Guest Author - Laura Lehman
For many readers and writers, the name JRR Tolkien is synonymous with fantasy literature. His work changed the literary world and continues to inspire writers today.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South-Africa on January 3rd 1892, but moved to England in 1896 with his brother and mother upon the death of his father. The family always lived close to poverty, but when their mother was diagnosed with diabetes in 1904 matters turned worse. When she died, a parish priest, Father Francis, looked after the boys. When he was 16, Tolkien began a relationship with 19 year old Edith Bratt but Father Francis forbade the relationship until Tolkien turned 21. In 1911, he started at Exeter College, Oxford where he studied the classics. Once he turned 21, he resumed his relationship with Edith.
The First World War broke out in 1914, but Tolkien didn’t enlist immediately. He joined the army in 1915, after finishing his studies. In 1916 he married Edith before leaving to serve in France. Within a year he contracted “trench fever,” a common illness in the unsanitary conditions, and was sent home. For the rest of the war Tolkien was only able to do home service during remission. If you would like to learn how his war service affected his work, the book Tolkien and the Great War : The Threshold of Middle-earth a recent Mythopoeic Society award winner, studies this in depth.
In 1917, his first son is born. After the war, he did many scholarly jobs, including work on the Oxford Dictionary. When the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford became available Tolkien applied. Two more sons were born, one in 1920 the other in 1924. While at Oxford, Tolkien founded “The Inklings,” a group of friends with an interest in literature. Among its members were CS Lewis, who became Tolkien’s closest friend. Tolkien’s last child, a daughter, was born in 1929. On September 2nd 1973 at the age of 81 Tolkien died in Bournemouth.
When The Hobbit was published in 1937 it was an immediate success. The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts during 1954 and 1955 and rapidly came to public notice. While it had mixed reviews, both Tolkien and the publisher had greatly underestimated its public appeal. The American culture was introduced to The Lord of the Rings when it went into a paperback version in 1965, creating a sort of cult, not only for Tolkien, but for fantasy literature in general. Besides The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Tolkien did write and publish a number of other works, including other fictional works, a range of scholarly essays, and editions and translations of Middle English works. For serious LOTR fans there is also the The Silmarillion which provides the history of the First Age of Middle-Earth.