City academic’s tennis win let Tolkien dream up Hobbit

JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit
Share this article
Have your say

IT’S the highly-anticipated Christmas blockbuster that cost £315 million to make.

But the crowds of Middle Earth-mad movie fans who’ll be filling screenings of The Hobbit over the weekend may be unaware of Edinburgh’s connection with the works behind the block-busting movies.

For esteemed Edinburgh University academic Angus McIntosh is rumoured to have played a vital part in kick-starting author JRR Tolkien’s creative process – by beating the author at tennis.

An injury laid the writer up, giving him time to dream up the fantasy yarn that has enchanted countless children.

Jo Blair, Senior Programmer at Picturehouse Cinemas, told the Evening News it is a literary fact that still surprises.

She said: “Not many people know that it was actually after hurting his ankle in a tennis match with Edinburgh University lecturer and academic Angus McIntosh that JRR Tolkien, confined to his room, started sketching out his ideas for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.”

Despite the injury, the two remained friends for many years, with Tolkien bringing his daughter Priscilla to Edinburgh for a visit with the lecturer just before his death in 1973.

It is understood that McIntosh, who died in October 2005 at the age of 91, would joke that the author owed him royalties from the books. Estimated global sales of The Hobbit since its publication in 1937 range from 35 million to 100 
million copies.

However, McIntosh’s friendship with Tolkien was far from his only claim to fame. Described as one of the most distinguished scholars of his generation, he was one of the cryptographers and translators who decoded signals from Germany’s famous Enigma code machine.

Before working for the code- breakers he was a private in the tank corps, and later became a major in military intelligence.

McIntosh said his favourite memories about his wartime career were those that had an element of serendipity or the ridiculous.

These included liberating Goering’s plundered art collection from a railway workers’ convalescent home, and being able to receive the surrender of the fleeing Japanese delegation to the Third Reich.

After the war, McIntosh took up a lectureship at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1948 he came to Edinburgh as the first Forbes professor of English language and general linguistics.

A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (LALME), published in 1986, was said to be the crowning achievement of the scholar’s career, and immediately became an indispensable reference tool for scholars working on the language and literature of the Middle English period.

He was a prime mover in the setting up of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, a tireless supporter of both the Scottish National Dictionary and the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, and one of the founders of the School of Scottish Studies.

McIntosh was president of the Scottish Text Society, a member of the Council of the Early English Text Society, and a foreign member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. He was given many honours, but none was said to have delighted him more than the award of honorary D.Litt by the University of Edinburgh in 2004.

The Hobbit – directed by Peter Jackson – stars Martin Freeman, 41, who also appeared in The Office, and screen siren Cate Blanchett, 43. It premiered on Wednesday in London and is expected to set box office records over the Christmas break.