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J.R.R. Tolkien - Heir to the Grand Tradition, by Sue Toohey

John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R.) Tolkien was born in the closing years of the 19th century at a time when the rare conjunction of Neptune and Pluto was bringing fundamental changes to a society that had already experienced rapid transformation. He was a man whose contributions would forever impact on the course of English literature even though the full force of this impact would not be recognised until late in his life. He was a prolific writer but is best known by millions of people as author of Lord of the Rings, a fantasy trilogy set in the legendary place of Middle-earth at the end of a mythological third age when good and evil collided bringing with it the emergence of a new age.

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa on January 3rd, 1892 to English parents. The name, believed to be of German origin, means 'foolishly brave' or 'stupidly clever'. His parents had travelled to South Africa in order for Tolkien's father, a bank clerk, to seek promotion, something he was unable to do in England. While on a trip back to England to visit family, Tolkien's mother Mabel, learned of the death of her husband. She and her two sons remained in England, living in the West Midlands. Four years later, she was to become estranged from her own family and the family of her late husband when she made the decision to convert to Catholicism. Tolkien, who was eight at the time, was to follow this religion with fervour for the rest of his life.

The exact birth time of Tolkien is not clear. A letter written by his father to the family back in England the day after his birth describes the event. "...Mabel gave me a beautiful little son last night. I fetched him (the doctor) around eight and then he stayed till 12.40 when we had a whisky to drink luck to the boy."[1] A popular chart with many astrologers gives a rectified time of 11.22pm producing a Virgo Ascendant with Saturn rising.[2]

There is no denying that Tolkien was strongly influenced by Saturn throughout his life. His Sun and Mercury are in Capricorn and Mercury is in an exact square to Saturn in Libra, the sign of its exaltation, bringing a strong Saturn emphasis to his nativity. He is most often pictured as an old man, there being virtually no pictures available of him as a younger person. In his obituary in the New York Times upon his death in 1973, he was described as a gently, blue-eyed, donnish appearing man who favoured tweeds, smoked a pipe and liked to take walks and ride on an old bicycle. [3] He was a scholar of dead languages, leading a very conventional life in the Saturn ruled town of Oxford. He embodied the principles of Saturn seeing himself as a pessimist, suffering bouts of melancholy and despair and as someone who did not like progress.

Tolkien's Sun sextiles Mars and Jupiter and makes a wide orb sextile to Uranus. This suggests a man with an enormous amount of energy for his work, approaching this with enthusiasm and passion and a confidence in his ability to achieve whatever he set out to do. Throughout his life he was a prolific writer, producing several novels as well as articles and scholarly essays. Most of his academic work centres on the interpretation of myths and legends of the past, in particular, those of Norse mythology. The Sun is conjunct the fixed star Vega in Tolkien's chart and, according to Bernadette Brady, people influenced by this star are full of charisma and are touched by the underworld.[4]

The writings of Tolkien have become indelibly linked with what could best be described as magical realism where, through his novels, he created a magical, dreamlike world full of heroic characters confronting a land of overwhelming fear and staggering mystical beauty. His intention was to create an imaginary world that was fundamentally authentic, or at least potentially existent. He did not want his readers to merely suspend their disbelief in hobbits and elves; he wanted them to believe in their possibility.

When readers chose Lord of the Rings as the greatest book of the century in a 1997 survey by British bookseller Waterstone's the reaction from critics was harsh. The Times Literary Supplement called it 'horrifying' and others were quick to judge this as a literary mistake. However, several other polls confirmed that, indeed, the popularity of this book was unsurpassed. In a further assault to the sensibilities of critics, not only was Lord of the Rings voted best book, a poll of readers on voted its writer 'Author of the Millennium'.

When he was twelve Tolkien's mother died as a result of complications from diabetes, a disease that was untreatable at that time. He had a deep attachment to his mother and would feel her loss intensely believing that no one had been more influential in the development of both his faith and intellect. He believed that everything he knew, he learned from his Catholic faith, and that he owed this faith to his mother. His Moon square Neptune/Pluto suggests the profound influence his mother had played in his life and the potential for a powerful sense of suffering over this loss.

