J.R.R. Tolkien

(1892-1973), British

J.R.R. Tolkien was a poet, academic, translator, and author who penned some of the best-loved fantasy novels of all time. These include ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Fellowship of the Ring.’ He is also remembered for his translations of famous Anglo-Saxon works like ‘Beowulf.’

Life Facts

  • J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892.
  • In 1911, he enrolled at Exeter College, Oxford.
  • In 1961, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • He started working for the Oxford English Dictionary in 1920. 
  • Tolkien died in September of 1973 from a bleeding ulcer and chest infection.

Interesting Facts

  • His full name was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
  • He was commissioned into the army during WWI.
  • In 1945, he became the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford. 
  • He died two years after his wife.
  • As a boy, he loved to explore the English countryside.

Famous Books by J.R.R. Tolkien

The HobbitTolkien’s first published exploration of the world of Middle Earth. It takes place 80 years before the start of The Fellowship of the Ring and describes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who want to take back their home from the dragon Smaug. The Fellowship of the RingThe first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Introduces Frodo, Sam, and the other main characters as well as the needed exposition to understand the importance and power of the Ring and Sauron. It also details the formation of the Fellowship and the journey they have to undertake. The Two Towers – The second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It starts with the end of the Fellowship as the group separates. Merry and Pippin are kidnapped by orcs who think they’re carrying the Ring, Sam and Frodo continue on their journey to Mordor, and Gandalf returns. The Return of the King is the final book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It follows the main characters introduced in the previous volumes as they get to the end of their stories. This includes Aragorn becoming king of Gondor and Frodo destroying the Ring. The Silmarillion – This book was published posthumously by Tolkien’s son. It is a collection of mythopoeic stories that help to form a broader picture of the narrative of Eä, the continent of Middle Earth, and several other important locations in Tolkien’s universe. It is divided into five parts which are separate works but that he wanted to be published together.

Early Life and Education

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, in what is now South Africa, in January of 1892. His family was of Prussian descent and had migrated from Kreuzburg around 1620. Tolkien was born with the full name, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien in the Orange Free State, an area now known as Free State Province. His parents were Arthur and Mabel Tolkien, who also had another son named Hilary. After his death, the Tolkien family was without a steady income. The family made a new home in England, living first with Mabel’s parents, then in Sarehole and a village of Worcestershire. As a young boy, he took great pleasure in the exploration of the surrounding towns and villages. He also spent a great deal of time in the forests, experiences which would serve to inspire his later works. One such location was his aunt Jane’s farm, Bag End.

The children were educated at home by their mother and Tolkien was enjoyed his studies. Tolkien was also taught Latin from a young age. Languages would later become a steady passion. He could read and write by the age of five, a fact which allowed him to explore books such as Treasure Island and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  In 1911 he enrolled at Exeter College, Oxford where he began staying classics and the English language. He graduated in 1915. At the age of sixteen, he met Edith Mary Bratt but was banned from speaking with her after he failed some of his exams. Once he was twenty-one he wrote to Edith and asked her to marry him. After a brief interlude, she agreed and converted to Catholicism. They were married in March of 1916. 

Literary Career

At the beginning of WWI, he entered a program that allowed him to finish his degree before enlisting in the army. When he finished, he was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was summoned to France in June and assigned as a signals officer. His time in the army was fairly steady until he came down with trench fever. He was sent back to England in November. It was during his recovery that he began to write The Fall of Gondolin. It was the first mythological text he had crafted.  In November of 1920 Tolkien officially left the army. His first job was at the Oxford English dictionary where he worked on the history of Germanic words. He went on to work as a tutor. It was during this time period that he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of Lord of the Rings. The home in which he worked is now marked by a blue plaque. 

Later Life and Death

With the second world war looming, he was given the assignment of codebreaker but his services were never requested. In 1945 he became the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College, Oxford. He completed The Lord of the Rings three years later.  These years also saw him translate the “Book of Jonah” and “Beowulf.” In 1961 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and his books were selling incredibly well. Tolkien was not happy about his growing popularity and disliked his new status as a “cult-figure.” He eventually had to take his phone number out of the public directory and move to Bournemouth.  It was in 1971 that Edith Tolkien died, she was eighty-two. Tolkien died two years later in September of 1973 from the combination of a bleeding ulcer and chest infection. He was buried alongside his wife at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. 

Influence from other Writers

J.R.R. Tolkien was notably influenced by writers such as William Morris. G.K. Chesterton, and the writings of Old English, Old Norse, and Germanic authors.

Literature by J.R.R. Tolkien

Explore literature by J.R.R. Tolkien below, created by the team at Book Analysis.