John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, creator of a world. When someone who knows Tolkien is asked about his works, one thought comes to mind, Middle Earth. This was the playground in his mind that such vivid descriptions of fantasylands came from. It is the base of his most well known stories, where dreams are just the norm.
J.R.R. may owe much of his success to his diverse beginnings. On April 16, 1891, Mabel Suffield and Arthur Reuel Tolkien were married in Bloemfontein, South Africa. They soon gave birth to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien on January 3, 1892, who was christened later that month.
In April of 1895 Mabel took J.R.R. and his younger brother to Birmingham England. Arthur, their father, was supposed to follow them in a few months, however never does, as he dies shortly before his trip. This causes a struggling early life for John, moving constantly.
At age 7 he took the entrance exam for King Edwards School, failed, but gained acceptance a year later and move closer to the school. The Tolkiens move several more times, and end up near the Grammar School of St. Philips, where John’s mother enrolls him to save money. J.R.R. won a scholarship, however, and returned to King Edwards to continue his studies. On September 14, 1904, Mabel Tolkien, John’s mother, dies after a diabetic coma. After the death of his mother, the guardianship of his brother and him was taken over by Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory.
In 1908, J.R.R. started his first term at Oxford, and in 1915 he was awarded First Honours degree in English Language and Literature. The following year, March 22, 1916, John Tolkien married Edith Bratt. Between the years of 1917 and 1929, the couple had four children together, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. Tolkien’s children had a great impact on his writings. One of the best instances of this is in his book Roverandom.
In 1925, while on vacation with his family on the Yorkshire coast, four-year-old Michael Tolkien lost his favorite toy, a little lead dog he was reluctant to put down even to play on the beach. To console and distract him J. R. R. improvised a story, the story of Rover, a real dog magically transformed into a toy. After many fantastic adventures in search of the wizard who wronged him, at last he wins back his doggy life. This charming tale, inhabited by a terrible dragon and a wise old whale, by the king of the sea, and the Man-in-the-Moon, was a Tolkien family favorite. Before Tolkien’s death, it went through several drafts over the years, but was not published until after his death.
In 1919, J.R.R. went to work for the Oxford English Dictionary for 2 years, which expanded his horizons even further, as he developed a rich use of the English language. In 1921, he began teaching at the University of Leeds, and by 1924, became Professor of English Language. In 1925 Tolkien moved to Oxford, where he served as Rawlingson Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow of Pembroke College for the next 24 years. During this time he specialized in old and middle English.
In 1936 the Hobbit is completed and published the following year. Originally this masterpiece was intended to be a children’s book, but it is now celebrated throughout the fantasy genre as a classic. This is by far, my own personally favorite book I have ever read. It has all the elements of a wonderfully written fantasy.
Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit, is in a peaceful sort of cozy hole in the Shire, a place where adventures are uncommon and rather unwanted. So when the wizard Gandalf whisks him away on a treasure hunting expedition with a troop of rowdy dwarves, he's not entirely thrilled. Encountering ruthless trolls, beastly orcs, gigantic spiders, and hungry wolves, Bilbo discovers within himself astonishing strength and courage. At the ultimate confrontation with the fearsome dragon Smaug, the hobbit braves the dangers of dark and dragon fire alone and unaided.
In 1945, Tolkien becomes Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, a position he hold until his retirement. By 1948, the sequel to the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, was finished. It was actually a three part set. The first two portions, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, weren’t published until 1954, while the last segment, The Return of the King was published in 1955.
The sequel is set in the same places of Middle Earth, and has just as wonderful language, and story lines. Once someone starts reading either of these works it is often hard to put them down until the other cover is reached. There is one more thing I believe makes these works so vibrant, and that is Tolkien’s literally “making of a world” as I call it.
Like have said before, this world of his was Middle Earth. Instead of simply writing about elfish runes, for example, Tolkien would create the entire alphabet of the elves, including characters and pronunciations of them. From this he would then create his story, and by doing this he could make his “Middle Earth” so authentic that it becomes a reality for the people, including myself, that are reading it.
In 1957, Tolkien was supposed to travel to US to accept honorary degrees from Marquette, Harvard and several other universities; however, the trip was cancelled due to his wife’s ill health.
In 1959 Tolkien retired his professorship at Oxford, and in 1968 the Tolkien family moves to Poole, near Bournemouth. On November 29, 1971, his wife, Edith dies after a short, but violent illness, the following year he returned to Oxford, and on September 2, 1973, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien dies at the age of 81 in a private hospital in Bournemouth.
After his death, The Silmarillion (1977), which presents the mythological beginnings of Middle Earth, and Unfinished Tales (1980), which contains unincorporated stories, were edited and completed by Tolkien's son, Christopher Tolkien.
Tolkien was a professor of English at Oxford, husband, father of four, and a “Maker of A World”. Through his words, we can live through another time of magic, elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, and hobbits. He created his books with the very essence of “fantasy” in them. If you have yet to experience Tolkien's brilliance, do yourself a favor, look him up!