(January 3, 1892 - September 2, 1973)
I discovered the works of this wonderful writer while I was in college. Sadly, I don't quite remember how I first came across them. I do have a vague memory of the cover of one of the books, seen in a bookstore. Maybe it was a second-hand bookstore, I don't know.
So I began my journey through Middle-Earth... I attended Bilbo's birthday party, where I not only met Bilbo, as well as his comically quirky neighbors, who were an obvious satire on the British character, but his charismatic nephew, Frodo, right along with the immortal Gandalf.
I was hooked for life! In fact, I think the trilogy is long overdue for a re-reading...
Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province, a part of South Africa). His father, Arthur Reuel Tolkien, was a bank manager, who married Mabel Suffield, subsequently moving with her to South Africa, in order to head up the bank's branch office in Bloemfontein.
In 1895, Tolkien's mother traveled to England with John, then three years old, and his brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel (born in 1894), on what was supposed to be an extended family visit. Arthur Tolkien had planned to join them there, but died of rheumatic fever before his departure to England. Mabel took her sons to live with her parents, at Kings Heath. Later on, the family moved to Sarehole, which at the time was a Worcestershire village.
Tolkien's love of languages manifested itself very early; he could read by the age of four, and wrote perfectly soon thereafter. He loved the fantasy works of George MacDonald, as well as the fairy books of Andrew Lang.
Initially taught by his own mother, Tolkien later studied at King Edward's School and St. Philip's School in Birmingham.
Mabel Tolkien became a Catholic in 1900, after which her staunchly Baptist family stopped providing her with financial assistance. She died four years later of diabetes; sadly, insulin had not yet been discovered. The Tolkien boys were then placed under the guardianship of a Catholic priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, and grew up in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham.
In October of 1911, Tolkien enrolled at Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied English Language and Literature, graduating with first-class honours in 1915.
In 1908, Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt, whom he married on March 24, 1916, at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. She was the inspiration for the fictional characters Luthien Tinuviel and Arwen Evenstar.
Tolkien was one of the contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1920, he became Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, where he was the youngest professor. While there, he produced a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in collaboration with E.V. Gordon, a fellow philologist.
In 1925, Tolkien was named Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a post he held for twenty years. He also had a fellowship at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings.
In 1945, Tolkien moved to Merton College, Oxford, where he became the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, holding the post until his retirement in 1959.
The first book in the annals of Middle-Earth mythology, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, was published in 1937. Although intended as a children's book, it was loved by adults as well, and the publisher, George Allen & Unwin, persuaded the author to write a sequel.
This is the 70th Anniversary Edition,
published by the Houghton Mifflin Company,
on September 21, 2007
The great high fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings, was published in three volumes, from 1954 to 1955. The titles are: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
These were all published by Houghton Mifflin in 1988.
Another important Tolkien work is The Silmarillion, which is the necessary background for the epic saga of The Lord of the Rings. This work was published posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, a son of the author, in 1977. It contains a collection of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythopoeic works. The scope of The Silmarillion is just as impressive as that of the saga, but its tone is markedly different.
This is the 1977 Houghton Mifflin edition.
There are many more Tolkien works, such as The Children of Hurin, carefully restored by Christopher Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, The Book of Lost Tales, Part I, Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham, and several others.
Tolkien's influences were several. Germanic literature, especially Anglo-Saxon literature, notably the epic poem Beowulf, was one of them. Norse mythology also played a part, especially the Volsunga Saga and the Hervarar Saga. One of his greatest influences was William Morris. Critics have also pointed out similarities between Tolkien's works and those of Rider Haggard.
Catholic theology is another major influence on Tolkien's works, especially the trilogy, which has obvious Christian themes such as the fight between good and evil, the notion that evil is nothingness itself, and essentially uncreative. The ring that Frodo must destroy is also symbolic of evil itself. According to Stratford Caldecott, "The Ring of Power exemplifies the dark magic of the corrupted will, the assertion of self in disobedience to God. You could say the Ring is sin itself: tempting and seemingly harmless to begin with, increasingly hard to give up and corrupting in the long run." (Taken from Wikipedia article on J.R.R. Tolkien,
Tolkien himself has influenced writers coming after him. His monumental creations have set a standard for modern fantasy. Some of the writers indebted to him include Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Stephen R. Donaldson, Christopher Paolini, and even J.K. Rowling.
The three books have been made into highly successful films, known as The Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy. Shot in New Zealand and directed by Peter Jackson, they were released consecutively, in 2001, 2002 and 2003.