J R R Tolkien (1892 – 1973)

Born John Ronald Reuel, J R R Tolkien was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord Of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

He is known as the father of modern fantasy, or high fantasy, literature, because of the success of his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Tolkien was born in South African on January 3, 1892. His father died of rheumatic fever when he was 3, and Tolkien then moved with his mother and younger brother to England. He learned to read by the time he was four, and the stories had a great influence on his life, as did his exploration of the English countryside in his youth. His mother died when he was twelve of type 1 diabetes - she was just 34, but there was no treatment available during that time. After her death Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary were given over to the care of Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan, who was meant to raise them as good Catholics and give them an education, and he graduated from Exeter College, Oxford in 1915 with first-class honours in his final examinations in English Language and Literature.

In 1908 Tolkien met Edith Bratt, also an orphan, at the boarding house he was staying at 37 Duchess Road. The two fell in love, but his guardian, Fr. Francis, forbade their relationship until Tolkien turned 21 (Edith was 3 years his senior, and not Catholic). For three years he didn't write or see Edith, and when he turned twenty-one she was engaged. She broke the engagement, and accepted Tolkien's in 1913, the two getting married in 1916, but the honeymoon was short-lived as Tolkien was already commissioned to enter the Great War as a volunteer in the British Army.

After the War ended Tolkien worked for the Oxford English Dictionary, and took a job as a professor. He continued to teach until his retirement in 1959. In the early 1920s Tolkien undertook a translation of Beowulf, which he finished in 1926, although it wasn't published until 2014. As a professor at Oxford Tolkien was friends and part of a literary group, the Inklings, with C.S. Lewis.

In 1930 Tolkien began The Hobbit, which, along with his Father Christmas Letters originated from bedtimes stories told to his own children: John Francis Reuel Tolkien (born November 17 1917), Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien (born October 22, 1920), Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (November 21, 1924) and Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien (born June 18, 1929). The novel by chance came to the attention of an employee of the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin in 1936, and when Unwin’s son reportedly enjoyed the book, the firm decided to publish it.

After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien's publisher ask that he produce a sequel. He wrote what became The Lord Of the Rings between 1939-1954, publishing it in three parts, mostly due to publishing costs, in 1954-1955. The three volumes were titled: The Fellowship Of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return Of the King. The Lord of the Rings went on to become one of the best-selling novels ever, with more than 150 million copies sold.

In the 1960s Tolkien published a few smaller works, including Tree & Leaf, The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil, and Smith of Wooten Major.

His wife of over 50 years, Edith, died on November 29, 1971, and Tolkien had Lúthien engraved on her headstone, after a character in his middle-earth legends: Lúthien was the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and forsook her immortality for her love of the mortal warrior Beren. After Tolkien's death shortly after, September 2nd 1973, Beren was engaged on his own headstone.

Books by J R R Tolkien