Orbit #8: JRR Tolkien The True Lord of the Rings Written by Brian McCarthy and Michael Lent Pencils by Luis Chichón Color by Luis Chichón Letters by Luis Chichón Cover by Hyunsang Michael Cho Bluewater Comics Release Date: May 30, 2012 Cover Price: $3.99
Love JRR Tolkien’s writing or hate it, you have to respect the intricate fantasy world he built for his hobbits’ grand adventures. JRR Tolkien influenced an entire genre of fiction and his most famous offering, Lord of the Rings, inspired generations of devoted fans and writers.
Orbit #8: JRR Tolkien: The True Lord of the Rings gives readers a brief, 28-page glimpse into his life. The writers, Brian McCarthy and Michael Lent, manage to cover the major points in Tolkien’s life story. The comic book is a quick read, but the narrative never feels rushed. It’s like skimming a beautifully illustrated version of Tolkien’s Wikipedia page.
Tolkien’s childhood encompasses the first third of the book. McCarthy and Lent quickly establish the deep affection and respect Tolkien had for his mother who tragically died when he was only 12-years-old. Before passing, his mother assigned Father Francis Xavier Morgan as his guardian. The priest moved Tolkien and his brother to Birmingham, an Industrial-age city, and raised them as devoted Catholics. The narrative briefly touches on Tolkien’s experience as a World War I soldier and then focuses on his marriage and career in academia.
McCarthy and Lent pay great attention Tolkien’s love and devotion to his wife, Edith Tolkien. Their young, forbidden romance blossomed into a hasty marriage right before England entered World War I. After contracting Trench Fever, Tolkien managed to exit the notoriously deadly war. With the horrors of war behind him, Tolkien focused on his marriage and his career. Throughout the remainder of the comic, McCarthy and Lent make a point of referencing Edith’s influences on Tolkien’s life. They were as close to soulmates as a couple could ever be – it’s not surprising that he died less than two years after her passing. Their relationship is a touching romance; I was moved by the mere description of their relationship in just a few panels of sequential art.
The writers do wonderful job at connecting the events and settings of Tolkien’s life with his works of fiction. They highlight how Edith inspired Tolkien’s elf-maiden Luthien in The Tale of Beren and Luthien. In two panels, the comic shows Edith and Luthien in identical poses to further the point. McCarthy and Lent associate Tolkien’s experience as a 12-year-old orphan with Frodo, from Lord of the Rings. They also link several settings to his works such as the buildings in Birmingham that may have inspired the Towers of Sauron and Saruman.
Most of Luis Chichón’s painted-styled art is not intricately detailed, but it doesn’t need to be. Each panel feels lifted from a storybook illustration. Chichón’s figures and settings are not impressive and many facial expressions are awkward in close-up scenes. His art is strongest in this comic when he takes a step back and captures the essence of the setting. The warm, earthy colors enhance the theme of this biographical comic. You can almost smell the dusty, wood-oiled charm of early-mid 20th century England emanating from the pages. The color and style breathe much needed life into a narrative that might otherwise feel sterile and frantically paced.
While I’m not at all a fan of Tolkien’s writing, I have the utmost respect for his contributions to literature and the fantasy genre. I was never compelled to research his life. However, after reading this quick glimpse into his extraordinary life experiences and his deep devotion to his wife, I can’t help but admire him as a man, not just a literary genius. This comic is a good, easy read for not only the legions of Tolkien fans, but for people who simply need a little inspiration in their lives.