10 Still-Unsolved Mysteries From Unsolved Mysteries

Film Rise
Film Rise

Unsolved Mysteries, which premiered in January 1987, captivated viewers with tales of peculiar cold cases, missing persons, and paranormal activity. Actor Robert Stack introduced reenacted segments—often while clad in a trench coat—and invited the audience to contribute tips and information to help law enforcement resolve their most baffling investigations. Thanks to their assistance, the series (later hosted by Dennis Farina) helped recapture numerous wanted fugitives, unite fractured families, and even exonerate a few wrongfully-convicted inmates.

However, many of the 1000-plus cases featured on the series are still awaiting resolution. We asked Unsolved co-creators John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer to share their picks for stories that have stuck with them over the years. In no particular order, here are 10 mysteries that still keep Cosgrove and Meurer up at night.

1. SALEM SECRETS (1989)

The Oregon state prison system didn’t have a great reputation in the 1980s. Allegations of employees smuggling drugs behind bars and stealing state property were rampant. To combat the perception of impropriety, then-Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt invited Michael Francke to come in and clamp down on the activity as well as cure an overcrowding problem in facilities. Francke, who had previously worked within the New Mexico prison system, had a reputation for doing things by the book. He spent two years slowly building his case, but before he was able to point the finger at anyone publicly, he was found dead outside of his office in Salem on January 17, 1989—a victim of a knife-wielding assailant who had pierced his heart. Police pieced together Francke’s final moments and believed he was robbed and stabbed by a drug dealer named Frank Gable.

Although Gable was convicted, Francke’s family believed Michael’s death was related to his investigation into the prison system. One eyewitness said he saw multiple men running away from the crime scene on the night of his death, contradicting the Gable story. Oddly, no paperwork detailing Francke’s research was ever found—but several eyewitnesses saw employees carrying bags of shredded documents out of his office following his death.

Gable has thus far been unsuccessful in getting his appeals heard, despite several witnesses coming forward to cite police coercion during interviews and recanting their statements that he was at the crime scene. In 2016, a magistrate judge heard arguments for a new trial, including statements that deceased criminal John Crouse made to relatives in which he confessed to killing Francke in a car burglary gone wrong. Crouse revealed several key details of the crime, including the fact that he punched Francke in the face during the confrontation. Francke had a bruise on his face consistent with Crouse’s description. Though Gable is still considered the perpetrator, both Francke's family and the team at Unsolved Mysteries consider Francke's untimely death an open case.

2. A.W.O.L. (1993)

Soldiers who flee military enlistment without permission are known as being A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Official Leave. Private Justin Burgwinkel didn’t seem like a plausible candidate for stepping out on his responsibilities. He had worked hard and aspired to become an Army Ranger, which required specialized and intensive training at Ford Ord in Salinas, California; he seemed committed to a career in the military. And then he began acting oddly around his girlfriend, Iolanda Antunes. While visiting her, he would abruptly tell her he had to leave in order to meet unnamed parties. When she pressed for details, he told her it was a secret, hinting only that it might involve arms smuggling. She noticed he carried a briefcase full of shredded paper. Once, she answered the phone and was told to deliver Burgwinkel a message: “The mission” was being called off.

After three years in service, Burgwinkel simply vanished. His car was recovered at a motel three months after his disappearance, with all of his belongings—including his wallet, keys, and ID—inside. So were his military-issued dog tags, which he once told Antunes were useful in identifying the bodies of dead soldiers, adding "If you ever see these ... lying around, that means I’m dead." Some believe Burgwinkel suffered from a mental illness; others think he was involved in illicit activity that might have gotten him killed. No one has seen or heard from Burgwinkel since June 12, 1993.

3. DIAL H FOR ABDUCTION (1991)

Angela Hammond and her boyfriend Rob Shafer lived in Clinton, Missouri, and likely didn’t concern themselves much with the possibility of being victimized by the same types of crime that plagued larger cities. But on April 4, 1991, the worst-case scenario came true. While phoning Rob from a pay phone, 20-year-old Hammond remarked that a green Ford pick-up had been circling the block. Hammond said that a “filthy, bearded” man had exited and was using the phone next to hers. They talked for another few minutes—until Hammond screamed. Shafer raced to his car and drove to the phones, which were just blocks away. He told police he passed the pick-up driving away, with Hammond screaming his name. He tried to give chase, but his transmission failed, and he watched helplessly as the truck—which had a giant fish decal on the back window—disappeared into the night.

