In 1892, J. R. R. Tolkien was born Joseph Ronald Reuel Tolkien in what is today Free State Province in South Africa. During his early years, his father worked as a manager of a British bank’s South African office. His father died when he was three; Tolkien, his mother, and brother moved to Birmingham, England afterward.
Even as a very young child, precocious Tolkien displayed a great interest in linguistics. His mother Mabel taught him basic Latin and let him read as many books as he liked.
When his mother died, Tolkien was only 12; he and his brother were taken to the care of a Catholic priest. Tolkien’s inspirations to his future works were seen through the environment where he was brought up: the dark towers and the medieval paintings at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Fairy tales, mythology, his passion for philology (which led him to construct his own languages) and a deep Catholic faith were also big literary influences.
In 1915, Tolkien graduated top of his class at Oxford University. A year after, he was enlisted at the outbreak of the first World War. The harrowing and tragic experiences he encountered during the war left him with a profound impression that also, in a way, found its passage into his future works.
Tolkien wrote his first collection of mythological fiction works, the epicThe Silmarillion, whose literary landscape is almost biblical and is told by sections. It depicts the history of Ea — the Universe — from its creation, the supernatural powers, to the brilliant gemstones Silmaril which are the root of many wars during the First Age. This provided the basis for Tolkien’s future writings, notably The Lord Of The Rings.
The following years Tolkien became a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature at Oxford University, but despite his busy occupation teaching, he still found time to write stories and several poems. In 1930, rather unexpectedly, Tolkien found inspirations for his next work The Hobbit, stemmed from his own creations. Around that time, Tolkien wrote a collection of works aimed specifically for the children and his own kids, including nursery rhymes and The Father Christmas Letters (which was posthumously published) which featured illustrations of gnomes and goblins.
In 1937, The Hobbit was published, a fantasy fairy tale depicting the victory of good over evil. It became an enormous triumph both critically and commercially.
The Hobbit’s success encouraged Tolkien to come up with a sequel. So in the course of many years, Tolkien was working on Lord Of The Rings. The beginning of this epic novel was a sequel to The Hobbit. However, it eventually grew into a larger, deeper work, with “conquering good over evil” becoming no longer as simple as in The Hobbit, its long, complex but fascinating story being culminated by the War of the Ring.
The novel was written with unprecedented scope and length. Tolkien, a slow writer, would abandon doing the novel due to his teaching profession, and then resume writing after a few years. He started writing Lord Of The Rings in 1937 and completed it in 1949. Publication of the book was sectioned by three editions; by 1955, The Lord Of The Rings was, at last, fully published.
In 1954, when the first edition of The Lord Of The Rings was put in print, it received generally good reviews and turned a decent profit. But when the book was first published in the United States by the 1960s, it became a runaway best-seller.
The phenomenal success of The Lord Of The Rings had made Tolkien increasingly famous and even turned him somewhat into a cult figure, which he himself detested. He didn’t like the fame thrown at him and so he strived to find privacy. In his final days, he and his wife lived relatively peacefully in Bournemouth, where he died in 1973, aged 81.
The Lord Of The Rings now ranks as one of the most important literary milestones in the 20th century. It has also been consistently high in rankings based on numerous reader surveys. It has been adapted for radio, stage and film, most notably the “Lord Of The Rings” film series.
Called as the father of modern fantasy literature, J. R. R. Tolkien had fueled a popular revival in the fantasy genre. His literary influence and impact have lasted throughout many generations. Though English literature traditionalists have been harshly critical of his works, they’re otherwise esteemed and loved by millions of readers and followers of high fantasy.
Helpful related links
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Home Page – The Tolkien Society
The Tolkien Society, a registered charity; matters of interest to lovers of JRR Tolkien’s writings
- JRR Tolkien Biography – The Tolkien Society