You may recall that one of my pet theories is that Tolkien was inspired to write Lord of the Rings by reading Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers.
The most obvious piece of evidence, of course, is Sam, who is basically the same character with the same name and the same father in both works.
Pickwick has a fellowship of sorts, but he’s more of a Bilbo than a Frodo. Bilbo and Pickwick have very much the same body type and the same inclination to write up their adventures. (Admittedly, Pickwick’s adventures are quite non-Fantastical.)
But, it seems to me that the inspiration for the books might have been as simple as, “What if Mr. Pickwick had to go fight a dragon?”
Now I’ve stumbled on a new bit, which makes me think Tolkien may have had a bit of help in having this moment of inspiration.
I’ve been reading G.K. Chesterton’s work on Dickens, which is full of all sorts of insights, including this astonishing take on Pickwick:
“Pickwick” is supremely original in that it is the adventures of an old man. It is a fairy tale in which the victor is not the youngest of the three brothers, but one of the oldest of their uncles.
and how about this:
“…Pickwick is not the fairy; he is the fairy prince; that is to say, he is the abstract wanderer and wonderer, the Ulysses of comedy; the half-human and half-elfin creature…” (whole thing)
A half-human, half-elfin creature!
We know for a fact that Tokien read and liked at least one of Chesterton’s works on Dickens.
Anyway, once you’ve been told that Pickwick is half-elfin and that the book is a fairy tale, it’s not that hard to wonder what if it was a REAL fairy tale with proper dragons, goblins and a wizard to set the whole thing in motion… (or perhaps it IS hard to wonder that, but perhaps Tolkien was just the person to wonder it.)
So Tolkien sent Pickwick out to get Smaug’s gold and that was good, but then he sent Frodo out and this time he sent Pickwick’s manservant Sam along with him and that was great!
Filed under: kidlit