ENTRY: Tolkien, J.R.R.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien C.B.E. (b. January 3, 1892 – d. September 2, 1973) is best known
as the author of The Hobbit and its trilogy sequel The Lord of the Rings. He was a
professor of Anglo-Saxon language at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and of English language and literature,
also at Oxford, from 1945 to 1959. He was a strongly committed Roman Catholic.
Tolkien was a close friend of C. S. Lewis, with whom he shared membership in the literary discussion group
In addition to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's published fiction includes
The Silmarillion and other posthumously published books about what he called a legendarium,
a connected body of tales, fictional histories, invented languages, and other literary essays.
Most of these later works were compiled from Tolkien's notes by his son Christopher Tolkien.
The enduring popularity and influence of Tolkien's works have established him as the
"father of modern fantasy literature", although arguably this title should go to
William Morris or George Macdonald.
Tolkien was born in 1892, at Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, South Africa,
to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857–1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel
(1870–1904). When he was age 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 an income, so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Birmingham,
England. 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 andf the surrounding
Midlands countrside, and he bagan to draw landscapes and trees and explore ancient languages.
He schooled at King Edward's School, Birmingham. His mother died died in 1904, when Tolkien was twelve
and Tolkien developed a deep Chistian faith. During his subsequent orphanhood he was brought up
by Father Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham.
Another strong influence was the city of Birmingham's superb collection of romantic medievalist paintings by
Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which went on free public display in Birmingham
from around 1908.
Tolkien married Edith Mary Bratt in 1916. After graduating from Oxford, Exeter College,
with a first-class degree in English language in 1915, Tolkien joined the British Army
served durng the First World War as a second lieutenant in the eleventh battalion of the
Lancashire Fusiliers. Tolkien served as a communications officer during the Battle of the
Somme. Many of his fellow servicemen, as well as many of his closest friends, were killed in the war.
During his recovery in a cottage near the village of 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.
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, but in 1925 he returned to Oxford as a
professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College.
During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The
Lord of the Rings. He also assisted Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 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, in which Tolkien established the
primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to the purely linguistic elements.
In 1945, he 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.
During the 1950s, Tolkien spent
many of his long academic holidays at the home of his son John Francis
in Stoke-on-Trent. Tolkien had an intense dislike for the side effects of
industrialization which he considered a devouring of the English countryside
and which had blighted lovely valleys such as the one in which the city of Stoke-on-Trent lies.
For most of his adult life he eschewed automobiles, preferring to ride a bicycle.
This attitude is perceptible from some parts of his work such as the forced
industrialisation of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings.
The great English poet W. H. Auden was a frequent correspondent and long-time friend of Tolkien's,
initiated by Auden's fascination with The Lord of the Rings.
Auden was among the most prominent early critics to praise the work. Tolkien wrote
in a 1971 letter...
"I am [...] very deeply in Auden's debt in recent years. His support of me and interest in my work has been one of my chief encouragements. He gave me very good reviews, notices and letters from the beginning when it was by no means a popular thing to do. He was, in fact, sneered at for it."Tolkien died in 1973 and is buried at the Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. Tolkien had never expected his fictional stories to become popular, but he was persuaded by C.S. Lewis to publish a book he had written for his own children called The Hobbit in 1937. However, the book attracted adult readers as well, and it became popular enough for the publisher, George Allen & Unwin, to ask Tolkien to work on a sequel. This would become the world-famous three-volume epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings (published 1954–55 to poor reviews). The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, and one that has forever established the primacy of romantic fantasy literature in the sensibilities of western culture. Selected works: 1925 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
1937 Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics
1937 The Hobbit or There and Back Again
1954 The Fellowship of the Ring
1954 The Two Towers
1955 The Return of the King
1977 The Silmarillion Further reading: Michael White. Tolkien: A Biography (2003)
Made in Staffordshire, England. © 2007.
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