Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Today is Tolkien Reading Day, an annual event launched in 2003 by the Tolkien Society. (The date of 25 March was chosen in honour of the fall of Sauron in the Third Age, year 3019, in Tolkien’s fiction.) The reading day promotes the use of Tolkien’s writing in schools and library groups, and is celebrated in numerous countries. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together ten of our favourite quotations from John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. What are you doing for Tolkien Reading Day this year?

On Beowulf and myth: ‘The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.’ (From ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, 1936)

Tolkien1On language: ‘No language is justly studied merely as an aid to other purposes. It will in fact better serve other purposes, philological or historical, when it is studied for love, for itself.’ (English and Welsh, 1955)

On names: ‘It gives me great pleasure, a good name. I always in writing start with a name. Give me a name and it produces a story, not the other way about normally.’ (BBC interview, 1971)

On imagination: ‘The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power.’ (On Fairy-Stories, 1939)

On dragons: ‘I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.’ (On Fairy-Stories, 1939)

On cellar doors (no, really): ‘Most English-speaking people […] will admit that cellar door is “beautiful”, especially if dissociated from its sense (and from its spelling). More beautiful than, say, sky, and far more beautiful than beautiful. […] Well then, in Welsh, for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.’ (English and Welsh, 1955)

On escapism: ‘I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?’ (On Fairy-Stories, 1939)

On Hitler: ‘I have in this War a burning private grudge — which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.’ (Letter to his son Michael Tolkien, 1941)

On anarchy: ‘My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) […] The most improper job of any man […] is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.’ (Letter to his son Christopher Tolkien, 1943)

On The Lord of the Rings: ‘Nothing has astonished me more (and I think my publishers) than the welcome given to The Lord of the Rings. But it is, of course, a constant source of consolation and pleasure to me. And, I may say, a piece of singular good fortune, much envied by some of my contemporaries. Wonderful people still buy the book, and to a man “retired” that is both grateful and comforting.’ (Letter to Houghton Mifflin Co., 1955; since then, The Lord of the Rings has gone on to become the second biggest-selling book in English)

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our interesting facts about J. R. R. Tolkien, including why the Nobel Prize committee turned him down for the Literature prize. You might also enjoy our facts about literacy and reading. More information about Tolkien Reading Day can be found here.

Image: J. R. R. Tolkien (author: Berluchonabj), Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Pingback: Celebrating One Year of Blogging! | A Tolkienist's Perspective

  2. Reblogged this on Treebeardgarden's Blog and commented:
    Tolkien is a literary god

  3. I’m looking forward to seeing the Beowulf translation and comparing it to the other one in my library.

  4. Followed & on my blog roll!

  5. You know, it just occurred to me that 25 March was, before England moved to our modern calendar, the start of the new year (hence dates in brackets in scholarly editions of, say, Elizabeth I’s letters). I bet Tolkien intended that.

  6. sometimes I wish I would not find out about these things a day after, oh well, happy belated Tolkien day!

  7. Where do these people get all that imagination?And I thought I had strange imagination. Still a long road for me. Happy Tolkien Mr. Interesting Literature, very interesting.

  8. Reblogged this on Norah's Knowledge Bank 2014 and commented:
    I totally missed yesterday being Tolkien Reading Day!

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  11. What a wonderful post about a truly talented and special writer.

  12. Reblogged this on Sherrie's Scriptorium and commented:
    Since I love Tolkien, I wanted to share this. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

  13. Reblogged this on robertbyron22 and commented:
    Another thing I didn’t know I needed until it was advertised!

  14. Reblogged this on t3chgrrl's Blog and commented:
    This man is a genius

  15. Reblogged this on Avid Reader and commented:
    for all the hobbits and elves out there :)

  16. As always, thank you for informing us of anything literature-related! Especially when it is Tolkienesque, as well! Lovely post and great quotes, and I guess I have to read some LOTR today…

  17. Great quotes!

  18. Reblogged this on Tintobear and commented:
    Many thanks to the Interesting Literature bloggers for alerting me to Tolkien Reading Day (see re-blogged post below), of which I was previously unaware. In one of those happy incidents of coincidence (which I do so enjoy), I came across this blog post while logging onto the computer specifically to kill time until the Lego Lord of the Rings game finishes downloading on boyfriendface’s Xbox. (Many thanks to boyfriendface for buying me the game.) I do appreciate that this is a bit of a stretch as far as ‘Tolkien Reading’ goes, but I’ll make up for it by taking The Hobbit to bed with me tonight.

