Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien lived in a fantasy world of his own making, an interesting concept for a young academic at Oxford.

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien have spent years dissecting his Middle Earth tales, trying to figure out arcane meanings, influences, how the stories came about – and became blockbuster movies by Peter Jackson.

Some fans of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy turn to Tolkien’s “heady days as a student and his hellish experiences in World War I” to find hidden clues to his works.

Tolkien himself disavowed all that in a 1968 interview. “The book is not about anything but itself,” he insisted. “It has no allegorical intentions, topical, moral, religious or political. It is not about modern wars.”

However, many critics and scholars did not take him at his word.

Nor does a new biopic titled “Tolkien.” It is currently putting forth its own theories about the author’s popular fantasies at Tropic Cinema.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate has already disavowed this film directed by Dome Karukoski and written by David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford.

Interspersed with flash forwards of an older Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) ominously making his way through the carnage at the Battle of the Somme, most of the film is a chronological look at his youth.

Born in South Africa, the young Tolkien (played as a child by Harry Gilby) winds up in the bucolic English Midlands after the death of his father. He likes it there and is quite upset when his mother (Laura Donnelly) moves the family to the industrial city of Birmingham.

After his mother dies, he’s left in the care of a priest (Colm Meaney) who helps him find a spot at King Edward’s School. There he forms a friendship with three other mischievous boys, sort of a Dead Poets Society. His pals are played by Albie Marber, Ty Tennant and Adam Bregman as children; Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle and Tom Glynn-Carney as young adults.

In his teens we find Tolkien pulled between his academic aspirations and an infatuation with a fellow orphan played by Lily Collins.

At Oxford our boy falls under the tutelage of philology professor Joseph Wright (Derek Jacobi), who is fascinated by the odd fantasy language invented by his student. But the professor insists that this “proto-Elvish tongue” needs to also have a fantasy culture and a fantasy history behind it.

Thus we have “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” and “The Silmarillion.”

Thanks, Professor Wright.

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