Novelist and scholar. Born in South Africa, the son of a bank manager who had moved from Birmingham, England to seek better opportunities. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien did not enjoy good health and the family decided to move back to Birmingham when he was three years old. His father was to have joined them at a later date but died of rheumatic fever. They settled just outside the city at Hall Green, close to Sarehole Mill and the Cole Valley, probable inspiration for much of the fictitious Hobbiton of his later books. John was subsequently educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham, where he proved himself as a linguist, and the family moved several times within the area around Edgbaston, Birmingham.
His mother died when he was twelve years old and his education, together with that of his brother, became the responsibility of the local priest, his mother having converted to Roman Catholicism a few years before. He gained a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford and gained a first class honours degree in English in 1915. He immediately joined the army, serving in the Lancashire Fusiliers, but was invalided out of the army the following year after having fought at the Battle of the Somme.
In 1916 he married Edith Mary Bratt, who he had met when he was 16 and she was 19. He worked as an assistant on the Oxford English dictionary for a few years before becoming Reader in English Language at Leeds University in 1920. From here here, in 1925, he returned to Oxford academic life as Professor of Anglo-Saxon and, from 1945 until 1969, as Merton Professor of English. He retired to Bournemouth, trying to avoid discovery from his growing number of fans, but moved back to Oxford on the death of his wife in 1971. Among the honours bestowed on him was Honorary Doctor of Letters, Oxford University and, in 1973, the Companion of the British Empire (CBE) in 1973. He died that year and is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.
Tolkien had experimented with languages and immersed himself in mythology as a schoolboy and this was to guide not only his career but also his writing. In 1922 he produced A Middle English vocabulary and, three years later, Sir Gawain and the green knight. C.S.Lewis, Tolkien and others belonged to a group of Christian writers at Oxford and it was through the influence of this group, particularly of Lewis, that Tolkien developed the stories he told of elvish folk into the book, The Hobbit. Apparently the enthusiasm of the young son of the publisher Stanley Unwin ensured its first publication in 1937.
Its success was such that a sequel was demanded, which led Tolkien to embark on his three volume masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings which took twelve years to complete. It consists of The fellowship of the rings (1954), The two towers (1954) and The return of the king (1955). The work was praised by many critics, including the poet W.H. Auden, and subsequently it took on a cult appeal, particularly during the mid nineteen-sixties. It tells the story of Frodo, a reluctant Hobbit, who has to save the world from the evil of a ring that confers on its wearer infinite power, at a price. Part of its appeal has been through reading into it messages and warnings about modern Britain in the vivid descriptions of this mythical world of Middle Earth (the Midlands of England?). It has consistently been a best seller and was voted the "Greatest book of the century" in 1997 in a survey organised by Waterstone's bookshops.
The following works are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Farmer Giles of Ham (1949)
The fellowship of the ring (1954)
The Hobbit, or, there and back again (1937)
The return of the king (1955)
The Silmarillion (1977)
Tree and leaf (1964)
The two towers (1954)
The following work is available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
J.R.R. Tolkien; a biography (1977) by Humphrey Carpenter
Page created 9 February 2001 and last updated 28 October 2002
For your literary enquiries and comments please see the Who to contact page.
Please read the general terms and conditions and about accessibility on this site, including the use of the UK government accesskeys system.