The Times
December 15, 2001

Come On Bilbo, Give Us a Clue
Nick Baty

Are the Bagginses secretly just a family of puny Lancastrians?

SUDDENLY everyone is clambering onto the Lord of the Rings tourism bandwagon. Birmingham, where the orphaned J.R.R. Tolkien went to school, is making the most of its connection with the great man. However, the idea that the city’s fine Waterworks Tower was the inspiration for the sinister towers of Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith, in the second volume of the trilogy, does challenge the imagination.

A bit of gentle digging in Tolkien’s life reveals some much more plausible inspirations and parallels. For example, Tolkien often visited the Jesuit college at Stonyhurst, near Hurst Green in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley. His son John studied for the priesthood there during the war years. And another son, Michael, was a classics master at the college in the 1960s. It was during those earlier visits that Tolkien was writing The Fellowship of the Ring.

Comparing a map of the Hurst Green district with Tolkien’s sketch map of “The Shire” reveals curious similarities. And only a few miles away stands Pendle Hill, wreathed with tales of magic and superstition. Perhaps it was the inspiration behind Tolkien’s references to a hilltop beyond the Shire “rising like a bald head out of the encircling wood”.

Jonathan Hewat, who teaches English and history at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst’s prep school, has made a study of the local area in the light of The Fellowship of the Ring and is convinced that Tolkien based his fictional geography on this part of the Ribble Valley.

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