A Biography of JRR Tolkein

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, better known as JRR Tolkein was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the epic fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Tolkein was born  in 1892, in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State in South Africa.

When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother for a lengthy family visit. His father died in South Africa of rheumatic fever, and this left the family without any income, so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Birmingham. from there he visited his aunt Jane's farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.

In the summer of 1911, Tolkien went on 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 from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed to English Language, graduating in 1915.

Tolkien learned Latin, French, and German from his mother. While at school he learned Middle English, Old English, Finnish, Gothic, Greek, Italian, Old Norse, Spanish, Welsh, and Medieval Welsh. He also became familiar with Danish, Dutch, Lombardic, Norwegian, Icelandic, Russian, Swedish, Middle Dutch, Middle High German, Middle Low German, Old High German, which is a very deep linguistic knowledge, especially of the Germanic languages.

World War I

In 1916, the United Kingdom was engaged in fighting World War I, and Tolkien volunteered for military service. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. 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.

Tolkien openly opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party prior to the Second World War. In 1938, the German publishing house Rütten & Loening Verlag was preparing to release The Hobbit in Nazi Germany, but to Tolkien's outrage he was asked beforehand whether he was of Aryan origin.

He provided two letters to Rütten & Loening and instructed Unwin to send whichever he preferred. Only one of these is known to survive - ".. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany... " In letters to his son Michael, he wrote: " You have to understand the good in things, to detect the real evil...   ...We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted.  ".

At a time when many Western writers and intellectuals openly admired Stalin, Tolkien made no effort to hide his contempt for the Soviet dictator. Even during World War II, when Britain was allied with the USSR, Tolkien referred to Stalin as "that bloodthirsty old murderer" and expressed hope that the Americans would overthrow him after Hitler's defeat.

However, in 1961, Tolkien sharply criticized a Swedish commentator who suggested that The Lord of the Rings was an anti-communist parable and identified the Dark Lord with Stalin. Tolkien indignantly retorted that his legendarium was conceived long before the October Revolution of 1917. He indignantly added, "Such an allegory is entirely foreign to my thought." He declared that those who searched his works for parallels to the Second World War were entirely mistaken: and "... that to be caught in (war when a) 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. "

A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of World War I alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service. During his recovery in a cottage in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin.

The Hobbit

Tolkien's first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W. Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon with a fellowship at Pembroke College at Oxford University from 1925 to 1945.

During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien never expected his stories to become popular, but by sheer accident in 1936, the book called The Hobbit, which he had written some years before for his own children, came to the attention of the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin, who persuaded Tolkien to submit it for publication. The Hobbit attracted adult readers as well as children, and became popular enough for the publishers to ask Tolkien to write a sequel.

The Lord of the Rings

The request for a sequel prompted Tolkien to begin what would become his most famous work: the epic fantasy series The Lord of the Rings which was originally published in three volumes 1954–1955. Tolkien spent more than ten years writing the primary narrative and appendices for The Lord of the Rings.

Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set against the background of The Silmarillion, but in a time long after it. Tolkein had previously attempted unsuccessfully to get a collection of "Silmarillion" material published in 1937 before writing The Lord of the Rings.

One of the greatest influences on Tolkien was the Artist and Craftsman William Morris from whom he took hints for the names of features such as the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings and Mirkwood. Tolkien wrote of being impressed as a boy by S. R. Crockett's historical novel The Black Douglas and of basing the Necromancer (Sauron) on its villain, Gilles de Retz.

In 1945, Tolkien moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959.

Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings in 1948, close to a decade after the first sketches. The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the 20th century, judged by both sales and reader surveys.

Tolkeins Contemporaries

Tolkein was a close friend of C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series, as they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. It was Tolkien (and Hugo Dyson) who helped Lewis return to Christianity. Tolkien was accustomed to read aloud passages from his Silmarillion mythology, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings to Lewis's strong approval and encouragement at the Inklings.

