World War I
Tolkien in 1916, wearing his British Army uniform (from Carpenter's Biography)
The United Kingdom was then engaged in fighting World War I, and Tolkien volunteered for military service and was commissioned in the British Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months. He was then transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France on 4 June 1916. He later wrote:
Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death.
Tolkien served as a signals officer during the Battle of the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. He came down with trench fever, a disease carried by the lice which were so very plentiful in No Man's Land, on 27 October 1916. According to the memoirs of the Reverend Mervyn S. Evers, Anglican chaplain to the Lancashire Fusilliers:
On one occasion I spent the night with the Brigade Machine Gun Officer and the Signals Officer in one of the captured German dugouts ... We dossed down for the night in the hops of getting some sleep, but it was not to be. We no sooner laid down than hoards of lice got up. So we went round to the medical officer, who was also in the dugout with his equipment, and he gave us some ointment which he assured us would keep the little brutes away. We anointed ourselves all over with the stuff and again lay down in great hopes, but it was not to be, because instead of discouraging them it seemed to act like a kind of ors d'oeuvre and the little beggars went at their feast with renewed vigor.
Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest friends, including Gilson and Smith of the T.C.B.S., were killed in the war. In later years, Tolkien indignantly declared that those who searched his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken:
One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.
The weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service. It was at this time Edith bore their first son, John Francis Reuel Tolkien.
During his recovery in a cottage in 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.
When he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing among the flowering hemlock:
We walked in a wood where hemlock was growing, a sea of white flowers.
This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien, and Tolkien often referred to Edith as "my Lúthien."
Academic and writing career
Tolkien's first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. 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. While at Leeds he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and, (with E. V. Gordon), a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, both becoming academic standard works for many decades. In 1925 he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College.
During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, largely at 20 Northmoor Road in North Oxford, where a blue plaque was placed in 2002. He also published a philological essay in 1932 on the name 'Nodens', following Sir Mortimer Wheeler's 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. Lewis E. Nicholson said that the article Tolkien wrote about Beowulf is "widely recognized as a turning point in Beowulfian criticism", noting that Tolkien established the primacy of the poetic nature of the work as opposed to the purely linguistic elements. At the time, the consensus of scholarship deprecated Beowulf for dealing with childish battles with monsters rather than realistic tribal warfare; Tolkien argued that the author of Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general, not as limited by particular tribal politics, and therefore the monsters were essential to the poem. Where Beowulf does deal with specific tribal struggles, as at Finnsburg, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In the essay, Tolkien also revealed how highly he regarded Beowulf: "Beowulf is among my most valued sources," and this influence can be seen in The Lord of the Rings.
In 1945, Tolkien 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.
The last known photograph of Tolkien, taken 9 August 1973, next to one of his favourite trees (a European Black Pine) in the Botanic Garden, Oxford
The Tolkiens had four children: John Francis Reuel (17 November 1917 22 January 2003), Michael Hilary Reuel (22 October 1920 27 February 1984), Christopher John Reuel (born 21 November 1924) and Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel (born 18 June 1929). Tolkien was very devoted to his children and sent them illustrated letters from Father Christmas when they were young. There were more characters added each year, such as the Polar Bear, Father Christmas' helper, the Snow Man, the gardener, Ilbereth the elf, his secretary, and various other minor characters. The major characters would relate tales of Father Christmas' battles against goblins who rode on bats and the various pranks committed by the Polar Bear.
C. S. Lewis, whom Tolkien first met at Oxford, was perhaps his closest friend and colleague, although their relationship cooled later in their lives. They had a shared affection for good talk, laughter and beer, and in May 1927 Tolkien enrolled Lewis in the Coalbiters club, which read Icelandic sagas in the original Old Norse, and, as Carpenter notes, 'a long and complex friendship had begun.' It was Tolkien (and Hugh Dyson) who helped C.S. Lewis return to Christianity, and Tolkien was accustomed to read aloud passages from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to Lewis' strong approval and encouragement at the Inklingsoften meeting in Lewis' big Magdalen sitting-roomand in private.
It was the arrival of Charles Williams, who worked for the Oxford University Press, that changed the relationship between Tolkien and Lewis. Lewis' enthusiasm shifted almost imperceptibly from Tolkien to Williams, especially during the writing of Lewis' third novel That Hideous Strength.
Tolkien had for a long time been extremely bothered by what he perceived as Lewis's Anti-Catholicism. In a letter to his son Christopher, he declared:
... hatred of our Church is after all the only real foundation of the C[hurch] of E[ngland]so deep laid that it remains when all the superstructure seems removed (C.S.L. for example reveres the Blessed Sacrament and admires nuns!). Yet if a Lutheran is put in jail he is up in arms; but if Catholic priests are slaughteredhe disbelieves it (and I daresay really thinks they asked for it).
Lewis' growing reputation as a Christian apologist and his return to the Anglican fold also annoyed Tolkien, who had a deep resentment of the Church of England. By the mid-forties, Tolkien felt that Lewis was receiving a good deal "too much publicity for his or any of our tastes".
Tolkien and Lewis might have grown closer during their days at Headington but this was prevented by Lewis' marriage to Joy Davidman. Tolkien felt that Lewis expected his friends to pay court to her, even though as a bachelor in the thirties, he had often ignored the fact that his friends had wives to go home to. Tolkien also may have felt jealous about a woman's intrusion into their close friendship, just as Edith Tolkien had felt jealous of Lewis' intrusion into her marriage. It did not help matters that Lewis did not initially tell Tolkien about his marriage to Davidman or that when Tolki