John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist and university professor …
Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and Merton Professor of English language and literature from 1945 to 1959. He was a devout Roman Catholic and close friend of C.S. Lewis – they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972. After his death, Tolkien’s son, Christopher, published a series of works based on his father’s extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented languages, and literary essays about an imagined world called Arda, and Middle-earth within it. Between 1951-1955 Tolkien applied the word legendarium to the larger part of these writings. While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when they were published in paperback in the United States led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature – or more precisely, high fantasy. Tolkien’s writings have inspired many other works of fantasy and have had a lasting effect on the entire field. In 2008 The Times ranked him number 6 in a list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945’.
The surname Tolkien is Anglicized from Tollkiehn, and the surname Rashbold, given to two characters in Tolkien’s The Notion Club Papers, is a pun on this. Tolkien’s maternal grandparents, John and Edith Jane Suffield, were Baptists who lived in Birmingham [England, not Alabama/USA] and owned a shop in the city centre. … Beginning in 1812 Tolkien’s great-great grandfather William Suffield owned and operated a book and stationary shop there; Tolkien’s great-grandfather, also John Suffield, was there from 1826 with a drapery and hosiery business.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 January 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857-1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, Suffield (1870-1904). The couple had left England when Arthur was promoted to head the Bloemfontein office of the British bank he worked for. Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was born on 17 February 1894.
As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a baboon spider (a type of tarantula) in the garden, an event which would later echo in his stories. Dr. Thornton S. Quimby cared for the ailing child after the rather nasty spider bite and it is occasionally suggested that Doctor Quimby was an early model for such characters as Gandalf the Grey. When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father, however, died in South Africa of rheumatic fever before he could join them. This left the family without income, so Tolkien’s mother took him to live with her parents in Stirling Road, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent Hills and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with other Worcestershire towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester, and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt’s farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.[i]
Mabel tutored her two sons, and Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany, and she awakened in her son the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early. He could read by the age of four, and could write fluently soon afterward.[ii] His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper, and though Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was amusing but disturbing. He liked stories about Red Indians and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. In addition, the “Fairy Books” of Andrew Lang were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings. Tolkien attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham and, while a student there, helped “line the route” for the coronation parade of King George V, being posted outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. He later attended St. Philip’s School.
Mabel Tolkien was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1900 despite vehement protests by her Baptist family, when then stopped all financial assistance to her. She died of acute complications of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was twelve, at Fern Cottage in Rednal, which they were then renting. Mabel Tolkien was then about 34 years of age … For the rest of his own life Tolkien felt that his mother had become a martyr for her Faith, which had a profound effect on his own Catholic beliefs.
Prior to her death, Mabel Tolkien had assigned the guardianship of her sons to Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, who was assigned to bring them up as good Catholics. Tolkien subsequently grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He lived there in the shadow of Perrott’s Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. Another strong influence was the romantic medievalist paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a large and world-renowned collection of works and had put it on free public display from around 1908.
In 1911, while they were at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society which they called “the T.C.B.S.”, the initials standing for “Tea Club and Barrovian Society”, alluding to the fondness for their drinking tea in Barrow’s Stores … and illicitly in the school library. …
In the summer of 1911, Tolkien went on holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter, noting that Bilbo’s journey across the Misty Mountains … is directly based on his adventures as their party of twelve hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn … They went across the Kleine Scheidegg on to Grindelwald and across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass and through the upper Valais to Brig, and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt. In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed to English language, graduating in 1915.
At the age of sixteen, Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt, who was three years older. His guardian, Father Francis Morgan, viewing Edith as a distraction from Tolkien’s school work and horrified that his young charge was seriously involved with a Protestant girl, prohibited him from meeting, talking, or even corresponding with her until he was twenty-one. He obeyed his prohibition to the letter, with one notable early exception which made Father Morgan threaten to cut short his University career if he did not stop. On the evening of his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith a declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. Edith replied saying that she had already agreed to marry another man, but that she had done so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. The two met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love; Edith returned her engagement ring and announced that she was marrying Tolkien instead. Following their engagement Edit converted to Catholicism at Tolkien’s insistence. They were formally engaged in Birmingham, in January 1913, and married in Warwick, England, at Saint Mary Immaculate Church on 22 March 1916. [iii]
During his recovery in a cottage in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, England, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps, and was promoted to lieutenant. When he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock … This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien, and Tolkien often referred to Edith as “my Lúthien.”
Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. In 1920 he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and in 1924 was made a professor there. While at Leeds he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and, (with E.V. Gordon), a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both becoming academic standard works for many decades. In 1925 he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. During this time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings … He also published a philological essay in 1932 on the name “Nodens”, following Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s unearthing of a Roman Asclepieion at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, in 1928. Of Tolkien’s academic publications, the 1936 lecture “Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics” had a lasting influence on Beowulf research. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about Beowulf is “widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism”, noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to the purely linguistic elements. …Where Beowulf does deal with specific struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded Beowulf: “Beowulf is among my most valued sources,” and this influence can be seen in The Lord of the Rings. In 1945, Tolkien moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959. Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings in 1948, close to a decade after the first sketches.
