The Midlands provided inspiration for Middle Earth Birmingham's bid to
be European Capital of Culture 2008, and had been quick to exploit the
region's links with Tolkien. As interest surrounding the latest Lord of
the Rings film release, The Twin Towers, builds, a series of local
landmarks and places that helped shape Tolkien's vision of Middle Earth
have been identified.
Most striking is that Tolkien drew inspiration for the title of the second
volume in the Lord of the Rings trilogy having lived very close to an
extraordinary 96ft (29m) tower known as Perrott' s Folley - Birmingham's
oddest architectural feature. Near it stands a later Victorian tower, part
of the Edgbaston Waterworks. The pair are said to have suggested The Twin
Towers - Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith,
Tolkien links with Birmingham run deep. He spent 16 years of his early
years in the city and it is quite believeable that during this time, many
ideas sank into the mind of the future novelist.
Among the other influences are that the tiny village of Sarehole, home to
the young Tolkien in 1896, is said to have been the model for The Shire,
the hobbits' home. Forced to move closer to the old tram-route to the
rapidly developing town center, Tolkien later lamented the encroachment of
civilization upon the countryside.
However, there was one place that civilization missed, the mysterious
world of Moseley Bog. This miraculously preserved haven for wild life was
an ideal place for childhood adventures. It is recalled in Tolkien's
description of the Old Forest, last of the primeval wild woods, where Tom
Bombadil lived. The Bog is now preserved as a Nature Reserve by Birmingham
City Council. It is even claimed Frodo Baggins' faithful companion Sam
Gamgee got his name from the local dialect word for cotton wool - its
inventor was Birmingham surgeon, Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee.
Stephen Hetherington, director of the Birmingham European Capital of
Culture bid says: "Tolkien, like so many creative people before and
since, drew great inspiration from Birmingham and the fantastic diversity
of this region. We are proud of these links and the resurgence of interest
in Tolkien is very timely with the Government's decision on the European
Capital of Culture due next Spring".
Perrott's Folley was specially lit during Halloween to great success and
there are now a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the Grade II
listed building. Birmingham City Council has extended the opening times of
Sarehole Mill, which is now run as a museum and perhaps best project of
all is a Tolkien Trail around the city that highlights links with the
author to both tourists and people in the region.
Following the release of the first film, visitor numbers to the Sarehole
Mill museum doubled. Moreover, on special open days last Christmas,
Sarehole Mill received more visitors in one day that it normally admits in
a month. The same attraction is opening this Christmas and we are
expecting even more visitors.
Tolkien Weekend 2005