Biography John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
- Time Period1892 - 1973
- PlaceOrange Free State
- CountrySouth Africa
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born of British parents in Bloemfontein, South Africa in January of 1892, but moved with his mother, Mabel Tolkien, to England, at the age of three. Tolkien lost his father when he was very young. In 1904 Tolkien's mother died, and the young John Ronald Reuel moved with his brother Hilary to his aunt's home in England (the West Midlands).
Then they moved to the Birmingham suburb of Edgbaston. Mabel and her children became estranged from both sides of the family in 1900 when she was received into the Roman Catholic Church. From then on, both Ronald and Hilary were brought up in the faith of Pio Nono, and remained devout Catholics throughout their lives. The parish priest who visited the family regularly was the half-Spanish half-Welsh Father Francis Morgan. In 1904 Mabel Tolkien was diagnosed as having diabetes, incurable at that time. She died on 15 October of that year leaving the two orphaned boys effectively destitute. At this point Father Francis took over, and made sure of the boys' material as well as spiritual welfare, although in the short term they were boarded with an unsympathetic aunt-by-marriage, Beatrice Suffield, and then with a Mrs Faulkner.
In 1908 Tolkien attended Oxford. In 1915 he was awarded First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature. Next year Tolkien married Edith Bratt, whom he had met in 1908. During WW I Tolkien served in the army and saw action on the Somme. He returned home suffering from shell shock, and while convalescing he started to study early forms of language and work on Silmarillion (published 1977). For the rest of his life, Tolkien expanded the mythology of his fantasy worlds.
In 1918 Tolkien joined the staff of New English Dictionary and in 1919 he became a freelance tutor in Oxford. Tolkien then worked as a teacher and professor at the University of Leeds. In 1925 he became Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. He was appointed Merton Professor of English at Oxford in 1945, retiring in 1959. His scholarly works included studies on Chaucher (1934) and an edition of Beowulf (1937). He was also interested in the Finnish national epos Kalevala, from which he found ideas for his imaginary language Quenya and which influenced several of his stories. Most of the inhabitants of Tolkien's imaginary Middle-Earth are derived from English folklore and mythology, or from an idealized Anglo-Saxon past.
With C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and other friends, Tolkien formed an informal literary group called The Inklings, which took shape in the 1930s. They all had an interest in storytelling and their Tuesday lunchtime sessions in the Bird and Baby public house became a well known part of Oxford social life. At their meetings the Inklings read aloud drafts of fiction and other work. Williams died in 1945 and the meetings faded out in 1949. - Other members of the club included Christopher Tolkien, JRR's son.
In the mid-1960s American paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings started to gain cult fame. The Tolkiens moved in 1968 to Poole near Bournemouth but after the death of his wife in 1971, Tolkien returned to Oxford. In 1972 he received CBE from the Queen. Tolkien died on September 2, 1973.
The Hobbit was published when the author was 45 years old (1937). He developed further the history of Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings. It was published when Tolkien was over 60. His motivation for creating a new mythical world arose from his fascination in myths and folklore. Another motivation was his rejection of modern England. He rarely watched a film, busied himself with the early English dialects of the West Midlands, and enjoyed the company of other professors.
Tolkien's epic world is populated by elves, dwarves, magicians, and evil monsters. He saw himself as a Hobbit: "I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food...." Tolkien made up languages for the races that inhabit his Middle-earth. for the background of his stories he created a complex history, geography, and society. But he also wished, that the stories leave scope for other minds to develop his ideas further. Since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, a whole industry of fantasy literature, computer games, and other by-products, have been created by a worldwide community of Tolkien's fans to continue his work.