|J. R. R. Tolkien|
AKA John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Birthplace: Bloemfontein, South Africa
Location of death: Bournemouth, Dorset, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Lord of the Rings
Military service: Lancashire Fusiliers (WWI, 1915-18)
J.R.R. Tolkien is the author of the most famous and influential of swords-and-sorcery fiction works: The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Tolkien was an accomplished scholar with professorships in English Language and Literature as well as Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and was an expert in word origins, mythology, and languages including Old English, Old Norse, and Finnish. In total he has some forty books to his credit and is regarded as one of the most popular authors of all time.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, now South Africa, to Arthur and Mabel Tolkien. The Tolkiens were English by nationality but had recently moved to the region as Arthur, a bank employee, pursued a lucrative career opportunity. In any event, the African climate was hard on Mabel Tolkien, and so she moved back to England with young John (now four) and younger brother Hilary in tow. Arthur was to follow, but he died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage and never joined them. After living in Birmingham for a time, with Mabel's parents, the trio moved out into the West Midlands countryside, to Sarehole. It was that idyllic rural setting, located just south of the very much urban Birmingham, that would inspire the pastoral settings in later work. Without the income previously provided by Arthur the family struggled financially. But Mabel still managed to devote considerable time to the boys' tutelage, and in consequence young John was able to read by the age of four. By the time he entered school he could already write fluently and was soon learning the rudiments of Latin. He would eventually begin inventing his own languages, a fascination that would later birth the elvish and dwarvish tongues of Middle Earth.
Unfortunately the little family was soon dealt another blow. Mabel, who had been diagnosed with diabetes (then incurable), died in 1904. The development rendered the two young Tolkien brothers both orphaned and destitute. Yet although such family as remained to them was of minimal comfort and support, they were supported and guided by the local priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, who took it upon himself to oversee their affairs. (Mabel had converted to Catholicism in 1900.) Thanks to Morgan the boys' schooling continued, at King Edward's School in Birmingham, and it was not long before the linguistically fascinated J.R.R. had mastered Latin and Greek, and was gaining competency in a number of other languages as well. Morgan's influence was to leave a lasting mark on Tolkien, so much so that in later years his own devotion would help him convert friend and fellow author C. S. Lewis to Christianity. Eventually Tolkien was able to attend Exeter College, Oxford (1911-15), studying the classics as wells as languages: Old English, various Germanic languages (including Gothic), Finnish, and Welsh. He earned the first class degree.
In his youth Tolkien met his great love, Edith Bratt. Together they would have four children John Francis (1917), Michael Hilary (1920), Christopher (1924), and Priscilla Anne (1929). For the children he would make up stories, most notably The Father Christmas Letters (compiled from letters he had written for them over the years in the guise of St. Nick). The Hobbit (1937) itself originally began as a story told to his younger children, but once published its popularity expanded far beyond children's literature. The book was so successful that his publisher asked for a sequel, opening the door for The Lord of the Rings.
As it turned out, it took Tolkien more than a decade to finish his three volume "sequel", despite the fact that he had actually begun the mythology of the work much earlier, while serving in the Army during World War I. A Lancashire Fusilier, Tolkien contracted trench fever and was sent to a military hospital. It was during this period that he also created a series of fairy tales called The Book of Lost Tales. It is believed that it was the dark scenes of death and destruction and the macabre deaths of his close friends and fellow servicemen that spurred his later images of the battles of Middle Earth and perhaps Sauron and Saruman and the orcs were inspired by the the ghoulish machinery of death that arose with the Great War.
As Tolkien worked on his evolving LOTR trilogy he held a number of positions while supporting his young family. First among these, after the war, was Assistant Lexicographer, working on the Oxford English Dictionary. The position was a natural fit given his penchant for languages and their development, although he remained only briefly. He was then a Reader in English (akin to Associate Professor), from 1920-23, followed by Professor of the English Language, University of Leeds, from 1924-25. While at Leeds he also collaborated with E. V. Gordon on the famous edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. From 1925-45 he served as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, at Oxford University. He was, simultaneously, a Fellow at Pembroke College (1926-45) and Leverhulme Research Fellow (1934-36). From 1945-59 he was a Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, the post he held until his retirement.