After their mother's death, Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary were taken into care by Father Francis Morgan, priest of the Catholic Church to which they belonged. Their mother had arranged legal guardianship to ensure that the boys would remain in the Catholic faith and not be influenced by relatives after her death. Not only did Father Morgan provide the spiritual and intellectual support they needed, he also provided financial support from his own very meagre resources. The boys lived with an unsympathetic aunt and then at a boarding house while completing their schooling. It was there at the age of sixteen that Tolkien met his future wife Edith who was nineteen. Fearing that this relationship would interfere with his schoolwork and his religion (she was Anglican), Father Morgan forbade Tolkien to continue the relationship until he reached twenty-one. Being the serious and responsible person that he was, he obeyed this request stoically, not commencing the relationship again until many years later.

As a young boy Tolkien showed a remarkable gift for linguistics. He had mastered Latin and Greek and was becoming well versed in other languages, particularly ancient languages such as Finnish. In his later school years his close friends were a group of boys who met on a regular basis to exchange and criticize each other's literary work. They called themselves the Tea Club, Barrovian Society (T.C.B.S) and continued to meet regularly until 1916.

Like many other men of his age, Tolkien spent time serving in the army during World War One. This part of his life was said to have a profound impact on him, one from which he never fully recovered. Before he was sent to France, he and Edith married. They remained very close until her death in 1971 despite their religious differences.[5] Venus in Tolkien's fifth house trine Neptune/Pluto in the ninth house reveals that this was truly an inspired love that went far deeper than a simple marriage.

Eventually sent to active duty, after only four months in the trenches, Tolkien succumbed to 'trench fever' a form of typhus-like infection. He was sent back to England where he spent the next month in hospital. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring. He had periods of remission that enabled him to do home service at various camps and he was promoted to lieutenant. By the end of the war only one of his close friends from his Tea Club remained alive.

It has often been suggested that Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the time Tolkien spent at war but he strongly denies this. There were many attempts to find allegory in his writings and this bothered him.

I cordially dislike allegory in all of its manifestations, and have always done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.[6]

It was while in hospital that Tolkien determined he would study languages. He returned to Oxford where he had been studying as an undergraduate, receiving his MA in 1919. After graduation, his first employment was as an assistant on the Oxford Dictionary. Tolkien began his academic teaching career at Leeds University spending about four years there before moving back to Oxford. From 1925 until his retirement in 1959, he was professor at Oxford, ultimately becoming Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and a fellow of Merton College. It was during his early days at Oxford that the adventures of hobbits began to take shape.

In the summer of 1928, Tolkien was grading some papers. Coming across what he considered to be a particularly dull paper, he found a blank page. Through some inspiration that he didn't understand, he wrote the immortal words 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' Tolkien was to later explain that when he saw those words his response was to do some investigating. He determined that he had better find out exactly what hobbits were and why they lived in a hole in the ground. This was the very beginning of what was to become one of the most successful enterprises in English literature. Transiting Uranus in sextile to Tolkien's natal Pluto brought with it the capacity to make some profound changes.

In Tolkien's nativity, Mercury in Capricorn exactly squares Saturn, which is in its exaltation in Libra. This describes perfectly his career as a philologist and his passion for old languages. He was deeply knowledgeable in old and middle English and other old long-forgotten languages. Not only was he master of languages, Tolkien often created his own. He had done this since childhood, creating languages along with the mythology to support them. In fact, Tolkien explains that he wrote his novels as an outlet for the languages he created rather than creating the languages for his novels.

