Snyder's new book explores influences on Tolkien


Christopher A. Snyder

Days before Thanksgiving, Fox Searchlight announced plans for a biopic detailing the influences that inspired English writer and poet J.R.R. Tolkien to create "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit."

Tolkien fans don't have wait for the movie, though; the book is already out.

Christopher A. Snyder, dean of Mississippi State University's Shackouls Honors College, wrote "The Making of Middle-earth: A New Look Inside the World of J. R. R. Tolkien."

Released by Sterling in October, the 352-page book details how time Tolkien (1892-1973) spent as a World War I soldier and his years as an Oxford University professor impacted his development of Middle-earth. Copies are available at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Mississippi State.

Snyder taught seminars on Tolkien at Oxford University, the same British institution where Tolkien held two endowed professorships. Snyder is a fan of both Tolkien's academic scholarship and fantasy writings.

"In college, I started reading Tolkien's scholarship on medieval literature, and the more I learned about Tolkien, the more of an academic role model he became," said Snyder, who holds medieval history master's and doctoral degrees from Emory University.

"Tolkien did a lot of his academic publishing early and established his reputation," Snyder said. "He'd been thinking about and dreaming up this fiction stuff as a kid and as a soldier in World War I, but 'Lord of the Rings' itself was really a manifestation of his vast learning about the peoples of the North."

The book also delves into Tolkien's creation of languages for his characters. Snyder explained that Tolkien was a recognized authority in philology -- historical linguistics -- and understood how words were formed. When he developed "new" words, Tolkien drew from his own extensive knowledge of word histories, Snyder said.

"There's a depth of history present in Tolkien's writings, especially in the 'Lord of the Rings.' He's consciously trying to provide that depth through names, through backstory and through genealogies and histories," the MSU professor said. "It's those connections that people who are reading Tolkien and who are watching the movies are feeling."

Snyder, who also holds a degree in medieval and Renaissance studies from West Virginia University, has authored seven books in total, as well as numerous book chapters, journal articles and film and book reviews. Additionally, Snyder was featured on the History Channel and British Broadcasting Corp., as well as in articles published by Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report.

Leah Barbour | Public Affairs

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