Lord of the Rings star John Rhys-Davies explains why J.R.R. Tolkien’s house should be saved
J.R.R. Tolkien changed the course of fantasy literature. His epic three-part novel The Lord of the Rings spawned countless imitations during the second half of the 20th century, and when director Peter Jackson adapted it into three blockbuster films in the first years of the 2000s, a whole new generation was inspired by Middle-earth. But although fans of LOTR can take a trip to New Zealand (when the pandemic’s over, that is) to see the still-standing film sets of Middle-earth locations like Bag End, there isn’t one location where fans of Tolkien’s writing can gather. Many of the actors who starred in Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien, including Ian McKellen and John Rhys-Davies, want to change that.
Project Northmoor was launched earlier this month in the wake of the news that Tolkien’s home in Oxford, England at 20 Northmoor Road — the very place where he wrote The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and likely most of what became The Silmarillion — has gone up for sale. The goal of the initiative is to raise enough money to purchase the house and renovate it so that “the guest can experience what it would have been like to call on the Professor in 1940,” Project Northmoor’s website explains. One could become a guest by booking a spot in the “retreats, writing seminars and other cultural events” that would be planned. Given that this initiative was conceived during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are also plans for virtual events.
“There is no focal point for Tolkien fans throughout the world. Right at the moment, the object is to secure one,” Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, tells EW. “If people had the chance of buying Jane Austen's house 20 years after she died, or John Milton's house, and missed the chance, today we would all be saying, didn't anyone realize at the time what was happening? This is an extraordinary opportunity. If you are a Tolkien fan, it would be awful nice to be able to go and see where he sat down. I'm sure we can recreate his study.”
Tolkien was a student of mythology; he taught Beowulf at Oxford and found his initial inspiration for Middle-earth in a fragment of Old English poetry. His goal with his Middle-earth stories was to create an ancient mythology for England, inspired by epics like the Finnish Kalevala. He appears to have succeeded. The way latter Tolkien works like The Silmarillion were posthumously edited together by his son Christopher even resembles the way mythologies are often collated from a variety of sources and traditions.
He was trying to recreate a history, a pre-Arthurian history," Rhys-Davies says. "There are still some silly people who say ‘oh, he’ll be forgotten in 200 years anyway.’ Yeah, I’m sure they said that about Giraldus Cambrensis too, and the myth of Arthur. I will lay money that Tolkien, of all the contemporary writers we've had, will be remembered in 1,000 years. Although we will know it’s not history, those pre-Arthurian myths will be part of our mythology in the way that the myth of Arthur is part of our history. Strong societies depend on the legends and the mythology that they have."
You can read more about the effort to preserve Tolkien's home (and make a donation) at Project Northmoor's website.
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The Lord of the Rings