“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”
These words come to hold much weight in regards to J.R.R Tolkien’s high fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as in the life of the author himself. Finding the path to pursue one’s passion may be straightforward, or it may be circuitous; the latter is definitely a defining characteristic that takes root in Tolkien’s childhood and grows into a lonely mountain of a challenge once he enters adulthood. But patience and love will always help one find their home.
Dome Karukoski’s biopic focuses on the life of renowned fantasy writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and his many ups and downs before publishing his first novel The Hobbit in 1937, which would skyrocket him to fame shortly after. The film sees actors Harry Gilby and Nicholas Hoult sharing the titular role, portraying Tolkien as an orphaned, imaginative adolescent as well as a soldier and esteemed professor at Oxford University in his later years. After his mother passes away from an untimely illness, J.R.R and his younger brother are placed in the care of a family friend and Catholic priest, where they are provided room and board, as well as a spot at a prestigious school.
Initially feeling lonesome and unsure, Tolkien eventually finds solace in the company of four of his classmates, who grow extremely close upon forming the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS), an action that allows the boys to share, encourage and advise one another in their attempts to change the world for the better through art. Along the way, J.R.R meets and falls in love with Edith Bratt – played by Mimi Keene and Lily Collins in youth and adulthood – a fellow tenant at his boarding house. Just like Tolkien, Edith is a lover of the arts, particularly music, and she encourages him to engage with his passion for language and storytelling.
Tolkien and his companions navigate life’s trials side by side: that of young love, schoolboy rivalry, academic and financial struggles, parental approval, and the natural longing to leave a mark on the world. All their ambitions, however, are put on hold once the First World War erupts and military conscription threatens to tear their fellowship apart. And throughout it all, Tolkien gradually and consistently toys with multiple visions, late night sketches, utterances of ‘nonsense’, made up fables and both literal and figurative dragons, that will eventually propel him to begin what would become one of the most recognised and treasured stories of all time.
Tolkien is a film grounded in a reality that’s not too distant from ours, and tugs on the audience’s heartstrings through the effortless performances of its actors and the sheer beauty and relatability of its timeless message. Choosing love and having the courage to prove yourself are what lies at the core of Karukoski’s film, which parallels the message found within each of Tolkien’s novels. The congruency of the film’s cinematography and historical locations results in a gentle, inspiring product that appeals to the creative in us all.
Tolkien’s remarkable legacy, his dreams, his spellbinding admiration of humanity, and endless sense of wonder all reached their climax with the writing of a single sentence: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Literature student living in the Great White North. When’s she’s not chugging back on tea, you can most likely find her at the cinema or tucked away in the corner of a bookstore. Her favourite films include Harry Potter, Cinderella, Casino Royale and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95