By 1955 the final volume of the LOTR trilogy was published. Its by-product was a vast amount of notes, faux history, poems, songs, scraps of mythology and other assorted things that would eventually, once the series became popular, find publication, most notably in the Silmarillion. But star-rocketing popularity did not come immediately. It was not until the book was discovered by the hippie-influenced youth culture of the 1960s that it catapulted to the status of treasured classic. The themes of nature and innocence being mowed down by greedy, power-mad evil forces resonated with the counterculture's view of politics at the time, and the slightly bumbling "pipe weed" smoking anti-hero hobbits -- who ultimately overcome through their loving, unswerving allegiance to each other and their preference for simple, earthy pleasures over power and prestige –- resonated with the careening idealism of the 1960s.
Beyond this of course, was the fact that the Lord of the Rings was a work unlike anything that had come before it. It had a depth, and a layered meaningfulness (emotional, moral, spiritual, but not allegorical as Tolkien despised allegory), coupled with astonishingly inventive creativity. (Who else had invented not only genealogies for their characters, but entire, coherent, languages?) It could hardly even be compared with the sword wielding, damsel bedding simplicity of Conan or other the early fantasies which paved its way with readers. In fact, although it subsequently spawned a host of imitators, many of them also impressive, and paved the way for fantasy novels to scale the bestseller list, it can easily be said that it has never been equaled for sheer scope and inventiveness.
In 1969, J.R.R. Tolkien retired from teaching and moved to Bournemouth, England. His wife Edith died a short time after, and Tolkien returned to Oxford, taking rooms provided for him at Merton College. He died 2 September 1973, and is interred, with Edith, in the Catholic section of Wolvercote Cemetery, in the northern suburbs of Oxford, England.
Because of the popularity of Tolkien's work, there was a great public hunger for further tales from the land of the hobbits and the elves. Tolkien's youngest son, Christopher Tolkien, took it upon himself to compile and edit a great deal of his father's unpublished work. Most significant among this material was the portion which was pulled together into reasonable narrative form as the The Silmarillion, with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay, published in 1977. The Silmarillion garnered both the 1978 Locus Award and the Gandalf Award, the latter named in honor of Tolkien's famous wizard.
Tolkien's work, his solo work, garnered him a variety of awards and acknowledgements as well, including the New York Herald Tribune Children's Spring Book Festival Award for 1938's The Hobbit; the 1957 International Fantasy Award for LOTR; and the World Science Fiction Convention Gandalf Grand Master Award, 1974. Other honors include assorted honorary degrees plus fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature (1957) and the title of Commander, Order of the British Empire (1972). Additionally Tolkien has been memorialized with both an asteroid (Asteroid 2675 Tolkien) and a street (Tolkien Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex) named for him. Somewhat more significantly Tolkien, his characters, and the world of Middle Earth have spawned a vast array of fan fiction, artwork, movies, songs, and literary criticism, not to mention games, jewelry, tee shirts, commemorative stamps and coins, housed in tourist traps and, of course, fan conventions.
Many of Tolkien's original manuscripts, notes, and letters can be found in the library of Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Additional material is preserved in Oxford's Bodleian Library.
Father: Arthur Reuel Tolkien (bank manager, d. 1896, peritonitis)
Mother: Mabel Suffield (d. 1904)
Brother: Hilary Tolkien (b. Feb-1894)
Wife: Edith Bratt (m. 22-Mar-1916, d. 29-Nov-1971)
Son: John Francis Reuel (b. 16-Nov-1917, d. 25-Jan-2003)
Son: Michael Hilary Reuel (b. Oct-1920)
Son: Christopher Reuel (b. Feb-1924)
Daughter: Priscilla Anne Reuel (b. 1929)
University: BA, Exeter College, Oxford University (1915)
University: MA, Oxford University (1919)
Professor: University of Leeds (1920)
Professor: Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, Merton College, Oxford University (1925-45)
Professor: English Language and Literature, Merton College, Oxford University (1945-59)
International Fantasy Award 1957 for The Lord of the Rings
Commander of the British Empire 1972
Risk Factors: Arachnophobia, Smoking
Author of books:
The Hobbit: or There and Back Again (1937)
Farmer Giles of Ham (1949)
The Fellowship of the Ring (1954.)
The Two Towers (1954)
The Return of the King (1955.)
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962)
Tree and Leaf (1964)
The Tolkien Reader (1966)
Smith of Wootton Major (1967)
The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle (1967, with Donald Swan)
Bilbo's Last Song (1974)
The Silmarillion (1977)
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