John Garth and Tolkien’s World

Sunday morning at 11:30AM, Jim Wert of the High Fantasy Track, along with Kristin Cairns of TheOneRing.Net (TORN), welcomed John Garth to discuss his career as a Tolkien scholar, and his latest book The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-Earth. Garth, whose work Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth established his place as a major force in Tolkien scholarship, brings the training of a journalist as well as a research scholar to his work.

Garth read Lord of the Rings for the first time at the age of 9. That experience sparked an ongoing curiosity about Tolkien, his life, and his work. Garth also had a keen interest in family history, and spent much time during his youth researching in archives. These elements, coupled with his own deep interest in Elvish languages, and a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, laid the foundation for his future interests and work. When asked about his writing style, one that reflects great skill as a researcher with a journalist’s ability to make his work readable to a popular audience, Garth pointed out both the importance and the difficulty of it. Archival work requires patience and diligence with the ultimate goal being verification and accuracy. He wants his work to be not only readable but trustworthy as well. Getting there is, as he points out, “harder than you think.”

Garth’s book took its shape as the author grappled with the complex tapestry of Tolkien’s creation. As a result, he found attempting to write one piece of continuous narrative prose impossible. What was required was a structure that broke out the discussion of his world into sections or units. Thoroughly researched and yet very readable, Garth’s Worlds achieves that goal through its structure and design.

There is a tendency among Tolkien fans to make direct, linear associations between a place or thing that Tolkien experienced in his life with a specific element of his writing. This, Garth insists, is problematic in the sense that Tolkien was a “synthesizer.” He wove things together to create something new. Tolkien as a world builder is a common theme in Tolkien scholarship. Garth acknowledged this, but added that Tolkien was an alchemist, mixing ingredients together to create his gold.

Garth maintains that when Tolkien wrote his now famous letter in which he claimed his goal was to write a mythology for England, he was in fact creating much more, something global. Tolkien both celebrated and defended the world in which we live. His work tells us that the world is a place worth preserving and one in which we should not lose hope. That message, one of value and hope, has never been more relevant to our world. As Garth declared: Tolkien was talented in ways you just don’t often see. Indeed.

“The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: An Hour with Author John Garth” can be seen on YouTube at

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