Tolkeins love of myths and his devout faith came together in his assertion that he believed that mythology is the divine echo of "the Truth". This view was expressed in his poem Mythopoeia, and his idea that myths held "fundamental truths" became a central theme of the Inklings in general.

W. H. Auden, who had spent much of his life as an avowed Marxist, began corresponding with Tolkien during the mid-1950s. By that time, Auden had broken with his former beliefs and returned to the Anglicanism of his childhood. In addition, Auden was among the most prominent literary critics to praise The Lord of the Rings. They remained close friends for the remainder of Tolkien's life.

During his retirement, from 1959 up to his death in 1973, Tolkien received steadily increasing public attention and literary fame. The sales of his books were so profitable that he regretted he had not chosen early retirement. While at first he wrote enthusiastic answers to readers' enquiries, it all became too much. Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory and eventually he and his wife Edith moved to Bournemouth.

Tolkien's wife Edith, died in 1971, and Tolkien 21 months later at the age of 81. Tolkien was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972.

Christopher Tolkein

Tolkien had appointed his son Christopher to be his literary executor, and he (with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay, later a well-known fantasy author in his own right) organized some of his father's unpublished material into new works .

After his death in 1973, Tolkien's son Christopher published a series of works based on his father's extensive notes and unpublished manuscripts, beginning with The Silmarillion in 1977.

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 an imagined world called Arda, and Middle-earth within it.

In 1980 Christopher Tolkien published a further collection of more fragmentary material, under the title Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. In subsequent years, 1983–1996, he published a large amount of the remaining unpublished materials, together with notes and extensive commentary, in a series of twelve volumes called The History of Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien supplied copious notes and commentary upon his father's work.

They contain unfinished, abandoned, alternative, and outright contradictory accounts, since they were always a work in progress for Tolkien and he only rarely settled on a definitive version for any of the stories. There is not even complete consistency between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the two most closely related works, because Tolkien never fully integrated all their traditions into each other. He commented in 1965, while editing The Hobbit for a third edition, that he would have preferred to completely rewrite the book because of the style of its prose.

More recently, in 2007, the collection was completed with the publication of The Children of Húrin by HarperCollins (in the UK and Canada) and Houghton Mifflin (in the US). The novel tells the story of Túrin Turambar and his sister Nienor, children of Húrin Thalion. The material was compiled by Christopher Tolkien from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, and unpublished manuscripts.

In February 2009, Publishers Weekly announced that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had acquired the American rights to Tolkien's unpublished work The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. Released worldwide on 5 May 2009, it retells the legend of Sigurd and the fall of the Niflungs from Germanic mythology. This narrative poem composed in alliterative verse is modeled after the Old Norse poetry of the Elder Edda. According to Christopher Tolkien, it is no longer possible to trace the exact date of the work's composition. On the basis of circumstantial evidence, he suggests that it dates from the 1930s.

In a 1967 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien wrote, "Thank you for your wonderful effort in translating and reorganising The Song of the Sibyl. In return again I hope to send you, if I can lay my hands on it (I hope it isn't lost), a thing I did many years ago when trying to learn the art of writing alliterative poetry: an attempt to unify the lays about the Völsungs from the Elder Edda, written in the old eight-line fornyrðislag stanza."

Tolkien was much inspired by early Germanic, especially Anglo-Saxon literature, poetry, and mythology, which were his chosen and much-loved areas of expertise. Beowulf, Norse sagas such as the Volsunga saga and the Hervarar saga, the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the Nibelungenlied, and numerous other culturally related works and he also acknowledges several non-Germanic influences were sources for some of his stories and ideas, including Homer, Sophocles, and the Finnish and Karelian national epic, the Kalevala.

"Father" of modern fantasy literature.

While many other authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and the grand scale of and popularity of The Lord of the Rings when they were published in paperback in the United States led to a redefining of the genre. This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the "father" of modern fantasy literature. Tolkien's writings have inspired many other works of fantasy and have had a lasting effect on the entire field. In 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".

Source:Wikipedia contributors, "J. R. R. Tolkien," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 31, 2010).

Enhanced by Zemanta
Characters: , ,