How The J.R.R. Tolkien Movie Lied About His Time At Oxford

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, an English language scholar who taught at the University of Oxford ... oh, and wrote a few books you might have heard of, like The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955), might not appreciate the film version of his life. That's because the 2019 movie, Tolkien, apparently gets some of his story wrong

The film, starring actor Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, About a Boy), as the author, was disavowed by Tolkien's estate, which issued a statement that it did not "approve of, authorize or participate in the making of" the movie, according to the The Guardian. John Garth, author of the biography Tolkien and the Great War, told the newspaper, "Biopics typically take considerable license with the facts, and this one is no exception. Endorsements by the Tolkien family would lend credibility to any divergences and distortions. That would be a disservice to history."

For example, according to The Express, the movie wasn't even filmed at Oxford University, but rather in a variety of locations that included Manchester, Liverpool, and Rochdale. Many movies make similar compromises, but Oxford is well-known and an important part of Tolkien's story. Another of the liberties the film takes when depicting Oxford shows the young Tolkien jeopardizing his scholarship with bad grades, almost getting kicked out of the renowned institution. This is gross exaggeration.

The truth about Tolkien and Oxford

The truth, according to The Tolkien Society, is a little less dramatic. Tolkien studied the Classics, Old English, the Germanic languages, Welsh, and Finnish for the first part of his college career, earning a second-class degree in 1913 at the halfway point of a four-year Oxford Classics course of study in Honour Moderations –something he found somewhat disappointing. Understandable, but still — he was at Oxford and doing well enough. (Just for the record, Oxford categorizes their degrees into several classifications, all of them regarded as passing.)

He did earn an "alpha plus" in philology – the study of this history of language, says Britannica — so he excelled there. His school performance, though, did cause him to change his focus from Classics to English Language and Literature, where he would eventually read the poem, "Crist of Cynewulf," as part of a class. One section translates this way: "Hail Earendel brightest of angels, / Over Middle Earth sent to men." (Middle Earth! Hmm ... where have we heard that before?)

Ultimately, Tolkien received a first-class degree from Oxford in June 1915, returning to the school as a professor in 1925. Not too shabby after all.