J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE (3 January 1892 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the high fantasy classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
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 close friend of C. S. Lewisthey 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After his death, Tolkien's son, Christopher, published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion.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 and 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 literatureor 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 sixth on a list of 'The 50 greatest British writers since 1945'.
Tolkien family origins
Most of Tolkien's paternal ancestors were craftsmen. The Tolkien family had its roots in the German Kingdom of Saxony, but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly and intensely English". The surname Tolkien is Anglicized from Tollkiehn (i.e. German tollkühn, "foolhardy", etymologically corresponding to English dull-keen, literally oxymoron), 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 and owned a shop in the city centre. The Suffield family had run various businesses out of the same building, called Lamb House, since the early 1800s. Beginning in 1812 Tolkien's great-great grandfather William Suffield owned and operated a book and stationery 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 in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province, part of South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (18571896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, née Suffield (18701904). 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 have later echoes in his stories. Dr. Thornton S. Quimby cared for the ailing child after the 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 an 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.
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 afterwards. His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper, and thought 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 just 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, who then stopped all financial assistance to her. She died of acute complications of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was 12, at Fern Cottage in Rednal, which they were then renting. Mabel Tolkien was then about 34 years of age, about as long as a person with diabetes mellitus type 1 could live with no treatmentinsulin would not be discovered until two decades later. 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 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 their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and, illicitly, in the school library. After leaving school, the members stayed in touch, and in December 1914, they held a "Council" in London, at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.
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 ("including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods") is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 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 ("the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams"). 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.
Courtship and marriage
At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt, who was three years older, when J.R.R. and Hilary Tolkien moved into the same boarding house. According to Humphrey Carpenter:
Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement. There they would sit and throw sugarlumps into the hats of passers-by, moving to the next table when the sugar bowl was empty. ...With two people of their personalities and in their position, romance was bound to flourish. Both were orphans in need of affection, and they found that they could give it to each other. During the summer of 1909, they decided that they were in love.
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 this 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,