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'Lord of the Rings', 'The Day Laughter Broke Out' and 'Vauxhall and I'


The choice of MP Sir John Hayes

Since its publication, between 1954 and 1955, The Lord of the Rings has been treasured.

The Lord of the Rings (33531320)
The Lord of the Rings (33531320)

Epitomising English high fantasy literature, its influence rivals that of the medieval folk tales from which it draws.

The three-part epic (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King) is unequalled in the scope of its otherworldliness, the other world, described, in bewildering detail by its creator Tolkien, being fantastic beyond dreams.

Yet Middle Earth has an Englishness about it; both quaint and grand. Perhaps that explains why so many reader’s feel that, for all its magic, Middle Earth might – somewhere at some time – be real. Certainly, thecompleteness of this alternative reality is sufficiently convincing to have captured the hearts andfed the imaginations of millions of devotees and spawned many impressive adaptations for wireless and screen.

JRR Tolkien harvested his early life and profound learning to shape the book’s substance and style. Apparently, the portrayal of bucolic Hobbiton is based on his treasured memories of an idealised Worcestershire childhood, with Mordor
being redolent of his youthful horror of creeping industrialisation.

The trilogy’s charmingly recherché use of language and vast descriptive passages evidence the author’s deep knowledge of old English, whilst the escapist wonder of the narrative, in all its colourful romanticism, contrasts sharply with the harsh, ‘gritty realism’ favoured by many of Tolkien’s literary contemporaries.

The story charts the journey of two ‘ordinary’ Hobbits (a race of agrarian folk of diminutive stature and contented nature), Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.Their quest across Middle Earth to destroy the ‘one ring of power’ and with it, its master the villainous Lord Sauron, fills more than 1,100 densely written pages.

The villain’s aim is to enslave the free peoples of Middle Earth by means of his brutal pseudo-demonic minions, the Nazgul, and an army of ferocious, anarchic Orcs. With the help of an Istari angel – in the guise of the wizard Gandalf – and the rightful heir to the throne of the western kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, Aragorn, the heroic Hobbits and their wider fellowship of companions succeed in destroying the ring, defeating Sauron and restoring the monarchy, so preserving peace.

The significance of Lord of the Rings, beyond the trilogy’s undeniable influence on 20th century popular culture – everything from other fantasy literature and English rock music to film and tabletop board games – is found in what the story stands for; the values it

In essence, the tale is an account of good versus evil, the triumph of simple, courageous virtue, personified by Sam Gamgee, over the monstrous malevolent power of Sauron.

More subtly, Lord of The Rings characterises wickedness as anarchic – for it is the gentle established order of the Shire that the savage orcs and their demonic master threaten.

Tolkien describes the defence of a rural, peaceful idyll (rather like the best of Lincolnshire) threatened by a brutal Godless menace.

Now, as we long for the peace of ordinary life to return, what could be better to lift the spirits than the triumph of the humble Hobbits over a sinister, unfeeling menace?


The choice of Spalding Guardian columnist John Ward

Rob Wilton book. (33493433)
Rob Wilton book. (33493433)

I have never been a reader of supposed ‘blockbuster’ books as my criteria is ‘if the subject matter interests me I will read it’.

One book that I have read recently is titled ‘The Day Laughter Broke Out’ which is about the life of comedian Robb Wilton, now sadly long gone, written by Tom Preston.

While possibly not a ‘household name’ nowadays, Robb Wilton was well known in the middle of the last century as a music hall, theatre, radio and film comedian with his dead pan humour.

Perhaps his classic ‘The Day War Broke Out’ sketch in his role as a war time Home Guard member was his most famous.

Indeed, this monologue has been quoted as possibly the inspiration for the BBC television sit-com ‘Dad’s Army’ as later written by David Croft and Jimmy Perry.

Looking online, there are film sequences of the ‘The Day War Broke Out’ plus others of his performances – ‘The Fire Station’ is another classic – to give some idea of his undoubted talent that kept millions chuckling away at the time.

This book is a reminder of a great comedian of his time that can still bring a smile even today.


The choice of editor Jeremy Ransome

Vauxhall and I by Morrissey. (33495713)
Vauxhall and I by Morrissey. (33495713)

Many of us know Morrissey these days for his outspoken political views but there was a time when his music did the talking and for most fans, this 1994 album shows him at his absolute musical peak.

Too many dismiss the former Smiths front man as a gloom-monger, probably basing their accusation on the tongue in cheek 1984 hit ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ but take a listen to the 11 tracks on this record and you may change your mind.

For years the Mancunian had flirted with loneliness, celibacy and sadness in an almost trademark way, but when he released this, it was after the deaths of his manager, video director and producer the previous year.

However, it is not a maudlin affair, but a warm, dreamy offering, full of reflection, melancholy and, of course, Morrissey’s unique and clever lyrics.

‘Hold On To Your Friends’ is a gorgeous ode to companionship, ‘Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself’ a breezy, beautiful offering and ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get’ look at love in the way only Morrissey can.

There’s plenty of nostalgia too, with ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ name checking four characters from Graham Green’s Brighton Rock, ‘Spring-Heeled Jim’ usuing dialogue from 1958 documentary ‘We are the Lambeth Boys’ and ‘Billy Budd’ referring to a character from the eponymous 1962 film.

Then there’s ‘Used To Be A Sweet Boy’ which hits all us parents where it hurts, the cutting ‘Lazy Sunbathers’ and the brilliant, ebullient climax ‘Speedway’.

And only Morrissey could come up with the heartbreaking ‘Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning’.

The album as a whole is Morrissey’s most personal, warm and intimate record in his nearly four decades of recording and a perfect introduction to his work.

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