John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is remembered for his imaginative writings and the lasting creation of Middle-earth world. However, he was also a great scholar and linguist, holding the position of the Rawlingson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. His writings owe much of its power to his ocean of knowledge about European languages and a deep understanding and appreciation of the art of storytelling and myths. His books have been translated into twenty-four languages and many millions of copies have been sold worldwide (“Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel”).
Tolkien was born in the Orange Free State, in what is now South Africa, on January 3, 1892. However, his mother brought him home to England when he was four, and after his father’s death his family made their home in rural Sarehole, then on the edge of the industrial city, Brimingham (Rosebury 80-137).
When Tolkien was only twelve, his mother passed away, leaving him and his brother in the care of Father Francis Xavier Morgan. Father Morgan was a very strong moral influence on young Tolkien and provided him with loving support though to his years in college (“J.R.R. Tolkien” 145-146). Tolkien received a very good high school education at King Edward VI School, one of the finest schools in England at the time. From there he went up to Oxford, where he studied English at Exeter College, gaining him first class honors (Rosebury 80-137).
At the age of twenty-one, Tolkien proposed to his childhood sweetheart, Edith Bratt, although it was against the wishes of Father Morgan, who objected to him marring someone three years older than himself (“J.R.R. Tolkien” 145-146). However, the two were unable to web for a few years because Tolkien was drafted to fight in World War I. During the war he served in the Lancashire Fusiliers as an officer, and survived the Somme, though many of his close friends and colleagues died (Rosebury 80- 137). His respect for the common solder under the great stress of war shows through in his later writings, where the Hobbits show strength in Mordor, previously unseen by themselves or others (Tolkien, The Return 191-262).
After the war he got a job, working at the New English Dictionary, but in 1920 he was appointed reader in English at Leeds University. Four years later he was promoted to Professor, which is the highest academic rank in British universities (Moseley 18-79). It was this time that he started writing. At this stage he thought of his tales as being a new mythology for England. These early works, which laid the basis for his later works, are now published as “The Book of Lost Tales”(Rosebury 80-137).
In 1925 he was elected to the Professorship at Oxford. There he specialized in Philology, the study of words, and was among the most accomplished scholars in his field (Rosebury 80- 137). His love of words led him to work on a series of languages for the Elves of Middle-earth. Though out his lifetime this obsession drove him to produce fourteen languages and he also showed how these languages developed over the course of history of Middle-earth (Chance 7-13). Tolkien said that the one of the first alphabets, called Tengwar, became very popular because it was a very flexible writing system that was easily adapted by the many different races of Middle-earth for use with their languages. The main flaw of this language was that it was very difficult to inscribe onto metal, stone or wood. This led to the creation of Cirth, a similar alphabet but with simpler characters made with strait lines. Tolkien often signed his work with ” }[email protected]@O8bael/u} “, which translates into his name (Smith Vers. 1.1).
Over the course of the next few years Tolkien wrote four books for each of his four children. Of these, “The Hobbit” is the best known and was eventually published in 1937. Stanley Unwin, the publisher asked for a sequel but Tolkien was skeptical of a sequel’s success (Chance 7-13). He felt as if his work would only be enjoyed by a small minority and was surprised with his previous success. Once he began though he became very involved with the book. Unfortunately World War II intervened, and slowed the process down considerably, taking a total of twelve years to complete. The book blossomed into more than a sequel, being not a bok for children, but a great saga for adults, “The Lord of the Rings”(Rosebury 80-137). At the time of its first publication the book received mixed reviews. It was not until the late 60’s and early 70’s that Tolkien’s popularity increased dramatically with the official release of the “Lord of the Rings” in the United States. During this time, there was an international emergence of “Tolkien cults,” which unfortunately delayed Tolkien’s entry into the canon of twentieth-century writers (Chance 7-13).
Tolkien retired shortly after the publication of this work, and left Oxford for the coastal resort of Bournemouth, but when his wife, Edith, died he returned to Oxford to be with the rest of his family. He himself died two years later on the 2nd of September 1973, at the age of eighty- one. He was buried alongside his wife in an Oxford cemetery, under their real names and the names of two lovers he had created, Beren and Luthien (Moseley 18-79).
Although Tolkien’s vison was mainly channeled into his writings, he also drew many pictures and sketches, both in ink and water colors, and produced many wonderfully detained maps of Middle-earth. The pictures appear as covers to some editions of his works, and have been gathered into a book of their own (Rosebury 80-137).
Tolkien used a great deal of symbolism in his books, most noticeable is the race of small manlike creatures know as Hobbits, which he uses to symbolize the people of England. Tolkien perceived his fellow Englishmen (and Hobbits) as a simple, comfort-loving people that were surprisingly strong and resilient in times of trouble. In many of his books, Hobbits played key roles as an unlikely hero who ends up making a big difference in the world (“J.R.R. Tolkien” 145- 146). Many people also believe that many of the events in “The Lord of the Rings,” symbolize people and places in World Wars I and II, but Tolkien denies ever intentional doing so (Rosebury 80-137). When approached with similar questions about Middle-earth, Tolkien does not answer as the author, but as a historian trying to recall events of a pass long forgotten. This attitude can be seen in the complimentary (preface, prologues, appendixes, etc.) in “The Lord of the Rings” as well as in several of published letters.
After his death, his son Christopher, aided by the Canadian writer Guy Gavriel Kay, set out to edit many of Tolkien’s earlier mythological works. The majority of Tolkien’s works were not published until long after his death. The first to be published was the “Simarillion,” a very detailed work containing many of the myths and the rich history of Middle-earth. In the early 80’s, Christopher compiled many of Tolkien’s miscellaneous stories into a set of books called the “Book of Lost Tales.” The most recent addition to the Tolkien library is the “History of Middle- earth” series. This set of books is almost like a textbook of just the history of Middle-earth and includes many of Tolkien’s notes, maps, sketches, and time lines on everything that occurred in Middle-earth, from the creation of the planet to its destruction (Moseley 18-79).
Apart from the Middle-earth cannon of works, Tolkien has written a good many children’s books as well as an impressive collection of poetry. Tolkien has also used his linguistic skills to translate many books into English. Other published works are mainly composed of letters he sent to people explaining things about Middle-earth and several scholarly essays (Moseley 18-79).
Tolkien never expected his works to achieve the popularity that they have, thinking that they would only be of interest to a select group of readers. Yet his vision of Middle-earth, rooted in his love of language and lore, touched the spirt of people the world over. His work has proved the inspiration for many other writers and artists, and set the foundation for the modern “heroic fantasy” genre (Moseley 18-79).
Chance, Jane. The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.
“J.R.R. Tolkien.” Favorite Authors of Young Adult Fiction. Frank Schaffer Publications, n.d. 145-146.
Moseley, Charles. J.R.R. Tolkien. Plymouth, UK: Northcote House Publishers, 1997.
Rosebury, Brian. Tolkien: A Critical Assessment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
Smith, Daniel S. Cirth Font Help. Vers. 1.1 Jan. 1999
“Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000. 18 March 2000.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Lord of the Rings. 1. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965.
—. The Hobbit. Rev. ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
—. The Return of the King. Lord of the Rings. 3. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965.
—. The Shaping of Middle-Earth. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995.
—. The Silmarillion. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.
—. The Two Towers. Lord of the Rings. 2. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965.
—. Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth. Ed. Christopher Tolkien, New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
War in Middle-Earth. Map. Irvan: Melbourn House, n.d.