16 April 2020

JRR Tolkien: Procrastinator Extraordinaire?

This article — 'Did Tolkien Write The Lord of the Rings Because He Was Avoiding His Academic Work? is rather dense. However, it reveals that the good professor’s time spent procrastinating went into thinking through the elements of Middle-earth, including the storylines that eventually would be realized in the The Lord of the Rings.

The author John Bowers notes:
For so many years, in short, he [Tolkien] had been loafing in his scholarly career as a losel who squandered time on children’s stories when he should have been whipping his Beowulf book into shape. He confided to his publisher in 1937 that Oxford would merely add The Hobbit to his “long list of never-never procrastinations” (Letters, 18). Fiction-writing simply did not count in terms of academic production, especially after Tolkien had idled away his two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship. “The authorities of the university,” he would lament when The Lord of the Rings was in press, “might well consider it an aberration of an elderly professor of philology to write and publish fairy stories and romances” (Letters, 219). He explained to his American publisher this widespread view of his failings: “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years'” (Letters, 238). His enormous effort during the late 1940s in the cramped row-house without even a desk—”I typed out The Hobbit—and the whole of The Lord of the Rings twice (and several sections many times) on my bed in an attic of Manor Road” (Letters, 344)—was little known because it simply did not count.
I take comfort in learning that Tolkien was a procrastinator with respect to his academic work, as I am a terrible slacker myself. Unfortunately, this blog is the main product of my work-avoidance. *sigh*

Ah well. We can’t all be Istari.

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).