    I mentioned in the last post that I had two successful job interviews recently. The job I have accepted is as Library Assistant in the Content Management Team at a University library. The other was an NHS post which involved cataloguing artefacts and objects marked for archival across the NHS hospital sites. The interview consisted of a presentation I had prepared on ‘The advantages and disadvantages of storage of historical information within the NHS’ followed by the interview questions. The presentation went very well (much to my relief and delight) and the interview was very relaxed and almost enjoyable, if an interview can be described in such terms. One of the interviewers had mentioned how they thought they had uncovered a Raeburn in one of the hospitals, but it turned out that it wasn’t actually a Raeburn. His optimism and hope of finding a Raeburn popped up at various points to the interview until I, somewhat confused as to why there would be, asked ‘are we talking about Rayburns….like – the stove?’ ‘No! No! Haha – Raeburn – the painter!!!!!’ Ah. Right. Now where did I put my I know nothing about art history badge…..?

    Oh well, what can you do? Didn’t do me any harm, and I’ve learned something new!

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  20. I have always loved Tolkien and the way he spoke, as well as the way he wrote. One of my first ‘big girl’ books was The Hobbit, and it remains on my shelf to be read at least once a year. Thank you for these great quotes from such a great author and man.

  21. Reblogged this on The Girl and Her Books and commented:
    Saw this little tid bit on the ‘Interesting Literature’ blog and as I’m always happy to endorse reading I thought I’d snaffle it!

  22. Few authors have changed the way we see the world around us, and Tolkien is one of them. Its often good and pragmatic to view our surroundings as they are, but it never hurts to read them with fiction tinted clears the picture..

  23. Pingback: It’s Tolkien Reading Day! | Random Thoughts

  24. I did not know there was a day set aside for this. How wonderful. This has made my day. I am reading the Hobbit. Wonderful post!

  25. Tolkein is one of my favourite authors in the entire world; love love love that there’s a day to honour him. :D

  26. Reblogged this on Sorry, I'm Booked and commented:
    I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know this existed. Either way, I’m glad I know now and wanted to share this!

  27. My 36 year old son doesn’t get much time to read, and doesn’t read much fiction but when he was about twenty he discovered Tolkien and it really grieves him if someone does not like this famous author with an amazing imagination.

    • I think many people feel that way about Tolkien – the mark of a special author, that his fans are so keen to defend him from any detractors! How marvellous. I hope you and your son had a pleasant Tolkien Reading Day :)

  28. A fabulous post, with some wonderful quotes, thank you.

    I particularly liked :
    For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.

    and the WHOLE quote on imagination – ‘naming of things’ is itself potent and to create words around things which can’t be grasped, means of course a subtle mind in play, and opens up the possibilities to greater subtle ‘magic’

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed them – I enjoyed finding and compiling them :) I think that’s a great philosophical point about putting a name to things entailing its own magic. Trust a philologist like Tolkien to put it so well :)

  29. My family has been reading aloud The Hobbit for several weeks now, and we just recently finished the Riddles in the Dark chapter. We all ended up writing riddles for each other this past weekend as a result. We shall all raise a tankard of Shire ale, or maybe apple juice, to celebrate the fall of Sauron!

  30. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    For all you Tolkien fans! I know, you are legion and this post is so interesting!

  31. Very enjoyable! I agree especially about the dragons and the cellar door

  32. Reblogged this on Rosie Writes… and commented:
    *puts down tablet, picks up book* I think I’m quite ready to read The Two Towers this afternoon.

  33. Tolkein is by far one of my favorite authors…I have reblogged this post and now, would rather find myself at home reading his series than here in my office! A lovely post for the Tolkein adventurers and readers…

  34. Reblogged this on A Maine Mama's Mind and commented:
    Tolkein Reading Day…how my mind and spirit wandered with the Hobbit and its sister books! I love that there is a formal “reading day” in his honor!!

  35. Reblogged this on The Pursuit: Being Creative and commented:
    How exciting!!! Love me so Tolkien!!!

  36. Truly, a man for all seasons. His books changed my life and were instrumental in opening the door I went through to find this path through the craft of literature. I was seeking the door after reading Jim Kjelgaard and Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Tolkien gave me the clues to find the pattern for the lock.

  37. Reblogged this on seikaiha’s blah-blah-blah and commented:
    Happy Tolkien Reading Day! Actually I just LISTENED to Tolkien Essential CD and some amount of the audiobook of The Children of Hurin today.

  38. No matter the age Tolkien is able to capture the imagination from the first word to beyond the last. Thank you for a great post.
    Blessings. Susan ❤

  39. How cool! My teenage daughter just picked up The Screwtape Letters to read. Happy that Tolkein transcends the generations!