JRR Tolkien´s connections with Warwick are well documented but not widely acknowledged, and yet Warwick's physical and historical presence were an important aspect of his creative imagination throughout his life. This essay charts the significant influence of Warwick in Tolkien´s work from its first appearance in a poem dedicated to the town to its thematic presence in The Lord of the Rings, and considers the place of Warwick in the creation of Tolkien´s Middle-earth fiction. His foremost biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, has written that Tolkien „found Warwick, its trees, its hill, and its castle, to be a place of remarkable beauty“ (Carpenter, J.R.R.Tolkien: A Biography), and yet little notice has so far been taken of the way all those elements of Warwick that were so attractive to Tolkien can be seen echoing in his works from an early epic poem to his fully-formed mature mythology.


                Tolkien´s attachment to Warwick, and particularly to the church of St Mary Immaculate in West Street, is well recorded but attracts little attention, although during the late sixties his residency in the town was celebrated. Humphrey Carpenter notes in his biography of Tolkien that during that time students at Warwick University renamed the Ring Road around their campus Tolkien Road““. Sadly, however, the importance of Warwick in Tolkien´s life and work is far less often mentioned than his connections with Birmingham and Oxford, which seem to claim almost all the kudos, in spite of the fact that his love of romance in both senses, as personal emotional involvement, and as a form of medieval storytelling, was inevitably touched by Warwick´s medieval history and setting as much as by his own personal associations with the town.


                Warwick´s beauty has attracted other visiting writers, but the particular history and configuration of the town had resonances for Tolkien that made it especially significant in relation to his scholarly interests. The medieval roots of the town would have appealed to Tolkien. Its Anglo-Saxon history would have attracted the man who was to become a famous scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature. He would have understood its Anglo-Saxon name Waerincgwican and would have been able to pronounce it correctly and with ease!


                Anglo-Saxon Warwick, on its rocky outcrop, commanded a crossing on the river Avon. It was fortified in 914 against attack by the invading Danes – becoming one of the Anglo-Saxon burhs or fortified towns. By the time Doomsday Book was written it was a royal borough. Tolkien, being the great philologist and etymologist that he was, would have known that the modern English word borough is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word burh, and so recalls a town or city´s Anglo-Saxon origins, and the role it played in the defence of the kingdom against viking invaders.


                Anglo-Saxon Warwick, a leading burh in the kingdom of Mercia, suggests the pattern for Edoras the chief settlement in Tolkien´s Middle-earth realm of Rohan, and indeed, Tolkien himself acknowledged that his kingdom of Rohan was Anglo-Saxon England, specifically, the kingdom of Mercia. As a burh, early Warwick would have been fortified with a stout wooden palisade. Its halls, including that of its lord Earl Thurkill, as well as all the smaller dwellings and buildings, would have been primarily constructed of wood.


                Tolkien the scholar of the ancient English languages refined his creation of Rohan to include the language used by the horsemen of Rohan. He gave them not just Old English as their language, but specifically the Old English dialect of Anglo-Saxon known as Old Mercian, which would have been used in pre-Conquest Warwick and the surrounding shire. Tolkien, for his own creative satisfaction, did not want his Rohirrim, the horsemen of Rohan, to speak standard West Saxon although, or perhaps because, that was the language of literature and culture before the Conquest. In this context, it is worth noting that in his academic life, Tolkien´s best-known contribution to Anglo-Saxon studies was his analysis of the Old English poem Beowulf, and this poem is widely thought to have been composed for Offa King of Mercia, although the language of the manuscript is primarily West Saxon. Tolkien´s attitude to the elitism implicit in the status accorded to West Saxon can be deduced from one of his early letters, recorded by Humphrey Carpenter, in which he wrote: I think I shall have to refuse to speak anything but Old Mercian (Carpenter, J.R.R.Tolkien: Letters, 53).


                Like the Hall of the kings of Rohan, earl Thurkill of Arden´s great wooden hall would have looked out from its elevated position on the hill upon which modern Warwick now stands, over the rolling green countryside of Warwickshire; but that Warwick was swept away in the years following the Norman invasion of 1066 and a new and more sophisticated town developed. There was now a feudal lord, a steward of the newly defined county. The Anglo-Saxon stronghold became a Norman castle built of stone, with many towers and battlements, and it stood now looming over the countryside, as much a threat and declaration of power as a protection to the local people. For Norman castles were primarily intended to quell an unruly conquered populace. In the aftermath of 1066, stone replaced wood as the means of differentiating the rulers from the ruled, and throughout England, society, language, and culture changed.


                We know, however, that Tolkien admired the stone-built castle on its rock rising above the river. Castles were always the pre-eminent sign of post-Conquest medieval power but in the case of Warwick the castle on its rock became a model for Middle-earth locations such as Minas Tirith, Amon Hen and Amon Sul, as well as Edoras – all fortified places set on imposing rocks, hills or mountains.


