A Trip to Middle Earth

With the release of the first instalment of the film adaptation of The Hobbit in December, there is a renewed surge of interest in J.R.R. Tolkien and his work at the moment.  Peter Jackson’s movies are, of course, shot in his native New Zealand, using some of the country’s beautiful and unspoilt scenery.  In fact, both showings of The Hobbit that I have attended were preceded by a trailer using the film locations as an advert for visiting New Zealand.  One of Jackson’s main collaborators – Richard Taylor whose company is responsible for most of the effects in the films – even once claimed that “Middle Earth was created in New Zealand”.  Now while I think the landscapes of the films is stunning and provides a wonderful backdrop to the stories, it is an indisputable fact that Middle Earth was created in Tolkien’s imagination, based not on New Zealand (where he had never set foot) but very much on his own experiences of life in the England of the early 20th Century.  In particular, his childhood in Birmingham had a profound impact on him, and many of the events, scenes and people he encountered in his early years have direct parallels in his later writings.

For those of us who are Tolkien fans and are fortunate enough to live in Birmingham, it is a source of great pride that our city provided inspiration for some of the most popular and enduring books of the 20th Century.  As a tour guide in the city, sharing this Tolkien heritage with visitors and other local people alike is one of my passions.  With that in mind, I have researched and produced my own half day tour of locations associated with Tolkien’s life, and identified how his experiences are reflected in his writing.  I am delighted that Midlands Discovery Tours, in which I am a partner, will be running another Tolkien’s Middle Earth Tour on 24th February this year, giving me another opportunity to help people discover the fascinating events of the writer’s life in our city.

For any new writer, the advice that’s always given is “write about what you know” and that is exactly what Tolkien did, in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and all his other works set in Middle Earth.  People may wonder how an epic fantasy tale full of magic, swords and armour, elves, wizards, orcs and hobbits can possibly be based on a young boy’s childhood in an industrial city in Central England.  Of course, even I would not suggest that the fantasy aspects of Tolkien’s work had much to do with Birmingham – it’s a culturally diverse city these days, but I am yet to see an elf strolling down New Street. But if we look a little deeper into some of the themes that run through the books – such as progress , war, love, friendship, sacrifice – and the attitudes and emotions of his characters, we find a great many similarities between fact and fiction.  Even some of the places and landscapes of Middle Earth appear to be clearly based on Midlands locations where Tolkien spent time during his early years.

From the (at the time) rural backwater of Sarehole to the industrial heartlands of Western Birmingham and the Black Country, we can trace the true origins of Middle Earth.  That is exactly what our tour is all about – combining sections on a coach with several short walks, we really do follow in Tolkien’s footsteps and get a much better understanding of the man and his work.

If you would like to join the Tolkien’s Middle Earth tour, tickets are available online and more details can also be found on the Midlands Discovery tours website.  The tour can also be done as a special event for schools or other groups who want to find out more about Tolkien’s roots in Birmingham.