The invention of language is the foundation. The stories were made rather to provide a world for the language rather than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows. But of course such a work as 'Lord of the Rings' has been edited and only as much language has been left in as I thought would be stomached by the readers. I now find many would have liked much more. [7]

Another expression of the close Mercury/Saturn square in his natal chart is that Tolkien spent years revising and editing his works, finding it difficult to be satisfied. Even after it was finished, he was often critical of what he saw as many mistakes. Rather than considering what he had achieved, he saw where he had failed. In an interview in 1971 on the BBC he says,

I wrote the last in about 1949 - I remember I actually wept at the denouement. But then of course there was a tremendous lot of revision. I typed the whole of that work out twice and lots of it many times, on a bed in an attic. I couldn't afford of course the typing. There's some mistakes too and also it amuses me to say, as I suppose I'm in a position where it doesn't matter what people think of me now, there were some frightful mistakes in grammar, which from a Professor of English Language and Lit are rather shocking.[8]

The first volume of the trilogy The Fellowship of the Ring was published on 29th July 1954, the day of a New Moon. A solar eclipse had made a conjunction to Tolkien's natal Sun earlier that year. Transiting Jupiter was trine Tolkien's Jupiter and Uranus at the time of the book launch, signifying the success that was to come. The other volumes, 'The Two Towers' and 'The Return of the King' were published the following year.

In 1965, a pirated paperback version of Lord of the Rings was published in the United States. This brought a new generation of readers, not only due it its availability but because of the press that was generated due to a protracted court case. Transiting Pluto was opposite Tolkien's natal Jupiter at the time, a transit that can warn of legal difficulties. However, transiting Uranus was trine his Sun turning this into a fortuitous and exciting opportunity. He became successful beyond anything he had ever imagined bringing the financial security that had eluded him all his life.

When the book became extremely popular, transiting Saturn was square to Tolkien's Neptune and Pluto. Even though success was welcomed, it was also a time of difficulty for Tolkien who described the enormous pressure from people who expected him to fulfill a role that he was not available to fill. There was a perception by readers of the book, largely college students, that Tolkien was a part of the counter-culture they related to rather than the conservative, older person that he was. He was later to recount stories of repeatedly receiving phone calls from the United States at 3am asking him to explain certain parts of the book.

Tolkien is often credited with inventing the sword-and-sorcery epic that has become so popular today. However, he viewed his role somewhat differently. Like Isaac Newton (also a Capricorn) who saw himself as rediscovering what came before rather than creating something new, Tolkien saw himself as heir to a grand tradition rather than author of a new one. His Capricorn respect for the traditions and history of old was expressed time and time again in his novels and the characters within.[9] Tolkien believed he owed so much to the writers who lived centuries before him.

However, the Sun/Uranus sextile in Tolkien's nativity brought illumination, stimulating his imagination in a very unique way. Tolkien always believed his characters arrived from an unknown source rather than being creatures he produced himself. He followed their stories until they led him to discover who they were. When the hobbits arrived at the 'Prancing Pony' to discover a hooded, roguish-looking man smoking in a corner, Tolkien was as surprised as they were. The stranger turned out to be Aragorn, heir of kings, not because Tolkien chose to create such a character, but because that's who he was.

The Moon in Pisces trine Mercury and square the Neptune/Pluto conjunction shows Tolkien's ability to be responsive to the collective and to express it in a way that resonated with the spirit of the time. He was able to reflect the collective recognition of the conjunction, expressing it with his words in a powerful way. Neptune and Pluto are in the 9th house, the house that rules religion. There has always been an attempt to find something deeply spiritual in Lord of the Rings and many see it as an eschatological work. Tolkien called the gospel account the "eucatastrophe", the happiest of all tragedies, because it satisfies the human heart's deepest yearnings, including the desire for an epic mythology. It was through Lord of the Rings that he was attempting to create a mythology worthy of these qualities.

Saturn trine Neptune/Pluto shows Tolkien's belief that somehow he had a responsibility to confront the realities of what he saw as the new era of modernity. While he disliked what the 20th century had become, he did not resent living in it. At one stage in Lord of the Rings, when someone complains about living in such difficult times, Gandalf responds that everyone who lives to see such times also finds it difficult. However, it was not for them to decide but rather to decide what to do with the time that is given. For Tolkien, that reason was to express God's will through a new myth that reflects the story of Christ.

