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Simon Tolkien

Simon Tolkien

Posted: April 26, 2010 07:30 AM

'Writers write' as the old saying goes, but I didn't, at least not any fiction, until I got to the ripe old age of forty and decided on millennium night to try and write a novel. I think now, looking back, that I'd put up this block in my mind because anything I tried was always going to be dwarfed by The Lord of the Rings. My father had devoted himself since my grandfather's death in 1973 to editing his father's unpublished writings and I grew up knowing that my grandfather was a creative genius, the founder of modern fantasy, who spoke innumerable languages and knew the answers to all important questions. Who was I to try to step out of his shadow?

And yet under the surface I always wanted to create something of my own. I made time outside of my legal career to keep a daily diary and invent elaborate stories to tell my son, Nicholas, little realising that I was preparing for a new career as a writer. Then, at the end of the 1990s, the Peter Jackson movies appeared like a freight train rushing toward me down the track, and I knew that the time had come to decide whether I was going to look in the mirror and see a famous man's grandson or someone who had an identity in his own right.

I set to work and wrote a comedy about a middle-aged lawyer having a mid-life crisis, and thought that I'd scripted my masterpiece until the literary agents that I contacted told me that my novel was cumbersome rather than comic and that I needed to try again. Discouraged but not defeated, I went back to the drawing board and wrote Final Witness, using my experience as a criminal barrister in England for the Old Bailey backdrop. And now my second novel, The Inheritance, has just come out and I feel that I am finally stepping out from under my grandfather's shadow. It's a murder mystery and there are no hobbits or elves anywhere in sight. It's certainly not the kind of book my grandfather would have read, and yet I think he'd be pleased with my writing if he was alive to see it, particularly as I now know that he believed that human beings are most fulfilled when they create using their imaginations.

I had a lot of fun times with my grandfather when I was a boy and went to stay with him and my grandmother for seaside holidays at the Miramar Hotel in Bournemouth on the south coast of England. We played endless word games and I asked him innumerable questions about Middle Earth and he was always kind and affectionate. I can close my eyes and see him now, wreathed in smoke like Gandalf as he lit his pipe with a flaring Swan Vesta match and spoke in a deep voice about dragons and dwarves. In the afternoons we went for long walks along the beach with the wind in our faces and he showed me just the right thin black stones for skimming out into the waves, and yet, however hard I tried, I never managed to skim mine as far as his, even though he was sixty-seven years older than me. But I know that this doesn't matter. I don't need to compete with my grandfather's legacy. Instead, now that I have something that I have created that I can be proud of myself, I can start being proud of being the grandson of a genius and rejoice in the fact that I may have inherited a few of his creative genes. Now I have come to terms with it, I realize it's a wonderful inheritance.