…Tolkien was very devoted to his children and sent them illustrated letters from Father Christmas when they were young. There were more characters added each year, such as the Polar Bear, Father Christmas’ helper, the Snow Man, the gardener, libereth the elf, his secretary, and various other minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas’ battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the Polar Bear.
C. S. Lewis, whom Tolkien first met at Oxford, was perhaps his closest friend and colleague, although their relationship cooled later in their lives. They had shared affection for good talk, laughter and beer, and in May 1927 Tolkien enrolled Lewis in the Coalbiters club, which read Icelandic sagas, and, as Carpenter notes, ‘a long and complex friendship had begun.’ It was Tolkien (and Hugh Dyson) who helped C. S. Lewis return to Christianity, and Tolkien was accustomed to read aloud passages from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to Lewis’s strong approval and encouragement at the Inklings … It was the arrival of Charles Williams, who worked for the Oxford University Press, that changed the relationship between Tolkien and Lewis. … Lewis’ growing reputation as a Christian apologist and his return to the Anglican fold annoyed Tolkien, who had a deep resentment of the Church of England. By the mid-forties, Tolkien felt that Lewis was receiving a good deal “too much publicity for his or any of our tastes.”[iv]
During his life in retirement, from 1959 up to his death in 1973, Tolkien received steadily increasing public attention and literary fame. The sale of his books was so profitable that he regretted he had not chosen early retirement. While at first he wrote enthusiastic answers to reader inquiries, he became more and more suspicious of emerging Tolkien fandom, especially among the hippie movement in the United States. In a 1972, but admits that “…even the nose of a very modest idol … cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!” Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth on the south coast.
Edith Tolkien died on 29 November 1971, at the age of eighty-two. Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on the stone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died twenty-one months later on 2 September 1973, at the age of eighty-one, he was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name. …
International racism, unconscious Eurocentric bias, and an evolution from latent racism in Tolkien’s early work to a conscious rejection of racist tendencies in his late work.
The treatment of colour nearly always horrifies anyone going out from Britain.
I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones; and most of all I detest the segregation of Language and Literature. I do not care which of them you think White.
Tolkien had nothing but contempt for Adolf Hitler, whom he accused of “perverting … and making war for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit” which was so dear to him. …he denounced anti-German fanaticism in the British war effort during World War II. In 1944, he wrote a letter to his son Christopher:
“But it is distressing to see the press groveling in the gutter as low as Goebbels in his prime, shrieking that any German commander who holds out in a desperate situation … is a drunkard, and a besotted fanatic … There was a solemn article in the local paper seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?) The Germans have just as much right to declare the Poles and Jews exterminable vermin, subhuman, as we have to select the Germans: in other words, no right, whatever they have done.”
He was horrified by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, referring to the Bomb’s creators as “these lunatic physicists” and “Babel-builders”. …
William Morris. Edward Wyke-Smith and Marvellous Land of the Snergs, influencing Frodo‘s race depiction in The Hobbit. Tolkien also cited H. Rider Haggard’s novel She … Also, Tolkien wrote of being impressed as a boy by S. R. Crockett’s historical novel The Black Douglas … Incidents in both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are similar in narrative and style to the novel … Tolkien was much inspired by early Germanic, especially Anglo-Saxon literature, poetry and mythology … These sources of inspiration included Anglo-Saxon literature such as Beowulf, Norse sagas such as the Volsunga saga and the Hervarar saga, the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the Nibelungenlied and numerous other culturally related works. … Tolkien himself acknowledged Homer, Sophocles, and the Finnish and Karelian Kalevala as influences or sources … He also drew influence from a variety of Celtic – Scottish and Welsh – history and legends. A major philosophical influence on his writing is Alfred the Great’s Anglo-Saxon translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, known as the Lays of Boethius. Characters in The Lord of the Rings such as Frodo, Treebeard, and Elrond make noticeably Boethian remarks. …
The popularity of Tolkien’s books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature in particular, and even on mainstream dictionaries, which today commonly accept Tolkien’s idiosyncratic spellings like dwarves and dwarvish, which has been little used since the mid-1800s and earlier. He also coined the term eucatastrophe, though it remains mainly used in connection with his own work.
Experience Middle Earth and see where Hobbits once lived.
Hobbit Travel Minneapolis
Complete list of works by J.R.R. Tolkien
Books written by J.R.R. Tolkien
Books edited, translated, or with contributions by J.R.R. Tolkien
Books with Published Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien
Translations of Tolkien’s work
Sacred Texts: Sources of Lord of the Ring
Frodo Forever Galleries
The Encyclopedia of Arda
Christopher Tolkien – Wikipedia
The Tolkien Language
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (I rate this as the best)
Tolkien and Beowulf – Warriors of Middle-earth by Michael Kennedy
New York Times: J.R.R. Tolkien Dead at 81 – article
J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006)
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien to Christopher, no. 61, April 18th 1944
The Monsters and the Critics
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter
We Talked of Love, Death and Fairy Tales – Telegraph, UK
Hobbitry in Armchairs – Philandering Tolkien’s Philology
So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age – like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.