J.R.R Tolkien is renowned (and occasionally mocked) for his Lord of the Ring novels in which his characters spend a very considerable time walking (and occasionally flying and riding horses) but never do we see them in a carriage, horseless or otherwise.

In real life, did Tolkien drive an automobile, and did he have a driving licence?


According to his biography, JRR Tolkien was indeed a driver, but not a good one.

In 1932, Tolkien purchased an automobile: a Morris Crowley. The car was called "Jo" after the first two letters of its license plate, and Tolkien had a tendency to drive it like a knight on his prancing charger. On the family's first long-distance road trip, to visit Hilary Tolkien on his Evesham fruit farm, the car's tires punctured twice (a rather common hazard of the time) and Tolkien managed to knock down a stone wall near Chipping Norton (for which he had no one to blame but himself).

Tolkien's technique for navigating busy intersections was to ignore all other vehicles and floor it, yelling "Charge'em and they scatter!" as he blasted his way through traffic.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

He evidently sold his car in the 1940s, stating that they were turning his beloved Oxford into something resembling Mordor

"Though, the spirit of ‘Isengard’, if not of Mordor, is of course always cropping up. The present design of destroying Oxford in order to accommodate motor-cars is a case."

Letter #181


“It is full Maytime by the trees and grass now. But the heavens are full of roar and riot. You cannot even hold a shouting conversation in the garden now, save about 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. – unless the day is too foul to be out. How I wish the 'infernal combustion' engine had never been invented. Or (more difficult still since humanity and engineers in special are both nitwitted and malicious as a rule) that it could have been put to rational uses — if any.”

Letter #64 to Christopher Tolkien

As an aside, it's worth noting that since he began driving before 1932, he wouldn't have held a driving licence since they were only introduced in 1934 and stopped driving before they became mandatory for all drivers.

  • 8
    I think probably a lot of people who have grown up accustomed to good highways, SUVs, and mass-transit wouldn't understand how much this aspect could affect the writer's spatial and temporal concepts.
    – Cascabel
    Sep 19 '16 at 17:06
  • 5
    @void_ptr - Hence Gandalf's admonition, "Fly, you fools!"
    – Valorum
    Sep 19 '16 at 19:37
  • 3
    Next question -- did he ever bicycle or roller skate?
    – Hack-R
    Sep 20 '16 at 2:45
  • 7
    @Hack-R More importantly, did he ever ride a fell beast?
    – Molag Bal
    Sep 20 '16 at 3:39
  • 4
    @hack-r - According to his biography he most certainly rode a bicycle, especially during the war when petrol was closely rationed and when he was working at Oxford as a professor. He met/wooed his future wife while on bike rides to Church. History doesn't record if he roller-skated.
    – Valorum
    Sep 20 '16 at 9:45

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