John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

by Elizabeth from Seattle

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was one of the best fantasy writers of the 20th century. He was born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa to Mabel and Arthur (a banker) Tolkien on business from England. Three years later he, his mom and brother moved back to Birmingham (UK) to protect his health, with his father intending to join them as soon as he could raise the funds. A year later, they received news of his death of a brain hemorrhage. Mabel moved her sons out of Birmingham and into Sarehole.

Early on his mother introduced him to languages like Latin (which he enjoyed), and French (which he did not enjoy as much). Mabel also taught him to read when he was four and write soon after. When Tolkien went to elementary school in Birmingham, his mother decided to move the family nearer. Their new home, by railroad tracks was another reason that Tolkien got interested in language. The railroad cars often had Welsh names like “Senghenydd” and “Penrhiwceiber.” It was in this way he discovered Welsh, which he incorporated into his invented languages.

JRR Tolkien (
JRR Tolkien (

When he was 12, Mabel was diagnosed with diabetes. At that time, insulin was not available. Eight months after, she died, leaving her two sons to the parish priest, Father Francis, to be their guardian. The boys lived with their aunt until Father Francis learned that the boys were unhappy there and sent them to board at a friend’s house who rented out rooms. Here, Tolkien met Edith Bratt, also an orphan, and they struck up a fast friendship, which eventually turned into love. When Father Francis heard about this he forbade Tolkien to see or write to her for three years and moved him and his brother to another boarding house. He studied languages at secondary school and got a scholarship to Oxford. In his second year he turned 21 and for the first time in two years saw Edith Bratt. He continued to study linguistics at Oxford, particularly Old and Middle English, Anglo Saxon and Old Norse (Old Icelandic)

After Tolkien graduated, he enlisted in the war (WWI) like all the other men, but before he left, he and Edith got married. Soon afterward he went off to the western front (France) and luckily survived, but two of his three closest friends did not. It was after he got back home from the war that he decided to go much further with his mythology, which he had been “designing” for the past few years, starting with the language, and then adding to create (or as he like to think: “discovered”) a whole history with bits and pieces he thought up over the years, which eventually turned into the Silmarillion. When he got home from the war Edith had a baby, which they named John. Tolkien got a job back at Oxford, helping with a dictionary, then as Reader of English Language at Leeds. Tolkien then applied for a teaching position at Leeds in the English Department as professor of the English language. When he heard that the position of Professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford was available, a position he didn’t think he’d get, he miraculously got it.

While editing papers one day, he found a blank page and started writing “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”, and he started “the Hobbit” as a story for amusement, not originally intended for his mythology. He got no further than the first two chapters, but eventually, encouraged by his children, nearly finished it and realized that elements from the Silmarillion had slipped in. When he was nearly done, he stopped, and there was hardly any hope it would be finished. One of the few family friends was a pupil of Tolkien’s, Elaine Griffiths, who had a friend at a publishing company. The friend encouraged Elaine to borrow the manuscript. The publishing company thought it was an excellent story, but stopped short. Tolkien finished the story, and sent it back to the publishers, where it was published on September 21 1937. He was encouraged to write a sequel, so he started “The Lord of the Rings,” the continuation of the story about the ring that Bilbo had found in “The Hobbit”. Meanwhile, outside the world of writing, WWII was about to take place, and C.S. Lewis, who he met at a meeting at Oxford, realized that his writing didn’t reflect the world around him, but the opposite. Finally, after 12 years, in the fall of 1949, he finished the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The “Fellowship of the Ring” was published in the summer of 1954, after some publishing difficulties, and the sequels soon followed. Tolkien was surprised at the good reviews and promoted sales. The sales continued to rise, but in 1965 there were rumors of an unauthorized paperback edition in the United States, published without Tolkien’s permission. Though his publisher issued an authorized edition, the unauthorized one was less expensive. To help, Tolkien encouraged his fans in the US to buy the authorized one. The Lord of the Rings soon was a “campus cult” around colleges and universities, with slogans like “Frodo Lives" and "Gandalf for President."

But fame wasn’t exactly what Tolkien wanted. He retired from Oxford, and he and Edith went to live at a seaside town. They lived there until Edith died in 1971, then Tolkien moved to Metron College (by Oxford), where he lived until he died at age 81.

J.R.R. Tolkien is my hero not only because he is an awesome writer but because even though so many bad things happened in his life, he was still able to continue following his dream and I admire him in that way. Every time I read his books they continue to inspire me with hope and that even a small, seemingly insignificant person can, against all odds, do amazing things.

Page created on 9/4/2011 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 9/4/2011 12:00:00 AM

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