Shafer was initially considered a suspect, but was quickly cleared. Despite the telltale window sticker, police were unable to locate the vehicle or Hammond. They believed her disappearance might have been connected to two other women who were abducted and murdered within 100 miles of Clinton, but no one has ever been charged with the crimes.

4. DREAMY DISAPPEARANCE (1981)

Cynthia Anderson worked as legal secretary in Toledo, Ohio, sometimes passing the time in her office by reading suspense or romance novels. In 1980, the 20-year-old told her mother that she had been having a recurring dream about allowing someone into her house who meant her harm. At work, she received harassing phone calls to the point her employers—lawyers Jim Rabbit and Jay Feldstein—had an emergency buzzer installed at her desk. When Rabbit arrived at their office the morning of August 4, 1981, they expected to find Anderson behind her desk. Instead, the front door was locked, and Anderson was nowhere to be found. The novel she had been reading was open to a passage describing a violent abduction. Her car was still in the lot.

A month later, a mysterious phone call came into police headquarters. A woman insisted Anderson was being held in a basement but wouldn’t give any specifics. She called a second time to tell police the house was occupied, but never contacted them again. Some theorize Anderson may have heard incriminating conversations involving a drug dealer who became concerned that she knew too much. To date, no one has been charged in connection with her disappearance.

5. FRIENDS TO THE END (1987)

In 1980s Arkansas, a popular (albeit illegal) activity among youth was “spotlighting,” a practice in which a hunter would freeze animals in their tracks by shining a flashlight in their eyes while their partner fired a weapon. That’s what teenage friends Don Henry (16) and Kevin Ives (17) set out to do the evening of August 22, 1987 in the small town of Bryant, Arkansas, near the train tracks that ran behind Henry’s house.

Hours later, a conductor named Stephen Shroyer was navigating his train through the area when he noticed the teens laying motionless on the tracks; they were covered by a green tarp. Shocked, Shroyer tried to come to an emergency stop, but it was too late. The train ran directly over their bodies. A coroner would later conclude that the boys were asleep on the tracks as a result of smoking 20 or more marijuana cigarettes, a finding that both sets of parents rejected. Owing to public pressure, the bodies were exhumed so another autopsy could be conducted. The findings revealed that the boys had had one to three marijuana joints, and that one of them was dead and one unconscious before the train ran over them. That, coupled with the fact that Henry appeared to be stabbed and Ives struck with the butt of his own gun, led a grand jury to conclude the case was a double homicide.

In 2018, the Ives family was still pursuing answers with the help of a private investigator. In a bizarre twist, former professional wrestler Billy Jack Haynes claimed he was a witness in the case. He came forward to assert that, at the time, he was involved in drug trafficking in the area, and had been called to the area to make sure a scheduled air drop happened without incident. (In 1988, a confidential informant told police the area the boys were in was used to drop drugs from passing aircraft.) According to KATV, Haynes claimed he was present when an air-drop of cocaine took place and that the boys had witnessed the drop. Haynes also said he helped lay the boys on the track. Police have not yet commented on his claims.

6. TUPAC SHAKUR (1996)

Both Cosgrove and Meurer have been unable to shake the puzzling details that led up to the murder of 25-year-old rapper Tupac Shakur. On September 7, 1996, Shakur was in Las Vegas to watch Mike Tyson in a boxing match against Frank Bruno, and was riding with rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight following the fight. Both men had run-ins with the law in their past and both flirted with danger in rap’s criminal element. Earlier that night, the two reportedly got into a physical altercation with members of the Crips street gang. Later, while driving, the men stopped at an intersection. A white Cadillac pulled up and opened fire. Knight was grazed by a bullet, but Shakur was hit four times—twice in the chest, once in the arm, and once in the thigh—and was in bad shape; he died of his wounds six days later. Of the many witnesses, only one came forward: Yafeu Fula, a backup singer for Shakur. Before he could try to identify any suspects or submit to further police questioning, Fula was gunned down at his home in New Jersey. No one has ever been arrested in connection with Shakur’s murder.

7. THE KECKSBURG UFO INCIDENT (1965)

Steven Spielberg couldn’t have scripted a better opening. On the evening of December 9, 1965, thousands of eyewitnesses reported seeing a strange light appearing over parts of the northeastern United States and Canada. Citizens of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania saw it, too, but they also witnessed a lot of commotion coming from what looked to be a crash site. Local law enforcement was said to have been quickly ordered out of the area by government officials who crowded around an acorn-shaped spacecraft embedded into the ground. Reports of the crash being a meteor or some kind of space debris circulated, but UFO researchers have long insisted the incident was extraterrestrial in origin. Others believe it was a spy satellite that the United States wanted to disavow. Neither NASA nor the Air Force has responded to civilian inquiries about what may or may not have landed in Kecksburg that night.

