Growing Up with Grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien

By DeFiglio, Pam | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 11, 2003 | Go to article overview

Growing Up with Grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien


DeFiglio, Pam, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Pam DeFiglio Daily Herald Staff Writer

When the third "Lord of the Rings" movie opens next Wednesday, fans will be scrambling to find seats in movie theaters.

Simon Tolkien grew up with something far better - a seat on the knee of his adoring grandfather, J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the trilogy and many other tomes.

When Simon was 8 or 9, he would ask his grandfather endless questions about the lands and people of Middle Earth, the fantasy setting of the novels.

"He was very patient in telling me about it. It seemed magical to me," recalls Simon, 44. The grandson lives in London, but often travels to the Midwest because his wife hails from St. Louis.

Simon remembers J.R.R. as warm, patient and loving. He thinks his grandfather especially took him under his wing after Simon's parents got divorced. Simon was five at the time.

"He was very sympathetic to me, and kind. It wasn't an easy time for me," Simon recalls.

Back then, they had more privacy because the Tolkien name wasn't as famous as it is now. Simon says he didn't ever feel fame until director Peter Jackson began filming the "Lord of the Rings" movies.

Before that, he can remember only one brush with fame. Simon was attending boarding school and his grandfather came to visit for the festivities of Guy Fawkes Day, an English holiday that falls on Nov. 5.

"Everybody was impressed that J.R.R. Tolkien came to school," he says. "That was the only time I had a strong sense of him being famous."

J.R.R. passed away when Simon was 13. He says he wishes he had had more time with his grandfather.

Like many of J.R.R.' s fans, Simon looked forward to the movies coming out. But after a lifetime of seeing the characters in his mind, seeing another conception on screen was a little jarring at first.

"I enjoy the movies more when they're focusing on the Hobbits in the Shire," he says.

"I thought Helms Deep was done well. But the characters of Sauromon (the wizard who tortures Gandalf in the first movie) and Elrond (the king of the elves) bear no relation to how I think about them."

The time the movies were being made was a period of personal upheaval and growth for Simon.

Although J.R.R. had four children, Simon's father, Christopher, had always managed the business affairs of J.R.R.' s literary legacy. Christopher opposed the making of the movies, but he couldn't stop them because J. …

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