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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE ( /ËˆtÉ’lkiË�n/, US /ËˆtoÊŠlkiË�n/; 3 January 1892 â€“ 2 September 1973) was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewisâ€”they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972.
After his death, Tolkien's son Christopher published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, including The Silmarillion. These, together with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
form a connected body of tales, poems, fictional histories, invented
languages, and literary essays about a fantasy world called Arda, and Middle-earth within it. Between 1951 and 1955, Tolkien applied the term legendarium to the larger part of these writings.
While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular resurgence of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the "father" of modern fantasy literatureâ€”or, more precisely, of high fantasy. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". Forbes ranked him the 5th top-earning dead celebrity in 2009.
Most of Tolkien's paternal ancestors were craftsmen. The Tolkien family had their roots in Lower Saxony â€“ the homeland of the original Anglo-Saxons â€“ but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly intensely English". The surname Tolkien is said to come from the German word tollkÃ¼hn ("foolhardy").
Several families with the surname Tolkien or the variant Tolkiehn still
live in north-western Germany, mainly in Lower Saxony and Hamburg. A German writer has suggested that the name is more likely to derive from the village Tolkynen, near Rastenburg, East Prussia which is far away from Lower Saxony. The name of that place is derived from the now extinct Old Prussian language.
Tolkien's maternal grandparents, John and Edith Jane Suffield, were Baptists who lived in Birmingham
and owned a shop in the city centre. The Suffield family had run
various businesses out of the same building, called Lamb House, since
the early 19th century. From 1812 Tolkien's great-great-grandfather
William Suffield had a book and stationery shop there; from 1826
Tolkien's great-grandfather, also named John Suffield, had a drapery and hosiery business there.
1892 Christmas card with a coloured photo of the Tolkien family in Bloemfontein, sent to relatives in Birmingham, England
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province, part of South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857â€“1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, nÃ©e
Suffield (1870â€“1904). The couple had left England when Arthur was
promoted to head the Bloemfontein office of the British bank for which
he worked. Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hilary Arthur
Reuel, who was born on 17 February 1894.
As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider
in the garden, an event which some think would have later echoes in his
stories, although Tolkien admitted no actual memory of the event and no
special hatred of spiders as an adult. In another incident, a family
house-boy, who thought Tolkien a beautiful child, took the baby to his kraal to show him off, returning him the next morning.
When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and
brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father,
however, died in South Africa of rheumatic fever before he could join them. This left the family without an income, so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with Worcestershire towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester, and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt Jane's farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.
Mabel Tolkien herself taught her two sons, and Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany
and awakened in him the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young
Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees, but his favourite lessons
were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments
of Latin very early.
He could read by the age of four and could write fluently soon
afterwards. His mother allowed him to read many books. He disliked Treasure Island and The Pied Piper and thought Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was "amusing but disturbing". He liked stories about "Red Indians" and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. In addition, the "Fairy Books" of Andrew Lang were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings.
King Edward's School in Birmingham, where Tolkien was a student (1900â€“1902, 1903â€“1911)
Tolkien attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip's School,
before winning a Foundation Scholarship and returning to King Edward's
School. While a pupil at King Edward's School, he was one of a party of
cadets from the school's Officers Training Corps who helped "line the
route" for the coronation parade of King George V, being posted just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Mabel Tolkien was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1900 despite vehement protests by her Baptist family, who then stopped all financial assistance to her. In 1904, when Tolkien was 12, she died of acute diabetes at Fern Cottage in Rednal, which she was then renting. Mabel Tolkien was then about 34 years of age, about as old as a person with diabetes mellitus type 1 could live with no treatmentâ€”insulin
would not be discovered until two decades later. Nine years after his
mother's death, Tolkien wrote, "My own dear mother was a martyr indeed,
and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great
gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed
herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith."
Prior to her death, Mabel Tolkien had assigned the guardianship of her sons to Fr. Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, who was assigned to bring them up as good Catholics. Tolkien grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He lived there in the shadow of Perrott's Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. Another strong influence was the romantic medievalist paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery had a large collection of works on public display.
In 1911, while they were at King Edward's School, Birmingham,
Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher
Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society which they called the "T.C.B.S.",
the initials standing for "Tea Club and Barrovian Society", alluding to
their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and,
secretly, in the school library.
After leaving school, the members stayed in touch and, in December
1914, they held a "council" in London at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien,
the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.
The 1911 census of England and Wales shows Tolkien (occupation
"school") lodging at 4 Highfield Road, Edgbaston, along with his brother
Hilary (occupation "hardware merchant's clerk").