                The other medieval buildings that survived the 1694 fire that devastated Warwick would have added to the sense of stepping back in time, and Tolkien´s works are full of nostalgia for lost ages. The King´s School, with a history reaching back before the Conquest, would have taken Tolkien back to his beloved Anglo-Saxon era. He once corrected an impression that he deplored war by saying that it was not only modern warfare he had in mind, but the cultural catastrophe of the Norman Conquest. So tangible evidence of Anglo-Saxon life would have been important to him. However, he would not have ignored the beauty of the Beauchamp chapel. Its association with Richard Beauchamp earl of Warwick, one of the great knights-errant of the Middle Ages, would have been particularly resonant for Tolkien as Sir Richard epitomised in life the values of knighthood set down in the manuscripts of medieval romances from which Tolkien drew some of his inspiration. It is worth remarking here that the Anglo-Saxon title earl originally spelt eorl and meaning simply a brave man or leader, survived the Norman Conquest, and although its spelling altered, its meaning continued to be a signifier of noble status.


                Warwick´s medieval hospital or Maison Dieu has its reflection in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith to which Merry Brandybuck, Eowyn, the Lady of Rohan, and Faramir, second son of the steward of Gondor are taken after their separate encounters with the deadly Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul. And at this point it is possible to argue that Tolkien uses the two historical aspects of Warwick, the Anglo-Saxon and the post-Norman medieval as sources for two of the most clearly defined kingdoms of Middle-earth – Rohan and Gondor. They are neighbours and allies in the book, but their social, cultural, and political situations are clearly differentiated, and that differentiation can be illuminated through the history of Warwick.


                In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien maps geographically what was in reality a temporal change. He contrasts the society and culture of Rohan with the culture and society of Gondor, and as Rohan is Anglo-Saxon, Gondor is influenced by Norman and French culture and history. Tolkien changes the physical the scale as part of the definition of the complex moral and cultural difference between the two kingdoms. Where Meduseld, the hall of the kings of Rohan sits on a hill, Minas Tirith´s rocky location is a shoulder of Mindolluin, last of the White Mountains, where the Steward of Gondor sits isolated in his massive citadel above the city, and while Theoden of Rohan regains his nobility in old age, Denethor the Steward echoes the Carolingian usurpation of the Frankish Merovingians in his arrogant refusal to bow to the last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity (Return of the King, Bk.5 ch.7). But although the scale changes in a reflection of the historical shift, the configuration of Minas Tirith like that of Edoras reiterates the geography of Warwick.


                No doubt, then, Tolkien would have regretted that Thurkill of Arden was deprived of his great midlands estate in order to accommodate the first Norman earl of Warwick, but after the depressing industrial landscape of early twentieth-century Birmingham in which he was brought up, coming to Warwick must indeed have seemed to Tolkien as if (to borrow the hobbit Frodo´s words as he enters the elven realm of Lothlorien) he had indeed stepped over a bridge of time into a corner of the Elder Days, and was now walking in a world that was no more (The Fellowship of the Ring, Bk.2 ch.6).


                The relationship between the history of Warwick and Tolkien´s creation of particular locations in his Middle-earth is not difficult to establish, and we should not be surprised, because Middle-earth is only the modern spelling and pronunciation of the world as it was known and named in the Middle Ages. It was Middelerde, middangeard, and other cognate spellings that referred to the same concept of a place between the upper and lower regions. But in order to understand better the profound influence Warwick had on Tolkien´s creative imagination we should take a brief look at his biography up to and including his time in Warwick.


                Warwick´s romantic associations in Tolkien´s life take two inter-related forms. When he married Edith Bratt in the church of St Mary Immaculate on Wednesday, March 22nd their marriage was the culmination of a period in Tolkien´s life that bore striking similarities to some of the medieval English romances that he knew and later worked on. These romances were popular stories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, composed as poems in different dialects of Middle English, probably for oral performance by travelling storytellers and minstrels, and they formed an important part of the inspiration for his later epic The Lord of the Rings.


                John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Ronald to his family, and Tollers to his friends, had been born in South Africa in 1892, but for the sake of his health his mother brought little Ronald and his baby brother Hilary back to England and settled in her native Birmingham in 1896, the year their father died. Sadly their mother died of diabetes in 1904. For a while Ronald and his brother were fostered by their austere aunt Beatrice, but they also enjoyed the guardianship of their local Catholic priest in Birmingham. Father Francis was a caring man, whose desire to find the boys more congenial lodgings unexpectedly resulted in a major confrontation when the sixteenth-year-old Ronald fell in love with Edith, a lodger in the house Father Francis had found as a refuge for the boys. Edith was nineteen and Father Francis was horrified at the attachment. He forbade them to see one another until Ronald came of age, which in those days was not until the age of twenty-one.


