In 2002, the internet was set abuzz by news that the Beatles had approached J.R.R. Tolkien about doing a film version of Lord of the Rings starring the Fab Four:
Once upon a time, the Fab Four—having slain the pop charts—decided to set their sights on the Dark Lord Sauron by making a Lord of the Rings feature, starring themselves. One man dared stand in their way: J.R.R. Tolkien.
According to Peter Jackson, who knows a little something about making Lord of the Rings movies, John Lennon was the Beatle most keen on LOTR back in the ’60s—and he wanted to play Gollum, while Paul McCartney would play Frodo, Ringo Starr would take on Sam and George Harrison would beard it up for Gandalf. And he approached a pre-2001 Stanley Kubrick to direct.
McCartney told Jackson about the failed scheme when the two bumped into each other at the Academy Awards: “It was something John was driving and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson told the Wellington Evening Post in 2002.
“There probably would’ve been some good songs coming off the album,” said Jackson.
That Tolkien didn’t care for the Beatles will come as no surprise to fans of either one, but Tolkien’s letters give us a hint that his opposition to the Beatles may have had a more personal dimension.
In 1953, Tolkien purchased a house on Oxford’s Sandfield Road, a cul-de-sac at the time of his move that later was opened to through traffic. In a 1964 letter to Christopher Bretherton, Tolkien complained about “radio, tele, dogs, scooters, buzzbikes, and cars of all sizes but the smallest” making noise “from early morn to about 2 a.m.”
“In addition,” Tolkien wrote, “in a house three doors away dwells a member of a group of young men who are evidently aiming to turn themselves into a Beatle Group. On days when it falls to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.”
Tolkien’s complaints about the “Beatle Group” are particularly striking given that he had purchased the Sandfield Road property to provide a quiet place for his ailing wife Edith. Tolkien wrote in a 1953 letter to his publisher that the move to Sandfield Road was prompted by “a doctor’s ultimatum” to find a house on “high dry soil and in the quiet.”
Tolkien’s annoyance at Sandfield Road’s first garage band is understandable. Yet if its practice sessions helped us avert the disaster that would have been a Beatles Lord of the Rings, we owe its anonymous members no small amount of thanks.
Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.