The high points of this documentary on the great J.R.R. Tolkien, from the BBC Series In Their Own Words: British Novelists, are the moments that fulfill the promise of the series’ title. Skip over the distracting “man on the street” interviews and long pans of the landscape, meant perhaps to invoke Middle Earth. In fact, you can skip over every scene that isn’t just the author’s magnificent talking head.
Start at minute 2:49, where he describes first writing the immortal words “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The anecdote should inspire beleaguered graduate students and teachers everywhere: He came up with the line while grading exams.
We also loved Tolkien’s confession about trees, starting at the 7:00 minute mark: “I should have liked to make contact with a tree and find out how it feels about things.”
You can watch the documentary on YouTube in two parts. The first part is above, the second here. The material also appears in our collection of 250 Cultural Icons.
Talking Literature with Great British Novelists
Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.