From My Bookshelf – Author J.R.R. Tolkien

I first read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” when I was in junior high school and loved the books enough to re-read them many times.  I’ve seen each movie many times and will be sad when the credits run at the end of the final Hobbit movie.

 “It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” J.R.R. Tolkien on the experience of the writing LOTR

 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3,1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. When he was three, he and his parents moved to England and a year later, his father died. When he turned twelve, his mother passed away and John came to be in the care of the family’s Catholic priest.

While a very bright student, John was initially turned down admittance to Oxford. With persistence, he later won an exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford where he eventually studied English literature. Tolkien’s love of languages stayed with him throughout his life and became the basis for his writing of “The Silmarillion” and “Lord of the Rings”.

 While languages would prove to be a life long interest, his true love was his childhood sweetheart, Edith Mary Bratt whom he met when he was 16 and she 19 years old. His devotion to her is compared to the splendid love story of Beren and Luthien from “The Silmarillion” (Tolkien often referred to Edith as “my Lúthien.”) John and Edith married in 1916 and had four children: three sons and one daughter.

After serving in the First World War, Tolkien began a distinguished academic career as a professor of languages at Oxford and became known as one of the finest philologists (a humanist specializing in classical scholarship) in the world. While at Oxford, he became one of the founding members of a group of Oxford friends who called themselves “The Inklings”. The group met regularly to discuss their writings and toss about ideas. It was also where Tolkien met fellow writer, C.S. Lewis who became a valued friend. Of Lewis, Tolkien wrote, “The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby.”

 The idea of “The Hobbit” (which took Tolkien seven years to complete) was to be a simple fairy tale and adventure book for children. It became published in 1937. Following the success of the book, Tolkien’s publishers, Allen and Unwin encouraged him to write a sequel. “The Lord of the Rings”, which was closely tied to “The Silmarillion”, became an epic story with underlying moral and spiritual dimensions. The first edition was published in 1954 in England and sold well, but became an international bestseller in 1965 when it made it’s debut in America.

Tolkien did not particularly enjoy the fame that came from his literary success, and in 1968 he and Edith moved to a location near Bournemouth, which was then a resort town. Edith, died in 1971, and Tolkien died a couple of years later in 1973. He and Edith are buried together in a single grave in the Catholic section of Wolvercote cemetery in the northern suburbs of Oxford. The legend on the headstone reads:

Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889-1971
 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973