About J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to Arthur and Mabel Tolkien. At the age of 3, Tolkien’s father died of rheumatic fever in South Africa, while he, his mother, and younger brother were away in England visiting family. Mabel brought the boys up in England until her death in 1904, when Tolkien was just 12 years old. He and his younger brother were then taken in by Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan, a close family friend, who oversaw Tolkien’s continuing education.
Tolkien was 16 when he met Edith Mary Bratt, his wife to be. In January of 1913, they were formally engaged, and 3 years later, on March 22, 1916, they were wed. They had four children: John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla Tolkien.
During his lifetime, Tolkien served his country in both World War I and World War II, and many of his experiences during those periods would be reflected in his later work. While his writing initially began as a way to entertain his children, his own interest in the art of storytelling grew. Combining his vast knowledge of linguistics with his art of storytelling, Tolkien began working on what would become some of the most beloved books of all time, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien went on to serve as Professor at the University of Leeds, Oxford University, and Pembroke College, taking his retirement in 1959. After his beloved wife Edith passed away on November 29, 1971, Tolkien moved back to Oxford where he spent the last two years of his life. On September 2, 1973, J. R. R. Tolkien departed from this world at the age of 81.
While Tolkien is best known for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, his other writings include Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, The Father Christmas Letters, Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, Leaf by Niggle, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, On Fairy-Stories, Smith of Wootton Major, and Farmer Giles of Ham.
It wasn’t until many years after his passing Tolkien’s son, Christopher, helped his father’s unfinished work get published. Those include The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Histories of Middle-earth, The Children of Húrin, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, and the latest, The Fall of Arthur.
- Tolkien worked on three languages as a child. He explored Animalic with friends, but did not actually invent it himself. Tolkien helped to construct Nevbosh, meaning “new nonsense,” and enjoyed conversing with his friends in it. And at age eight or nine, he worked on his first language, Naffarin. (Source)
- As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large South African tarantula called a baboon spider. Three guesses as to where the inspiration for Shelob the gigantic spider came from! (Source)
- At one point during his first term at Oxford, Tolkien stole a city bus as a prank, and took his friends on a joyride. (Source)
- In 1918, Tolkien was hired to work on the long-time project that would become Oxford English Dictionary. Started in 1879, by the time Tolkien joined, they had finally reached the “W”s. (Source)
- The inspiration for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ home of Bag End came from Tolkien’s aunt’s farm of the same name. (Source)
- As a boy, Rayner Unwin helped convince his father, the director of publisher George Allen & Unwin, to publish The Hobbit. Sir Stanley Unwin asked his son for a written report, for which he would be paid a shilling. “This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations and should appeal to all children between the ages of five and nine,” the ten year-old reviewer noted. (Source)
- He’s been published almost as prolifically posthumously as alive. Most authors have to be content with the works they produce during their lifetime, but not Tolkien. His scribblings and random notes, along with manuscripts he never bothered to publish, have been edited, revised, compiled, redacted, and published in dozens of volumes after his death, most of them produced by his son Christopher. While Tolkien’s most famous posthumous publication is The Silmarillion, other works include The History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Hurin, and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. (Source)
- When Tolkien’s son Michael entered the army, he listed his father’s profession on his paperwork as “Wizard.” (Source)