Myth-making in a City of Scholars: JRR Tolkien, C S Lewis and all
I still get a small thrill when I walk past number 20 Northmoor Road after dropping my kids off at school. Half a century ago, JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings in that unprepossessing suburban house.
I’ve often wondered if there were something particular about Oxford, this damp, introverted, ancient town of scholars, that particularly encourages the invention of other worlds. Is there something about living in this riverine place where the Isis, the Windrush, the Cherwell and the Thames mingle, that makes one’s imagination expand? Or does the bone-chilling damp make one desperate to be elsewhere?
I wonder this walking down Northmoor Road, because it’s not just JRR Tolkien who lived and worked and dreamed here. Lewis Carroll sent Alice down the rabbit hole from his rooms in Christ Church; C S Lewis imagined a faun with an umbrella walking through Narnia here; Philip Pullman dreamt up Lyra; Diana Wynn Jones conjured Chrestomanci.
This is a Capricorn town according to the Renaissance astrologer William Lilly, who was a frequent visitor to Oxford, so the city is ruled by father time himself, Saturn. And it’s certainly the heart of the British establishment, and old, and stony, and rule-bound and full of ritual – all Saturnian things. Scholars are keepers and measurers of time.
But Capricorn is not a sign we associate with flights of fancy. On the contrary, Capricorn is about keeping it real.
I suppose you could argue that one thing these authors have in common is the consistency and realness of the world’s they create. Middle Earth, Narnia, Chrestomanci, the rabbit hole – all make sense within their own rules. Middle Earth is so clear that I think most readers would recognise it immediately if they were transported there.
C S Lewis (Sag), Lewis Carroll (Aq), Philip Pullman (Libra), Diana Wynn Jones (Leo): each has invented and explored other worlds, imagined with such detail and conviction. Then there’s JRR Tolkien himself. It’s his birthday today (Jan 3).
Here is his chart.
And what a perfect chart for a fantasy writer. He has a writer’s signature – Virgo rising, Gemini on the career angle. Both signs are ruled by Mercury, the communicator: Virgo edits, Gemini tells stories.
Then there’s the beautiful grand trine in intellectual air. At the top there’s Pluto (transformer) conjunct Neptune (fantasy) approaching the Midheaven from the religious and philosophical 9th house (which incidentally also rules publishing). Pluto-Nepttune surely shows dark vision. His generation would have seen two world wars, which were enough to make anyone see through a glass darkly.
Venus (art) joins the grand trine from Aquarius, a sign that’s brilliant at seeing invention and seeing how ideas fit together. And Saturn (exalted in Libra) gets things done from the first house. Saturn in the first works hard, but with that trine it’s productive.
Mercury, the storyteller, is also in productive Capricorn, squaring the Saturn. It’s interesting that this is another 0° Capricorn planet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Capricorn is the sign of the shaman. Previously, I was writing about singers with this placement pulling music from the bowels of the earth. Here we have an author pulling stories out of Middle Earth. (To read my previous piece, click here)
Mercury is neatly sextile the Moon. Although the birth time looks suspiciously rounded off, I’d guess the Pisces moon is right. It fits with the huge imagination and also with the devoted father and husband. Apparently, he adored his family.
It’s interesting to see Uranus in the house of talent. It’s the planet of genius and eccentricity, of course, and you’d expect it to be strongly placed, which it is, striking sparks off nearly all the other planets. No one would have thought that a children’s book could be so culturally significant or so darn lucrative. The second house is income too. I expect Tolkien was pretty surprised by the amount of money he made. He’d be even more surprised if he knew how much his legacy was worth.
In case you were wondering, when the films came out in 2001-2003 his chart was very active. Yes, charts carry on telling working post mortem. On his birthday in 2001, Jupiter was transiting his Neptune-Pluto Midheaven; he became, if possible, even more famous. Saturn was on his North Node, a time of destiny. Neptune was exactly trining his Uranus, a flood of money. And Pluto was on the IC – his legacy was transformed.
I wonder if Peter Jackson consults an astrologer for these things, because when The Hobbit movie is released in December this year, guess what, Jupiter is going to be right back up there tickling Neptune-Pluto under the chin again. Jupiter works in 12-year cycles remember. What’s more Neptune will have moved into Pisces, conjuncting Tolkien’s moon. Something about this movie is really going to feed into the collective mood of our times. The story will speak to us even more powerfully than it ever has before.
Here’s what Tolkien wrote in his poem Mythopoeia, which is a defence of myth makers, fairy tales, and story tellers of all kinds. (I would include astrologers,) I think this may have something to do with the effect the movie will have.
“Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced). ..”
Hmm, sounds like our times does it not.
He believed that stories, in particular myths and fairly tales, show us truths far more profound than any so-called fact. Tolkien’s vision was grand and deeply spiritual (Jupiter in Pisces). Perhaps he needed the solidity of this place to keep his feet on the ground while he allowed his mind to grow as big as a whole universe.