In 1911, Tolkien went on a summer holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter, noting that Bilbo's journey across the Misty Mountains
("including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine
woods") is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked
from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and on to camp in the moraines beyond MÃ¼rren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn ("the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams"). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and on across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass, through the upper Valais to Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.
In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours in his final examinations.
Courtship and marriage
At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt,
who was three years older, when he and his brother Hilary moved into
the boarding house in which she lived. According to Humphrey Carpenter:
Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham
teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement.
There they would sit and throw sugarlumps into the hats of passers-by,
moving to the next table when the sugar bowl was empty. ... With two
people of their personalities and in their position, romance was bound
to flourish. Both were orphans in need of affection, and they found that
they could give it to each other. During the summer of 1909, they
decided that they were in love.
His guardian, Father Francis Morgan, viewing Edith as a distraction
from Tolkien's school work and horrified that his young charge was
seriously involved with a Protestant
girl, prohibited him from meeting, talking to, or even corresponding
with her until he was 21. He obeyed this prohibition to the letter, with one notable early exception which made Father Morgan threaten to cut short his University career if he did not stop.
On the evening of his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith a
declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. Edith replied
saying that she had already agreed to marry another man, but that she
had done so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. The two
met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love; Edith returned
her engagement ring and announced that she was marrying Tolkien instead.
Following their engagement Edith reluctantly announced that she was
converting to Catholicism at Tolkien's insistence. Her landlord, a
staunch Protestant, was infuriated and evicted her as soon as she was
able to find other lodgings. Edith and Ronald were formally engaged in Birmingham, in January 1913, and married at Warwick, England, at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church on 22 March 1916.
World War I
In 1914, the United Kingdom entered World War I. Tolkien's relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army.
Instead, Tolkien entered a program wherein he delayed enlisting until
completing his degree in July 1915. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire,
for eleven months. In a letter to Edith, Tolkien complained, "Gentlemen
are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed." Tolkien was then transferred to the 11th (Service) Battalion with the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in France on 4 June 1916. His departure from England on a troop transport inspired him to write his poem, The Lonely Isle. He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."
Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. According to John Garth, however:
army enshrined old social boundaries, it also chipped away at the class
divide by throwing men from all walks of life into a desperate
situation together. Tolkien wrote that the experience taught him, 'a
deep sympathy and feeling for the Tommy;
especially the plain soldier from the agricultural counties.' He
remained profoundly grateful for the lesson. For a long time, he had
been imprisoned in a tower, not of pearl, but of ivory.
Tolkien's time in combat was a terrible stress for Edith, who feared
that every knock on the door might carry news of her husband's death. In
order to get around the British Army's postal censorship,
the Tolkiens had developed a secret code which accompanied his letters
home. By using the code, Edith was able to track her husband's movements
on a map of the Western Front.
On 27 October 1916 Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by the lice which were common in the dugouts. According to the memoirs of the Reverend Mervyn S. Evers, Anglican chaplain to the Lancashire Fusiliers:
On one occasion I spent the night with the Brigade
Machine Gun Officer and the Signals Officer in one of the captured
German dugouts ... We dossed down for the night in the hopes of getting
some sleep, but it was not to be. We no sooner lay down than hordes of
lice got up. So we went round to the Medical Officer, who was also in
the dugout with his equipment, and he gave us some ointment which he
assured us would keep the little brutes away. We anointed ourselves all
over with the stuff and again lay down in great hopes, but it was not to
be, because instead of discouraging them it seemed to act like a kind
of hors d'oeuvre
and the little beggars went at their feast with renewed vigour.
Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916.
Many of his dearest school friends, including Gilson and Smith of the
T.C.B.S., were killed in the war. He might well have been killed
himself, but he suffered on more than one occasion from trench foot and was removed from front line combat multiple times.
In later years, Tolkien indignantly declared that those who searched
his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken:
The work is not supplied with certificate of authenticity and warranties (as has never been evaluated, estimating expertise) and then, having regard to the recognition and similarity to the style of the author, is proposed as a copy of copyright, false copyright, in the manner of the author, under Article 8 of the law of 20 November 1971, n.1062 (Official Gazette No 318 of December 17)
One has indeed personally to come under the shadow
of war to feel fully its oppression; but as the years go by it seems now
often forgotten that to be caught in youth by 1914 was no less hideous
an experience than to be involved in 1939 and the following years. By
1918 all but one of my close friends were dead