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FORCE OF HOBBIT

15-02-2007

Tolkein might be famous Brummie author but Laurence Inman reckons that a) the relevance of this area to his work is tenuous and b) he was a crap writer. We can do better than that he says. Much better.

Last week I read an article about the 150th anniversary of Moseley School. Various alumni were mentioned and there was some speculation about whether or not a member of the Tolkien family might be persuaded to come along and say a few words.

Not that Tolkien went to Moseley School. He was far too posh for that. No; the pretext for approaching a current Tolkien was that in 1897 the school let off a few fireworks to celebrate the Queen's silver jubilee and young J R R R R R, aged five and living a mile down the road, might have seen them and this might have inspired him to put fireworks in a party for some character called Dildo Bogface in a book called Lord of the Ring.

Now we've got to grow out of this. It cannot be that every pair of high things in Birmingham, seen from some perspective, ‘inspired' the ‘two towers' or anything else, not when Tolkien spent most of his life in Oxford, which is often called ‘a city of dreaming spires.'

I might as well stick a notice in my front garden: ‘This garden inspired Middle Earth.' After all, it's made of earth and it's in the middle of a row. That'll be ten bob please.

I tried to read The Hobbit once. It's the only half-hour of my life which I now regard as totally wasted. Even queuing up for my son's play-off tickets at St Andrews taught me something.

We must forget about Tolkien altogether. His books contain nothing but vapid drivel for air-head adolescents. He wasn't a writer; he was only a typist.

Let's celebrate our real writers. Proper Birmingham writers. Or writers who were born within modern commuting distance of New Street.

First must come Sam Johnson, born in Lichfield in 1709. He lived and worked here for a while and married a Birmingham woman, Elizabeth Porter, or ‘Tetty' as he liked to call her.

Essayist, poet, wit, lexicographer, but above all a top-class grump, he took moaning to the level of high art.

The funniest English writer of all time, Jerome Klapka Jerome, was born just up the line in Walsall in 1859.

The second-best English novelist, George Eliot, was a Nuneaton girl (almost.) The best English novelist, Jane Austen, had one of her characters in Emma say some rather disparaging things about Birmingham, but what can you do ? If we're going as far east as Nuneaton we may as well also include Joe Orton and Robert Burton. I met Orton once, but I didn't realise it was him until he died. Reading Burton means you can never be unhappy again.

Warwick was the childhood home of both Walter Savage Landor and Philip Larkin. Landor: probably better than he sounds. Larkin: the most bad-tempered man on the planet.

A mate of mine was at Hull University, where Larking was the librarian, and found himself standing next to the great man at a bus-stop. It was pouring with rain. Larkin edged away from my coatless mate and said, ‘Don't think you're standing under my brolley!'

I kind of met him as well, at the same time I kind of met W.H.Auden, another poet with Brum connections, also a chum of Louis MacNeice, who taught Classics at the university and drank on an industrial scale in various pubs in town.

And then there's Henry Green, who wrote really compelling novels with titles like Loving, Living, Doting and Nothing, (but not Moaning,) and whose day-job was running a factory which made toilets in Tyseley.

And now the Big One. I'm convinced that Shakespeare was a Brummie. Anybody that quick and inventive had to be. I have actually founded a society called SWAB (Shakespeare Was A Brummie.) The so-called ‘lost years' - 1586 to 1592 - which everybody thinks he spent in a Catholic seminary in Lancashire were actually when he went back to his real family in Nechells. Carl Chinn agrees with me, and I've got that on tape.

More literary musings next week, when I'll do a round-up of the brilliant present-day scene in Birmingham.

Who are your favourite West Midlands writers? leave a comment on our messageboard. And check out one of brightest new Brummie talents Catherine O'Flynn talking about her new novel "What Was Lost" and reading extracts from it on Stirrer TV

Cath O'Flynn

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