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J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 in South Africa. His memories of Africa, though limited, were vivid (especially a scary encounter with a large hairy spider!) and influenced his later writing to some extent. Following his father's death from rheumatic fever in 1896, he and his younger brother were taken to England by their mother. They made their home in the country outside of Birmingham, just across the border from Wales.

Despite being widowed and without a source of income, Mabel Tolkien tutored her two sons, giving them an incredible education. She taught them how to write, and introduced them to classic literature such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Treasure Island, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The Princess and the Goblin, and Andrew Lang's Fairy Books. Young Ronald, as he was known in the family, was an eager pupil. His mother taught him a great deal of botany, and she awakened in her son the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Ronald’s love of nature and the rural landscape can be clearly seen in both his writings and in his drawings.

But his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early. Ronald's linguistic imagination was engaged by the sight of coal trucks going to and from destinations like "Nantyglo", "Penrhiwceiber" and "Senghenydd." After his mother died when Ronald was twelve, he and his brother became wards of a kind priest. Ronald mastered Latin and Greek, and became competent in a number of other ancient and modern languages. He even made up his own “fairy” and “elvish” languages, purely for fun.

Tolkien studied the Classics, Language and Literature at Exeter College, Oxford, where he specialized in Old and Middle English. After graduating, Tolkien married Edith Bratt, whom he had known when they both lived in Birmingham. Still a newlywed, Tolkien enlisted in the World War. As soon as the war was over, Tolkien was hired as Assistant Lexicographer on the New English Dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary), which was then in preparation. He also began to write mythological and legendary tales in which his elves appeared in their first form. Originally called The Book of Lost Tales, it eventually became known as The Silmarillion.

In 1920, Tolkien became Associate Professor in English at the University of Leeds. In 1925, he became Professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the University of Oxford. Besides being an expert linguist, Tolkien’s career was further distinguished by his enthusiastic and lively teaching. Tolkien also founded a literary club called "The Inklings." One member who became a close friend of his was C.S. Lewis, author of the popular Chronicles of Narnia children’s fantasy series.

Tolkien’s family, now consisting of three sons and a daughter, encouraged his imagination. But the making of The Hobbit came about quite by accident. According to Tolkien, one day when he was grading essay exams, he discovered that a student had left one page of an answer-book blank. On this page, for no particular reason, Tolkien wrote "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit." From this sentence grew a tale that he developed and told to his children.

First published in 1937, The Hobbit has been on children's recommended reading lists ever since. It was such an immediate success that the publisher asked Tolkien to write a sequel. He did, but it took twelve years to complete. Over 1,000 pages in length, Lord of the Rings was finally published in three installments during 1954-55. Literary critics downgraded it as “a children´s book which has somehow got out of hand.” Nevertheless, Tolkien’s enormous public appeal popularized fantasy literature among both adults and children.

During the 1960’s, Tolkien became well-liked by the "counter-culture" mainly due to his concern with environmental issues. By 1968, Lord of the Rings had become a cult-like fantasy favorite. After Tolkien died in 1973, his original mythological legend, The Silmarillion, was edited and published in 1977 by his son Christopher. In the late 1990’s, Tolkien came to the top of several polls which asked readers to vote for the greatest book of the 20th century. The master language scholar would be pleased to know his books have been translated into many different languages. The Lord of the Rings is considered to be the world's most popular work of fiction.


J.R.R. Tolkien's Destitute Mom Gave Him One Hell of an Education (The Official Lord of the Rings Movie Website) (The history, myth, and culture that inspired the novel.) (Interactive atlas of Middle-earth with an index of places.) (Embark upon a journey that takes you across Tolkien’s Middle Earth at this interactive website. Your tour guide is the famed wizard Gandalf. Along the way, you will encounter games, fan fiction, music, original artwork, and much more.) (Lord of the Rings Literary Quiz: How much do you know about Bilbo, Frodo, and friends?) (Quotes and sound clips from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.) (Lord of the Rings site for and by Tolkien Fanatics: the writer, the books, the movies, guided tours, art, a quiz, and more.) (A fan-created website featuring News, Art Gallery, Reading Room, Quotes, Poetry, Humor, Links, Message Boards, and more.)

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