By Jeremy Miles
SOME years ago Christopher Tolkien told me how as a child in the 1930s his father asked him to read the manuscript of a then unpublished book.
It was called The Hobbit. Young Christopher was enchanted. He wasn't to be alone. Over the ensuing decades the book and its follow-up - the three-part trilogy The Lord of the Rings - turned his unassuming dad from a dusty Oxford academic to a blockbuster author. Much to his astonishment, and reluctance, John Ronald Reuel (JRR Tolkien) became a household name.
By the time he entered old age his books, with characters like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and fantasies about a mythical world of elves, dwarves and wizards known as Middle Earth, had brought him a cult following that included a generation of hippies and New Age followers.
Tolkien - who eventually retired to Poole and died in a Bournemouth nursing home in 1973 - didn't approve. The highly respected professor of literature hated the fact that those he saw as scruffy, long-hairs found their way to his front door. Eventually he agreed to have his name taken out of the phone book.
In recent years Tolkien fever has been reignited with the big-screen release of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilology. So it is hardly surprising that the announcement that a new JRR Tolkien novel about to be published - 34 years after his death and nearly 90 years after he first started writing it - has caused much excitement among fans. Details about the book, The Children of Hurin, which will be published in hardback next month, is being kept under wraps by publisher Harper-Collins but it has been described "an epic story of adventure, tragedy. fellowship and heroism".
Started in 1918 but left unfinished when Tolkien died and continuing the story featured in his final novel The Silmarilion, it has been completed by the now 82-year-old Christopher, who has spent more than three decades carefully examining a mass of notes left by his father.
The book deals with characters already known to Tolkien aficionados - Hurin's son Turin famously inherited a magic sword which accidentally triggered the destruction of a kingdom of elves.
Fans are already suggesting that the new book could make a great movie but, as a spokesman for the Tolkien Society told one newspaper earlier this week: "The Tolkiens are not very keen on selling film rights... they prefer to let the books speak for themselves."
This is perhaps hardly surprising, after they watched the recent multi-million-pound box office success of Lord of the Rings conquer the world's cimemas knowing JRR Tolkien sold the film rights to a Los Angeles studio for a fraction more than £100,000 in 1969. It is believed that the deal, later dubbed "Hollywood's bargain of the century", was cut here in Bournemouth while his wife Edith was out playing cards with friends at the nearby Miramar Hotel.
The cliff-top hotel was a frequent haunt of the Tolkiens, who spent holidays there in the 1960s before retiring to a three-bedroom bungalow in Lakeside Road in Branksome Park.