Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tolkien, Benn & All That

While doing research on the great British Individualist, Ernest Benn (I do wonder about details of his involvement with F.W. Hirst and Antony Fisher), I came across an interesting interview with the grandson of Edward A. Wyke-Smith, Charles Wyke-Smith. The novelist E.A. Wyke-Smith was the author of a popular children's book, The Marvellous Land of Snergs which had been published by Benn in 1927. The novel follows two children, rescued by the "The Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children," transporting them to a "world apart," the Land of Snergs, where dwarf-like people feast and enjoy life.

Charles Wyke-Smith says
"Tolkien himself wrote of his children’s love of the story, and apparently they even made up Snerg stories of their own."

"Tolkien, in a letter to W. H. Auden in 1955, mentioned that his children enjoyed The Hobbit, then adds a footnote: "Not any better I think than The Marvellous Land of Snergs, Wyke-Smith, Ernest Benn 1927. Seeing the date, I should say it was probably an unconscious source-book for the Hobbits, not of anything else." (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 1995, p 215)

"In 1994, Tolkien scholar Douglas Anderson contacted my Aunt Nina, E.A’s older daughter, after looking in the London phone book for any Wyke-Smiths that he could find. He had referenced The Marvellous Land of Snergs in The Annotated Hobbit."

"I’ve always known through my aunt that there was a connection with my grandfather and Tolkien, and that Tolkien’s children had liked the Snergs story...And certainly, you don’t have to look far to see numerous connections between the Hobbits and the Snergs — in their physical descriptions, their love of communal feasting, the numerous similar locations through which the heroes of the two stories travel, such as dangerous forests and underground caverns, and even the heroes’ names — Gorbo and Bilbo - indicate to me that Tolkien must at least have been influenced by Snergs."

"I think perhaps that when Tolkien read Snergs, ...the sense of place and the characters stuck with him, and when he was inspired to write The Hobbit, these influences came through in his story."

" ...[I]t’s not unreasonable for anyone who has read both books to think that Tolkien used Snergs as more than an "unconscious source" for The Hobbit. At the same time, if Tolkien did indeed draw ideas from Snergs for The Hobbit, by the time he got to LOTR, he had certainly elevated them to a far more sophisticated level."

While Snergs may not live in Kentucky, even Tolkien took a liking to them and introduced them to us.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism


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