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That Time Tolkien Was Your English Professor

The introduction to Lucky Jim contains this little nugget that might interest you if you’re a literature nerd like myself.

Kingsley Amis, who wrote Lucky Jim, went to Oxford with his friend and fellow writer, Philip Larkin. The Jim character was actually based on a hybrid of the two friends.

Anyway, as you might know, J.R.R. Tolkien taught at Oxford. And, as luck would have it, Amis and Larkin took one of his classes. The intro concludes with this little nugget about Tolkien’s teaching style:

“At Oxford, both young men spent a good portion of their time abusing the literature they were supposed to study. “I can just about stand the filthy lingo it’s written in,” Larkin wrote Amis about Old English poetry. “What gets me down is being expected to admire the bloody stuff.” Their professors had nothing to say, and could hardly be heard saying it. J.R.R. Tolkien, Amis explained, “spoke unclearly and slurred important words, and then he’d write them on the blackboard but keep standing between them and us, then wipe them off before he turned around.”

In other words, Tolkien’s self-awareness while teaching was akin to that of your 9th grade English teacher.

Can you imagine sitting in J.R.R. Tolkien’s class at Oxford? Tolkien is your literature teacher! What? Sadly, I don’t think they even realized the magnitude of what they were experiencing.

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. cool man!

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    November 4, 2014
  2. yes

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    November 4, 2014
  3. I’m afraid I’d be as underwhelmed as they were. Tolkien is not one of my favourite authors, and I suspect he may well have been a lousy lecturer. Seems the type. Now, a little drink, a warm pub, and an opportunity to listen to him just go on about mythology… That is something I could happily handle. But I doubt I’d have wanted to sit in one of his lectures, and the chore of reading Lord of the Rings is, happily, long in my past.

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    November 4, 2014
    • what

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      November 4, 2014
    • I can see that. I might even agree with you on all things except Lord of Rings being a chore. No way! Loved that novel.

      Like

      November 4, 2014
      • Many have, many will continue to do so, and I have no issues with that. To be honest, I went through the first two thirds on about two weeks, I was about 13 and on holiday on France with nothing else to do. And then I got the first chapter of Return of the King which is very, very long and really quite boring. Took me two years to go back to reading it. And I could cheerfully strangle Frodo.

        Liked by 1 person

        November 4, 2014
  4. I’ve always wondered just what J R R was smoking in that pipe.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2014
  5. Luck Jim, one of my favourite books…

    Like

    November 4, 2014
  6. There are interviews with Tolkien on YouTube and if English was not my native language I would not have been able to understand him at all. For a linguist, he is surprisingly very ineloquent. He mumbles and stutters. A fantastic writer, scholar, and storyteller though.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2014
  7. Ted Fontenot #

    Tolkien gets off lightly compared to some others. Both Kingsley and Larkin could be bitches, and that was compounded when they got together, in person or by letter. Some have taken offense. I rather find them funny.

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    November 4, 2014
  8. I’m not surprised. I can’t imagine Tolkien being a good professor. My 9th grade English teacher, on the other hand, was AMAZING.

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    November 4, 2014
    • Ted Fontenot #

      I have to say, though, that I have always thought that those students who had Tolkien as a teacher thought highly of him. I’m almost sure W. H. Auden was one, but there were many others who went on record as saying he was good, if not wonderful, teacher.

      Liked by 1 person

      November 4, 2014
  9. I still want to go to one of his classes when I get my time machine. Just to see. 😉

    Like

    November 4, 2014
  10. Big Minds, Slow Hearts #

    Reblogged this on Big Minds, Slow Hearts.

    Like

    November 4, 2014
  11. I enjoyed the Hobbit when I was twelve. Tried the The Lord of the Rings when I was older and couldn’t get past chapter one. It’s turgid worthiness fools most people. Not only is it not the best book ever written, it’s not even the best book ever written by Tolkien

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2014
  12. Except I had wonderful English teachers all through high school and college. Sounds like they were far better than Tolkien. Hahaha!

    Like

    November 5, 2014
  13. Lucky Jim was as much an attack on Tolkien himself as it was an attack on the educational establishment at the time and I fully endorse Amis’ theme in said book as there are very few professors/teachers/lecturers who care enough to do the job properly, even to this day.
    However, in saying that, L.O.T.R. Is one of my all-time favourites whereas Lucky Jim is not.
    It goes to show how different a person can be to their inner-writerly-self.

    Like

    November 5, 2014
  14. Those who can’t teach…

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    November 5, 2014
    • Ted Fontenot #

      I like Woody Allen’s refinement of that maxim: “Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

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      November 5, 2014
  15. Wow…Sadly, many brilliant writers are so brilliant at writing b/c they STINK at talking to people in person. It’s a trade-off. I have a feeling Tolkien would be an excellent online instructor because he could write all of his lectures out.

    Like

    November 5, 2014
  16. Wow! I would be in awe the entire time

    Like

    November 6, 2014
  17. Nordie #

    And this is the guy who currently (as of 2013) has the job that Tolkein had a Leeds Uni before he went to Oxford.

    http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/profile/20046/490/alaric__hall

    He’s a really nice guy (I met him, in Leeds, when he gave a talk on Old English and English Lit and what it’s like to have the job Tolkein effectively created). He came up with nuggets such as: If Vikings came back now, and landed in Iceland, they’d understand and be understood, since modern Icelandic is similar to old Danish/Scandinavian. And how much of LOTR “mystical” names and words are in fact Old English/Icelandic etc. (of course I’ve forgotten the examples, but I was impressed at the time!)

    Like

    November 25, 2014

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