Saturday, September 19, 2009

Featured Pipe Smoker: J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973)

"My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remain obstinate!...

Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people...

The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."

Since I'm now trying to get back into my old routine of regular posts here at The Briar Files, I will attempt to resume regular posting of a featured pipe smoker every Saturday. I can think of no better person to begin (again) with than J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien is far too well-known for me to add much information about, since you probably already know as much or more than I do. What I can write about is how I came to discover Tolkien myself.

I first encountered him via the chapter of The Hobbit titled "Riddles in the Dark," which was included in my seventh grade literature textbook. But it was only one chapter lifted from the middle of the book; out of context I found it a good story but not enough to ring any bells.

I was a voracious reader when growing up, but I largely avoided fantasy literature in favor of science fiction. I view this as a rather silly delineation today; still, that's how I was as a kid. My first real encounter with Tolkien was via the Rankin-Bass made-for-TV animated movie of The Hobbit.

That book was in our high school library, so I checked it out and my viewpoint of fantasy changed. I became a fan. It wasn't long before I had also checked out and read all three books of LotR. That year I asked for and received all four of these volumes as a birthday gift. Later on I also read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. I have never really delved any more deeply into his works than that. These days, when I get into the mood to read him again, I always start with The Silmarillion and work my way forward.

When I first began this collection of famous pipe smokers many years ago, there wasn't much to be found in the way of this kind of graphical information on the WWW. The picture at the top of this post was scanned (with a hand scanner!) from one of my own books. I don't remember where I got the second picture--either downloaded or possibly received by email, but I'm sure such photos are now easy to find and plentiful.

I would now like to take this opportunity to link to my friend Brer's series of posts on books by and about Tolkien. Just click on PowerOfBabel: J.R.R. Tolkien. I give these posts my stamp of Official Recommended Reading.

UPDATE: Here is one more photo that I had forgotten I had, and in which he appears to be much younger than the first two pictures. I don't remember where this came from.


  1. Tolkien is a wonderful phenominon. I couldn't be convinced that one could disociate his genius with his pipe smoking. Some of my favorite images of pipe smoking come from the work of Tolkien. How exciting would it be to have a large glass of dark brown and a bowl with this fellow! Thank you for the post!

  2. The second picture looks like a crop from the cover photo on the hardback Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.

    I have heard it averred that Tolkien found it necessary (psychologically) when talking to be working on his pipe, and his grandson Simon claims that Tolkien never inhaled deeply except by accident.