Welcome, dear readers, as always.
I suppose that we might blame Henry Ford (1863-1947) for this.
In 1908, he began to produce a standard car (only one color: black) at what he believed was an affordable price for the growing number of middle class Americans, the Model T.
As he put it in a later memoir:
“I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” (Henry Ford, assisted by Samuel Crowther, My Life and Work, 1922, p.73—if you’d like see more of Mr. Ford’s life and thoughts as he saw them, here’s a LINK to the work: https://ia800709.us.archive.org/3/items/mylifeandwork00crowgoog/mylifeandwork00crowgoog.pdf )
Earlier automobiles, especially the earliest, were very expensive toys, available only to the very wealthy.
As Ford says, his goal was to change that. And he was fantastically successful. By the time the Model T ceased production, in 1927, over 15,000,000 had been built.
Others, of course, seeing such success, wanted to imitate Ford. In Britain, Sir Herbert Austin (1866-1941)
produced the Austin 7 in 1923
and William Morris (1877-1963 later, 1st Viscount Nuffield),
had been producing less expensive models as early as 1915, often under the name “Morris Cowley” (after the location of the factory).
This was inexpensive enough that, in 1932, a rather poverty-stricken Oxford professor, with a wife and four children
invested in one.
What happened next seems rather surprising, as Humphrey Carpenter tells it:
“After learning to drive he took the entire family by car to visit his brother Hilary at his Evesham fruit farm. At various times during the journey ‘Jo’ [the car’s name, after the first two letters on the license plate] sustained two punctures and knocked down part of a dry-stone wall near Chipping Norton with the result that Edith refused to travel in the car again until some months later…” (Carpenter, Tolkien, 177)
And it only gets worse:
“…Tolkien’s driving was daring rather than skilful. When accelerating headlong across a busy main road in Oxford in order to get into a side-street, he would ignore all other vehicles and cry ‘Charge ‘em and they scatter!’—and scatter they did.” (Carpenter, Tolkien, 177)
A favorite Tolkien family book was Kenneth Grahame’s (1859-1932)
1908 The Wind in the Willows.
A major—and extremely dubious—character in that book is J. Thaddeus Toad.
Toad is a wealthy man, er, toad, who is running through his fortune with expensive hobbies, the major one being the new world, in 1908, of motor cars,
which, like a certain professor, he drives with daring, if not with skill, as his three friends, Badger, Ratty, and Mole discuss:
“Another smash-up only last week, and a bad one. You see, he
will insist on driving himself, and he’s hopelessly incapable. If
he’d only employ a decent, steady, well-trained animal, pay
him good wages, and leave everything to him, he’d get on all
right. But no; he’s convinced he’s a heaven-born driver, and
nobody can teach him anything; and all the rest follows.”
“How many has he had?” inquired the Badger gloomily.
“Smashes, or machines?” asked the Rat. “Oh, well, after all,
it’s the same thing—with Toad. This is the seventh. As for the
others—you know that coach-house of his? Well, it’s piled up
—literally piled up to the roof—with fragments of motor-cars,
none of them bigger than your hat! That accounts for the
other six—so far as they can be accounted for.”
“He’s been in hospital three times,” put in the Mole; “and as
for the fines he’s had to pay, it’s simply awful to think of.”
“Yes, and that’s part of the trouble,” continued the Rat.
“Toad’s rich, we all know; but he’s not a millionaire. And he’s a
hopelessly bad driver, and quite regardless of law and order.
Killed or ruined—it’s got to be one of the two things, sooner or
At first, they try to reason with Toad,
but eventually are forced to lock him in his room,
from which Toad happily escapes and nearly ruins himself and his fortune before his final rescue by his loyal friends, which includes a prison break
and a battle with weasels.
So, reading about this other side of JRRT, I wonder whether, as we imagine him in his study, Gandalf-like, deep in his literary and scholarly roles,
there always lay, just below the surface, another Tolkien—or do I mean J. Thaddeus Toad?–
ready to push the electric starter on the Morris
and roar off through the countryside, the terror of pedestrians and on-coming traffic, crying, “Charge ‘em and they scatter!”,
a Theoden in a boxy motor car.
(A stirring image by Tulikoura—a talented artist at: https://www.deviantart.com/tulikoura )
Thanks for reading,
Sound horn at crossings,
And know that there’s always
Although Grahame’s book was published in 1908 and I always prefer first or early editions, my favorite edition is that of 1931, illustrated by E.H. Shepard. Here’s the LINK so that you can enjoy Shepard’s illustrations along with Grahame’s gentle comedy: https://archive.org/details/the-wind-in-the-willows-grahame-kenneth-1859-1932-sh .