There has been continuing debate as to whether Lord of the Rings can best be described as a work of pagan origins or whether it is representative of Christianity. Tolkien was deeply Catholic and while he disliked intensely the attempt to see his work as allegorical he considered that it was a manifestation of his own faith. He thought that his purpose in writing Lord of the Rings was to give England her own myth believing that myths such as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were not strong enough in their own right in the same way as those of the Norse myths. He wanted a myth that embodied the highest ideals and spiritual beliefs that he aspired to through his trine of Venus to Neptune/Pluto.

There are truths that are beyond us, transcendental truths about beauty, truth, honour, etc. There are truths that man knows exist, but they cannot be seen, they are immaterial but no less real to us. It is only through the language of myth that we can speak of these truths. We have come from God and only through myth, through story-telling, can we aspire to the life we were made for with God.[10]

J.R.R. Tolkien died on 2nd September 1973 at the age of eighty-one. Transiting Saturn was squaring natal Saturn and opposing Mercury, once again bringing together two planets that are strongly reflected his work. Jupiter was trine Neptune/Pluto, square Uranus and had recently made a conjunction to Venus. Mars, which was on his eighth house cusp, was opposing natal Uranus. Saturn, conjuncting Tolkien's Midheaven, reflected the culmination of his life's work. Coming into the world with Saturn rising, he embodied the spirit of the planet throughout his life, leaving again as the planet culminated. When asked a couple of years before his death how he thought he would like to be remembered - for his academic achievements or Lord of the Rings he replied, "I shouldn't have thought there was much choice in the matter. If I'm remembered at all it will be by 'The Lord of the Rings.' Won't it be rather like the case of Longfellow? People remember Longfellow wrote Hiawatha, quite forget he was a professor of Modern Languages." [11]

In 2001, twenty-eight years after the death of Tolkien, New Zealand film director Peter Jackson successfully transformed The Fellowship of the Ring into cinematic reality. A few months earlier, a lunar eclipse had made yet another conjunction to Tolkien's natal Sun while Jupiter made its fourth return to the position it was in when the book was first published. As the movie opened in cinemas around the world, Jupiter was opposing Tolkien's Sun, and Neptune was exactly trine his Neptune/Pluto conjunction, ensuring that movie audiences would discover the same mythical quality in the movie that generations had found in the book. Thirty years after his death, and fifty years after the book was published, the final installment of the trilogy was released. The movies, like the book, have been a phenomenal success, bringing new admiration for the works of Tolkien and ensuring, as Tolkien predicted, he will be most remembered as the man who formed a magical world and invited us to trust in its existence.

"There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over... Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone."

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

Notes & References:

  1 ] Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography, London: George Allen & Unwin 1977 p 260
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  2 ] This rectification is attributed to Ruth Dewey and used by Beth Koch in 'The Magical World of J.R.R. Tolkien' in American Astrology. Lois Rodden gives a birth time of 9pm but categorises it as DD.
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  3 ] Obituary, New York Times, 3rd September, 1973
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  4 ] Bernadette Brady, Brady's Book of Fixed Stars.
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  5 ] Although Edith converted to Catholicism around the time of their marriage, she became increasingly frustrated with having to practice a religion that was not her own. She and Tolkien eventually reached a compromise where he and their children would continue in the Catholic faith, leaving her free to return to her own church.
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  6 ] Tolkien in the forward to "Fellowship of the Rings" Allen & Unwin, 1974
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  7 ] 'The Prevalence of Hobbits' Interview of Tolkien by Philip Norman, Jan 15 1967
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  8 ] "Now Read On" BBC Radio 4. Interviewed by Dennis Gerrolt
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  9 ] Hobbits, for example, are noted for their obsession with family history and their family tree.
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  10 ] Tolkien, Christianity, Friendship. By Rev. Curles.
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  11 ] D. Gerrolt, op. cit.
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Sue TooheySue Toohey is an Australian astrologer with a degree in history and philosophy. She is currently enrolled in a Masters degree, researching the history of astrology and religious thought. Sue also has a Homoeopathy degree, using awareness of all these areas to further her understanding of astrology. Her main areas of interest lie in traditional astrology and philosophy, seeking to understand how they contribute to our current appreciation of these disciplines.
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© Sue Toohey, December 2003

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