8. ONE MINUTE MILLION (1989)

On April 19, 1989, an armored car in Eden Prairie, Minnesota was besieged by a gang of armed robbers who quickly and efficiently relieved them of $1 million in roughly 60 seconds. While two stood guard with machine guns, a third put a (fake) bomb on the hood to encourage cooperation. The explosive rig was similar to one used in a robbery in Baltimore three years earlier. A year after the Eden Prairie heist, they struck a third time. In each case, no one was able to follow in pursuit, and the thieves were never caught. The FBI believed they were far from common criminals: Their protocol was so precise that authorities suspected they might have been heavily trained in ambush or attack scenarios, possibly as a result of entering the military.

9. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1962)

Of the many notorious prison escapes of the 20th century, none proved as unbelievable as the three men who fled from the isolated Alcatraz, located on an island in San Francisco Bay, on June 11, 1962. Anyone who could successfully navigate past their cells, armed guards, and fences would then have to swim miles to shore. Inmates Frank Morris and Allen West hatched a plan to do exactly that, and enlisted brothers John and Clarence Anglin to come along with them. West had discovered that access to the outside was possible if the prisoners pulled out the entire ventilation shaft under the sink in their cells rather than trying to cut through the bars blocking the shaft. By burrowing into the opening, they could make their way behind the cell wall and up to the roof by using the plumbing to climb up.

After eight months of surreptitious digging, the men (minus West, who had trouble getting into the ventilation shaft) had created paths to the roof. They placed dummy heads—made from soap and concrete, plus hair swiped from the prison barber shop—in their beds so that guards wouldn’t notice they were gone. Once on the outside, they blew up a raft they had made from raincoats using a concertina, an instrument similar to an accordion. Then they vanished. 

The next morning, their bunks were discovered to be empty, and authorities began a manhunt. The raft was found, along with some personal effects, but no bodies were ever recovered. The case was closed in 1979, but got renewed attention in early 2018 when it was revealed a man claiming to be John Anglin had written to the San Francisco police department in 2013 claiming to be alive but in need of medical attention for a cancer diagnosis. Handwriting analysis and DNA testing on the letter were inconclusive. If it’s genuine, then perhaps so is Anglin’s claim that both his brother and Frank Morris made it to shore alive, living decades as free men before Frank died in 2005, followed by his brother Clarence in 2008.

10. D.B. COOPER (1971)

Year after year, snippets of information continue to trickle out about “D.B. Cooper,” the alias for the man (or woman) who successfully hijacked a plane bound for Seattle on November 24, 1971. Cooper—who politely and calmly informed the stewardess that he had a bomb and demanded $200,000 in cash when the plane landed—got his money and jumped out of the aircraft with a parachute. Though traces of his ransom have been found and numerous people have told stories of people in their lives they suspect of being Cooper, authorities have never been able to nail down a single suspect. In 2018, an amateur sleuth and codebreaker named Rick Sherwood came forward to state that he had analyzed letters believed to be from Cooper and read the cryptography that indicated the criminal was identifying himself as Robert Rackstraw, a Vietnam veteran with parachuting experience. One letter hinted at three separate military units that Rackstraw belonged to. The FBI hasn’t made a specific comment on Sherwood’s claim. Neither has Rackstraw, who is still alive and was reportedly questioned by the FBI back in the 1970s.

The 15 Best TV Series Finales of All Time

Ursula Coyote, AMC
Ursula Coyote, AMC

What makes a great TV series finale? It depends on the show, of course. But no matter what series you may be watching, you want a finale that ties up loose ends without being annoyingly completist, gives you heart without seeming overly sentimental, and of course makes you feel just as happy, sad, thrilled, or compelled as you did with each previous episode. It’s a very tricky needle to thread, and some series have undoubtedly done it better than others.

In celebration of what it takes to deliver a great final episode, here are (some of) the greatest series finales of all time.

