John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (January 3, 1892 - September 2, 1973) was an author and Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and Professor of English Language and Literature from 1945 to 1959. He also wrote fiction and poetry for his entire adult life, and this latter pursuit has enhanced his fame.

Outside academia, most people have come to know Tolkien as the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and of its precursor, The Hobbit . The enduring popularity and influence of these Middle-earth works have established Tolkien's reputation as the father of the modern high fantasy genre. He also did much critical work on Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He belonged to the literary discussion group The Inklings, and had a close friendship with C. S. Lewis.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Writings
3 Languages
4 Books about Tolkien and Tolkien's worlds
5 Works based on Tolkien's worlds
6 External links


J. R. R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa; he attended King Edward's School, St. Phillip's Grammar School, and Exeter College, Oxford. His father died when he was a young child. His mother converted to Catholicism, despite the vehement protests of her family. She later died when he was a young teenager due to diabetes, but he felt for the rest of his life that she had become a martyr for her faith; this had a profound effect on his own Catholic beliefs. Tolkien's devout faith was a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis to Christianity, and his writings contain Christian symbolism and values.

During his subsequent orphandom he met and fell in love with Edith Bratt (later to serve as his model for Luthien). Despite many obstacles, he was able to marry her, the first and truest love of his life. Tolkien joined the British Army during World War I. He served in the Lancashire Fusiliers, the most-decorated British unit in that war. He saw a number of his fellow servicemen, as well as several of his closest friends, lose their lives. He himself ended up in a military hospital, suffering from trench fever.

During his recovery he began to write an invented series of fairy tales, based upon his studies of mythology and folklore, which he called 'The Book of Lost Tales'. Scholars of his work say that the war influenced his writings; that he saw fantasy as a way to escape from the harsh reality of factories, machines, guns and bombs of the 20th century.

After the World War I Tolkien worked for a while with the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1920 he became the Reader in English language at the University of Leeds, but in 1925 he returned to Oxford as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon. In 1945 he moved to Merton College of the Oxford University, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959.


Tolkien enjoyed inventing fantasy stories to entertain his children. He wrote yearly Christmas letters from Father Christmas for them, creating a series of short stories, later compiled and published as The Father Christmas Letters.

Tolkien never expected his fictional stories to become popular. Through the intercession of a former student, he published a book he had written for his own children called The Hobbit (1937). Though intended for children, the book gained an adult readership as well, and it became popular enough for the publisher (Allen & Unwin) to convince Tolkien to work on a sequel. This prompted him to create his most famous work, the epic three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings (1954 - 55). The writing of this saga took nearly ten years, during which time he received the constant support of the Inklings and of his closest friend, C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books.

While The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular with many students in the 1960s, and has remained highly popular since, many scholars (particularly those working in the field of Norse mythology), aware of Tolkien's sources, consider the work highly derivative. Tolkien at first thought that The Lord of the Rings would tell another children's tale like The Hobbit, but it quickly grew darker and more serious in the writing. Though a direct sequel to The Hobbit, it addressed a much older audience, drawing upon the immense back-story of Middle-earth that he had constructed and that eventually saw posthumous publication in The Silmarillion and in other posthumous volumes.

The Lord of the Rings became, judged both by sales and by surveys of readers, one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century. The influence of Tolkien weighs heavily on the fantasy genre that grew up after the success of The Lord of the Rings.

Published in JRRT's lifetime

Published after JRRT's death

Tolkien continued to work upon the history of Middle-earth until his death. His son
Christopher Tolkien, with assistance from fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, organised some of this material into one volume, published as The Silmarillion in 1977. Christopher Tolkien continued over subsequent years to publish background material on the creation of Middle-earth: and culminating with The History of Middle-earth series: Note that the posthumous works such as The History of the Middle-earth and the Unfinished Tales contain unfinished, abandoned, alternative, and outright contradictory versions of the stories simply because Tolkien kept working on his mythology for decades, constantly rewriting, reediting, and expanding the stories. Only The Silmarillion maintains full consistency with The Lord of the Rings, and this only because of heavy editing by Christopher Tolkien.

An interesting posthumous piece of Middle-earth material is the poem

Other posthumous non-Middle-earth material, mostly stories told to Tolkien's children when they were young: The library of the Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, preserves many of Tolkien's original manuscripts, notes and letters.


Tolkien's first love philology, the study of languages, and his interest in
linguistics inspired him to invent fifteen artificial languages (most famously the two Elvish languages from Lord of the Rings, Quenya and Sindarin). He later elaborated an entire cosmogony and history of Middle-earth as background. He had fluency in as many as a dozen European languages, ranging from Old English and Gaelic to the Romance languages of French and Spanish, as well as having experience in Germanic languages. In his personal correspondence, he noted the sound of the Finnish language as the most pleasing to his ears.

Tolkien worked on the New English Dictionary, now known as the Oxford English Dictionary, and as a professor of languages.

The popularity of his books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature, especially the use of the word "dwarves" versus the standard "dwarfs", and "elvish" as opposed to "elfin".

Books about Tolkien and Tolkien's worlds

A small selection of the dozens of books about Tolkien and his worlds:
  • 1977 J. R. R. Tolkien - A Biography (Humphrey Carpenter)
  • 1978 The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (Robert Foster, covers The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, but not for example the Unfinished Tales)
  • 1981 Journeys of Frodo (Barbara Strachey - an atlas of The Lord of the Rings)
  • 1981 The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (Christopher Tolkien and Humphrey Carpenter)
  • 1991 The Atlas of Middle-earth (Karen Wynn Fonstad - an atlas of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales)
  • 2000 J. R. R. Tolkien - Author of the Century (T. A. Shippey)

Works based on Tolkien's worlds

The Lord of the Rings forms the basis and namesake of a trilogy of films (
2001-2003) directed by Peter Jackson.

Ralph Bakshi directed an earlier movie in 1978 (made with the rotoscope technique), which however covered only the first half of the books. Rankin-Bass covered the second half with a children's TV animation The Return of the King (1980); earlier they had made a TV animation of The Hobbit (1977).

Artists who have found inspiration from Tolkien's worlds include:

Donald Swann set to music the The Road Goes Ever On collection of Tolkien's lyrics and poems. Other composers include Howard Shore, the composer of the movies by Peter Jackson.

External links