Quick review: Little People, Big Dreams. J.R.R. Tolkien
“Discover the lives of outstanding people, from designers and artists to scientists. All of them achieved incredible things, yet each began life as a child with a dream.” The blurb at the back of this edition of the Little People, Big Dreams series tells you what this children’s book is all about. At the time of writing more than a hundred people have become part of this series, from Coco Chanel and David Bowie to Bruce Lee and Mozart. J.R.R. Tolkien become #79, published in 2022. Here is my quick review.
When I first heard about this children’s biography I quite loved the concept – and I still do. To put interesting information about even more interesting people out there and be successful with it is an amazing feat in publishing. To showcase illustrators from all over the world with these books really is an added bonus – and for the Tolkien book it was Aaron Cushley.
The text is provided by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, the author behind the series. One of the fun extras you can get with the official website is a downloadable Career word search poster (look for the illustrator tab) where you can search for Tolkien’s career – author.
Now, I know, the text in the book – or rather booklet – is very short and aimed at children, so any convoluted complexities would not work. And despite the fact that I would rather strongly argue his profession was not author one might still say, well, it still is decent enough?
True, and I know that with a truly lovely book like this and the intention behind it one should probably not be too harsh. Unfortunately, I believe children do deserve the truth and/ or the facts and your writing you should mirror this.
The reason for this review is a very lovely hint in the text that I stumbled across and which threw me off my reading:
“It took him twelve years to complete the 9,250 pages of The Lord of the Rings.”
Now, wait a minute! The number of people who have read and/ or even heard about the 9,250 pages is pretty small. If you look at a one volume edition of The Lord of the Rings, say, with Blackwell’s, you would find the total number of pages to be 1,248.
So what had Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara done to get to this particular number? She obviously did some research and found this at the Marquette Archives:
The manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings, 1938-1955, consist of 7,125 leaves (9,250 pages).Marquette.edu
So, spot on (in a sense ☺️)
And I was particularly pleased she used the name Ronald throughout the book (easy tell someone does not know anything about Tolkien? When they talk about John all the time).
I do get people saying Tolkien was born in South Africa – see my short post on this – but it is historically speaking incorrect. What we know as South Africa today only came into existence in 1961(its predecessor, the Union of South Africa, was founded in 1910). I know, some people would call this nitpicking – but that is often done by people who are too lazy or too impatient to explain the facts. In fact, it is rather important for the biography of J.R.R. Tolkien and his family to understand how he came to be born in the Orange Free State.
Yes, I know, this is a children’s book. And again I can only say there is no reason to lie to children if not for their protection or well-being (or present them with half-truths and/ or misrepresentations). Given the fact that the author obviously did some research – not many people know the manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings are with a unversity in Wisconsin – I was surprised when I read the summary on the final pages.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3rd January 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Mkay, see above.
Upon the death of his father when he was aged three, the family relocated to Birmingham, England.
No; his mother had taken him and his brother on a longer stay to England for health reasons before his father died. Their stay was most certainly not meant to be permanent.
Mabel, his mother, encouraged his love of nature and began teaching him Latin.
Brutally shortened but not really wrong.
But when she died in 1904, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a Catholic priest, became the guardian of Ronald and his brother.
After graduating from Oxford University with an English Literature degree in 1915, Ronald immediately joined the army during World War one.
Only if you understand literature as language; also, Tolkien had been part of the Officer’s Training Corps since 1914 so this is misleading to me. You also need to realise that NOT joining the army as a volunteer on the very first day put Tolkien at danger of receiving a White feather; he decided to finish his studies because he was a man without any professional future – and that would have made any marriage impossible.
He fought in the Battle of the Somme, in which two of his childhood friends died.
In 1916, Ronald married Edith and together they had four children.
True, even though it should be noted they had married before Tolkien went to France.
To entertain them, he created fun, fantastical stories, and from these tales, The Hobbit was created and published in 1937.
Wonderfully true and yet wildly misleading, given the number of tales he told his kids. The Hobbit was just one of them.
A keen painter, he made intricate maps to bring the world of Middle-earth to life.
He also created a whole new language for his characters, called Elvish.
Ronald worked as a code-breaker for Britain during World War Two, but continued to build his fantasy world.
Overblown nonsense ever since the Telegraph noted in 2009 that Tolkien ‘trained as a spy’ – no, he did not. And there is no evidence he trained as a code-breaker, either. He took a three day course with the Foreign Office, presumably on cryptography, but it is way more probable that his competence as a linguist would have been in high demand. Particularly irksome in such a lovely children’s book. (See Hammond & Scull on this).
He spent 17 years writing The Lord of the Rings, which saw elves, wizards and men join together to fight evil.
It took seventeen years from the beginning of writing the story to its publication but he wrote it from 1937-1949, that is twelve years. And why does the author dislike dwarves?
The story itself was so long, it was split in three books: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
True – if slightly misleading but for brevity’s sake this is okay.
It became a best-seller and to this day, is loved by millions of fans worldwide.
Regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy literature, J.R.R. Tolkien taught us about the power of the imagination, the beauty of language and the strength of friendship.
Little People, Big Dreams: J.R.R. Tolkien is a lovingly illustrated book aimed at young children to provide an introduction to Tolkien. It provides you with the essentials of his life and work and is certainly a great book to read out.
Unfortunately, I will have to ask you to absolutely ignore the two pages at the end of the book providing a summary on Tolkien’s life and works due to a rather large number of mistakes and misrepresentations that are surprisingly at odds with the rest of the book.
[On a side-note: The illustrations do remind me of the Tolkien biopic and that is certainly not a good sign but I may be wrong on this, of course.]