1. The Sopranos // “Made In America”

“Made In America” is, infamously, the episode of television that made millions of viewers briefly think that their cable had just gone out at some crucial moment, when in reality what happened was creator David Chase simply decided one seemingly random moment was the exact second where Tony Soprano’s journey would end. The series finale of The Sopranos spent the better part of its runtime wrapping up a mob war that crippled the family, and then devoted its final minutes to a family dinner set to Journey. Fans still debate the meaning and merits of the final scene, but the sense of palpable unease Chase built up in those last moments—signifying Tony’s perpetual state of watching his back—were a brilliant way to end a show that began as a meditation on existential dread in the first place.

2. Six Feet Under // “Everyone’s Waiting”

The final minutes of “Everyone’s Waiting” are among the most famous in the history of television, and even if the rest of the episode had been a disappointment, they would still rank among the greatest farewells in the medium. As it is, Six Feet Under's final episode with the Fisher family is a gripping, heartfelt, and bitterly funny gem, all building to that last montage. As Sia’s "Breathe Me" plays, we see the deaths of every member of the main cast, which reminds us that death takes many forms beyond mere tragedy, all culminating in the last breaths of Claire. Just thinking about it is enough to make fans of the show burst into tears.

3. Breaking Bad // “Felina”

Few series finales have ever faced such high expectations and managed to rise to meet them so powerfully as Breaking Bad did with its final episode in 2013. “Felina” has everything you could ever want from a Breaking Bad send-off: Walt’s final conversation with Skyler, that incredible revenge shoot-out featuring the rigged machine gun, Jesse’s defiant cry of freedom as he drives away, Walt’s collapse, and that little smile of victory on his face. Some series finales deliver what you want; others deliver what you need. “Felina” somehow manages to do both.

4. M*A*S*H // “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”

M*A*S*H was on longer than the Korean War was actually fought, and was more than 250 episodes into its run by the time “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” aired and became one of the most-watched television events in the history of the medium. You’d think the staff of the 4077th might have run out of things to say after such a run, but the series finale manages to be absolutely jam-packed, featuring everything from Hawkeye’s dark repressed memories to Klinger’s wedding. It all builds to that final shot of “GOODBYE” written in stones, which still ranks as one of the most iconic moments in TV history.

5. The Americans // “START”

The Americans quietly became one of the best shows on TV before finally winning a bunch of awards for its final season, and with good reason. The final adventures of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings as they contemplated a return to Russia and an end to their double lives in America were among the best the series ever delivered, all building to a final episode that stuck the landing in every possible way, from the thrills of their final escape to the emotional payoff of their daughter Paige’s big decision.

6. The Wire // "-30-"

The Wire was never going to end anything in a clean, cut-and-dried way, but its series finale did mange to wield the various talents at play in the series to end everything on an ambitious and fairly comprehensive note. The finale reckoned with many of the same questions the entire series did—from the nature of justice to the fragility of power systems and how far people will go to keep them in place—as it worked to resolve the homeless serial killer hoax, illegal wiretapping, and the all-important future of Tommy Carcetti. One last montage reminds us that life goes on in Baltimore, whether the show’s characters have reshaped it for the better or not.

7. Seinfeld // “The Finale”

The series finale of Seinfeld is also among the most divisive in the history of television, and it all begins with an amusing swerve. The show leads off by making us think Jerry and George are about to embark on a typical sitcom sendoff, bidding New York City farewell as they head to California to make a television series, but then the real plot kicks in as the show’s quartet of main characters is arrested for literally doing nothing as a man is carjacked.

The brilliance of the show’s protagonists getting in trouble for the very same thing they’d been doing for nine seasons in a “show about nothing” then pivots to a trial that does play by the sitcom rule of allowing old fan-favorite characters to come back as witnesses, then launches into a wrap-up that mocks the characters, the show’s fans, and the show’s own place of seeming importance in the pop culture landscape. Sitcom finales are usually more like curtain calls; "The Finale" was a provocative final joke.

8. Battlestar Galactica // “Daybreak Parts 1-3”

The finale of Battlestar Galactica might be a little too metaphysical in nature for some viewers, but there’s something about the sense of totality running through it that makes it a perfect sendoff for a series that always placed everything on the line with every single story it told. As the surviving humans of the fleet finally defeat their Cylon enemies, Starbuck sends them to a new home, and they agree to abandon all of their old technology and live among the primitive humans already present on what turns out to be our Earth. It’s a beautiful blending of victory, bittersweet goodbyes, seismic changes to everyone’s lives, angels, the future, and—believe it or not—“All Along the Watchtower.”

