J.R.R. Tolkien trained as British spy

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull had already documented this episode in one of their books.

Can you think of a better headline than that for any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien? I can almost see the Hollywood studios lining up to buy the rights to his life story (and why haven’t they done that long since anyway?).

The Telegraph revealed today that British philologist J.R.R. Tolkien “was ‘earmarked’ to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.”

I wonder if that hurt?

Tolkien ultimately declined to take part in the program, although anyone who has read his letters knows that the author had absolutely no love for the racist Nazi regime in Germany. His son Christopher, who went on to edit and publish many of JRRT’s previously unpublished materials after the author’s death in 1973, served in the R.A.F. during the Second World War and the two carried on a correspondence.

J.R.R. Tolkien did put in some time as an air-raid warden as well during the conflict, and he had himself served in the British army during the First World War.

Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

Tolkien, one of his generation’s most respected linguists, was ”earmarked” to crack Nazi codes in the event that Germany declared war.

Intelligence chiefs singled him and a ‘cadre’ of other intellectuals to work at Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire.

Its staff – which included Alan Turing, the gay codebreaker – would later decipher the ‘impenetrable’ Enigma machines.

This saved Britain from German conquest by allowing the Navy to intercept and destroy Hitler’s U-Boats.

According to previously unseen records, Tolkien trained with the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS).

He spent three days at their London HQ in March 1939 – six months before the outbreak of the Second World War and just 18 months after the publication of his first book, The Hobbit.

But although he was ”keen”, Tolkien – a professor of English literature at Oxford University – declined a £500-a-year offer to become a full-time recruit.

I have started a discussion thread at SF-Fandom’s Tolkien Forum if you’d like to share your thoughts (registration is required but it’s free — Gmail users have to contact the administrators to get approval for registration because of all the spam registrations that come out of Gmail.com).


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