                Reluctantly, Ronald suffered this long prohibition. His obedience sprang from respect for his guardian, and similar circumstances are part of the relationship he created between the Ranger Aragorn, the king-in-waiting, and Arwen the Elven Lady of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings. Their marriage is prohibited by Arwen´s father Elrond Half-elven until Aragorn has won back and united the realms of Gondor and Arnor, the lands of his forefathers. Only then will he be King, and only as King can he hope to marry Arwen. In this, Aragorn does not defy the will of Elrond his one-time foster-father any more than Ronald defied Father Francis.


                The motif of separated lovers occurs frequently in the medieval English verse romances, some of which Tolkien edited during his academic career. These romances offered models of relationships which Tolkien wove into The Lord of the Rings, and which closely reflect elements of his own life story. There are a number of romances in which dispossessed and orphaned young princes are fostered, and then have many adventures while trying to reclaim their patrimony, and win the hand of the lady they love. Horn travels from the south of England to Ireland and back before he wins Rymenhild, Bevis has to win back his lands around Southampton and the Isle of Wight before he can settle down with Josian, his Armenian princess. Havelok the Dane travels from Grimsby on his quest, before eventually winning Goldeboru to be his queen. Besides echoing the separation from Edith, this motif of the winning of the lady and the land reiterates an ancient mythical belief that a king was wedded to his land as to his wife. Tolkien continues this motif in The Lord of the Rings but extends it: as Aragorn reunites the realms of Gondor and Arnor in order to marry Arwen, so through their union the races of Men and Elves are united.


                All the medieval heroes, and others in romance tradition, belong to specific geographical locations – southern England, Southampton, Grimsby, and Warwick itself is the setting for Guy of Warwick. Thus the place of Warwick in Tolkien´s storytelling belongs in this tradition, known as The Matter of Britain or The Matter of England. Andrew King has noted in his book The Faerie Queene and the Middle English Romance: The Matter of Just Memory a native tradition in which fictional and even mythical action is set in geographically recognisable locations. The technique gives the fiction a kind of reality and endows the place with both entertaining, and even profoundly mythic, significance. As Tolkien declared he was writing a mythology for England the inspiration provided by Warwick was entirely in keeping with traditions he would have known from his scholarly work.


                After the emotional darkness of Ronald´s long separation from Edith, it is hardly surprising that the beauty of Warwick touched him, for it was the place where their love at last shook off the troubles of the past. Having begun his lifelong studies of Old English eventually at Oxford, and having travelled abroad, and reached the milestone of his twenty-first birthday, Ronald was at last free to write to Edith, which he did at the start of January 1913. She wrote back to say she was already engaged to someone else. However, on Wednesday 8th January 1913, just five days after his birthday, Ronald met Edith again. By the end of that Wednesday in 1913 they were unofficially engaged, but now another obstacle arose. Ronald was a devout Catholic and Edith was not. She had moved to Cheltenham and was living with a couple who would not have approved of her conversion, so she moved again, this time to set up home with her cousin Jennie, and the ladies chose Warwick for their new home. Here, Edith received instruction in the Catholic faith from Father Murphy, parish priest of Warwick and she and Ronald were formally betrothed, but outside it was growing dark with the threat of war.


                In 1915 having graduated from Oxford with a first class degree in English, Ronald joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as an officer. While he was in a training camp in Staffordshire Edith was still living in Warwick. In a letter to her Ronald wrote of the poem he was composing that was inspired by the town. It contained what were to become some of the most characteristic themes and concepts of his creative work, as he wrote of a fading town upon a little hill that was built by elves close to a river overshadowed by towering elms. He called the poem „Kortirion among the Trees“.


                The poem has been published by Christopher Tolkien in the first Book of Lost Tales, and this book offers three versions of the poem, for Tolkien worked on it intermittently for around fifty years – a testimony to the importance he placed on the ideas expressed in the poem and inspired by Warwick, to which he dedicated it. The three versions show definite changes to the vocabulary which expresses the most significant features, and yet some concepts remain unchanged, or only slightly modified. The earliest version of the poem is full of the freshness and vigour of its youthful creator, even if its ideas are expressed with a certain rawness, but the rhythm and metre are suitably measured to convey the stateliness of the subject. The second version is even more measured, while the third shows the mature creativity that is found in Tolkien´s major prose works as well as in the poem. In this late version the archaisms that belonged to a pre-war deference to the authority of the past are rejected as thy and thine become simply your. The anthropomorphism is gone – the grey robe, old heart, and frowning castle are exchanged for grey stones, old halls and silent towers, and the greater simplicity has greater power.



Second part of Kortirion among the Trees will be published in the next issue of this literary journal.