9. Star Trek: The Next Generation // “All Good Things…”

“Encounter at Farpoint,” the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, is a famously slow, bloated affair that was a sign of things to come for the relatively weak first season. “All Good Things…” brilliantly repurposes that story as a time travel saga in which Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) learns that Q, the alien being who put humanity on trial back in the premiere, is continuing his test of the human race by placing Picard in three different eras of his life. It’s a brilliant conceit that makes an elegant circle out of the series while also allowing Picard to give viewers a grand tour of the series’ entire history, including his own future.

10. Buffy the Vampire Slayer // “Chosen”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer spent weeks setting up its series finale, laying out a last stand that would either end Buffy and her gang of allies forever or wipe Sunnydale off the face of the Earth—or both. The final battle itself has since been dwarfed by more epic series like Game of Thrones, but what makes “Chosen” so magical isn’t its fight scenes, but its heart. With her own army of potential Slayers at her back, Buffy asks Willow to perform a spell that will give them all the powers of a Slayer, leading to one of the most empowering montages in the history of television. Then, even while mourning absent friends, Buffy is able to look toward tomorrow.

11. Newhart // “The Last Newhart”

So many sitcom series finales are all about final goodbyes. Very often characters leave their longtime TV homes for somewhere new, leading to tearful farewells or at least a final moment for everyone to spend one last day together. Newhart absolutely blew that premise up with a twisty, joke-filled finale that includes the entire town being turned into a resort, a five-year time jump, and that brilliant final scene which reveals all of Newhart to have been the dream of Dr. Bob Hartley, Newhart’s character from The Bob Newhart Show. The level of ambition is admirable. That the ambition translated to genuine laughs is wonderful.

12. Twin Peaks: The Return // “Part 17 and Part 18”

Twin Peaks famously ended its early ’90s run with a cliffhanger, which then led to the joyous reception that accompanied The Return, an 18-hour monument to creative freedom which everyone hoped would finally provide some answers. In true David Lynch fashion, though, the answers we got were often difficult to parse. And by the time it was all over, we were left with even more questions. The final two hours of The Return are among the most mind-meltingly intense episodes of television ever devised, all building to a daring and stunning final scene that still has fans talking.

13. The West Wing // “Tomorrow”

The West Wing played the long game with its series finale thanks to a year-long election storyline, which meant that its final episode was always going to be the combination of both an end and a beginning. The intense election story—which included a live debate episode—culminated in the inauguration of a new president, and a farewell to Martin Sheen’s President Josiah Bartlet, but the sense of transition inherent in the plot managed to imbue the series with a new sense of potential energy as it made the turn toward home. Watching “Tomorrow,” you can’t help but fantasize about what it will be like for Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn to be together in the White House again, changing the world in all new ways. That emotional weight meant that, after seven years, we actually all felt like we could use a little more of The West Wing.

14. Halt and Catch Fire // “Ten of Swords”

Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe in Halt and Catch Fire
Bob Mahoney, AMC

Halt and Catch Fire never got the audience it deserved when it was airing, which means many people likely don’t know just how brilliant and daring the show got in its final seasons, which included a time jump, a shocking death, and the dawn of the internet age. “Ten of Swords” is all about closing old chapters and starting new ones, and sends the show’s trinity of remaining major characters in promising new directions, even as they all come to terms with the fact that they can never again recapture what they once had.

15. 30 Rock // “Last Lunch”

30 Rock was one of the most acclaimed comedies of its era in part because of its outright refusal to ever be straightforward about anything. Every plot was jokes on top of jokes and references on top of references, creating a show that rewards viewers who can’t get enough of rapid fire wit (and deserves rewatching). “Last Lunch” continued that tradition while also managing to inject some genuine emotion into the affair, as Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) reconcile their friendship in a half hour packed with so many gags and callbacks you could watch it half a dozen times and still not catch everything.

10 Surprising Facts About J.R.R. Tolkien

Phil Romans via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Phil Romans via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There are plenty of things even the most ardent fans don't know about The Lord of the Rings author John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. In honor of Tolkien Reading Day (March 25th), here are 10 of them.

1. Tolkien had a flair for the dramatic.

As a linguist and expert on Old English and Old Norse literature, Tolkien was a professor at Oxford University from 1925 until 1959. He was also a tireless instructor, teaching between 70 and 136 lectures a year (his contract only called for 36). But the best part is the way he taught those classes. Although quiet and unassuming in public, Tolkien wasn't the typical stodgy, reserved stereotype of an Oxford don in the classroom. He went to parties dressed as a polar bear, chased a neighbor dressed as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior, and was known to hand shopkeepers his false teeth as payment. As one of his students put it, "He could turn a lecture room into a mead hall."

2. Tolkien felt many of his fans were "lunatics."

Tolkien saw himself as a scholar first and a writer second. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were largely Tolkien's attempt to construct a body of myth, and their success caught him largely unaware. In fact, he spent years rejecting, criticizing, and shredding adaptations of his work that he didn't believe captured its epic scope and noble purpose. He was also utterly skeptical of most LOTR fans, who he believed were incapable of really appreciating the work, and he probably would have been horrified by movie fandom dressing up like Legolas.

3. Tolkien loved his day job.

To Tolkien, writing fantasy fiction was simply a hobby. The works he considered most important were his scholarly works, which included Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, a modern translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and A Middle English Vocabulary.

4. He was quite romantic.

At age 16, Tolkien fell in love with Edith Bratt, three years his senior. His guardian, a Catholic priest, was horrified that his ward was seeing a Protestant and ordered the boy to have no contact with Edith until he turned 21. Tolkien obeyed, pining after Edith for years until that fateful birthday, when he met with her under a railroad viaduct. She broke off her engagement to another man, converted to Catholicism, and the two were married for the rest of their lives. At Tolkien's instructions, their shared gravestone has the names "Beren" and "Luthien" engraved on it, a reference to a famous pair of star-crossed lovers from the fictional world he created.

5. Tolkien's relationship with C.S. Lewis was complicated.

Tolkien's fellow Oxford don C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia) is often identified as his best friend and closest confidant. But the truth is, the pair had a much more troubled relationship. At first, the two authors were very close. In fact, Tolkien's wife Edith was reportedly jealous of their friendship. And it was Tolkien who convinced Lewis to return to Christianity. But their relationship cooled over what Tolkien perceived as Lewis's anti-Catholic leanings and scandalous personal life (he had been romancing an American divorcee at the time). Although they would never be as close as they were before, Tolkien regretted the separation. After Lewis died, Tolkien wrote in a letter to his daughter that, “So far I have felt ... like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.”

6. Tolkien enjoyed clubbing.

Well, the extra-curricular, after-school sort. Wherever Tolkien went, he was intimately involved in the formation of literary and scholarly clubs. As a professor at Leeds University, for example, he formed the Viking Club. And during his stint at Oxford, he formed the Inklings, a literary discussion group.

7. He wasn't blowing smoke about those war scenes.

Tolkien was a veteran of the First World War, and served as a second lieutenant in the 11th (Service) Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was also present for some of the most bloody trench fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Somme. The deprivations of Frodo and Sam on their road to Mordor may have had their origins in Tolkien's time in the trenches, during which he contracted a chronic fever from the lice that infested him and was forced to return home. He would later say that all but one of his close friends died in the war, giving him a keen awareness of its tragedy that shines through in his writing.

8. Tolkien invented languages for fun.

A philologist by trade, Tolkien kept his mind exercised by inventing new languages, many of which (like the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin) he used extensively in his writing. He even wrote songs and poems in his fictional languages. In addition, Tolkien worked to reconstruct and write in extinct languages like Medieval Welsh and Lombardic. His poem "BagmÄ“ BlomÄ" ("Flower of the Trees") might be the first original work written in the Gothic language in over a millennium.

9. Tolkien been published almost as prolifically posthumously as he was when he was alive.

Most authors have to be content with the works they produce during their lifetime, but not Tolkien. His scribblings and random notes, along with manuscripts he never bothered to publish, have been edited, revised, compiled, redacted, and published in dozens of volumes after his death, most of them produced by his son Christopher. While Tolkien's most famous posthumous publication is The Silmarillion, other works include The History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Hurin, and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

10. Tolkien called Hitler a "ruddy little ignoramus."

Tolkien's academic writings on Old Norse and Germanic history, language, and culture were extremely popular among the Nazi elite, who were obsessed with recreating ancient Germanic civilization. But Tolkien was disgusted by Hitler and the Nazi party, and made no secret of the fact. He considered forbidding a German translation of The Hobbit after the German publisher, in accordance with Nazi law, asked him to certify that he was an "Aryan." Instead, he wrote a scathing letter asserting, among other things, his regret that he had no Jewish ancestors. His feelings are also evidenced in a letter he wrote to his son: "I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler ... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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