John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is remembered for his lasting contribution to academia especially to English literature. The scholar lived through two world wars and created a setting and a language...
Category: J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, commonly known by his pen name, J.R.R. Tolkien, stands as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century.
Born in 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and later raised in England, Tolkien’s life was marked by an intense passion for languages, ancient mythologies, and storytelling.
Below, World History Edu delves into Tolkien’s extraordinary life and monumental achievements that forever altered the course of literature.
Childhood and Education
As a child, Tolkien demonstrated an innate affinity for languages, which would go on to become one of the defining aspects of his life. His mother, Mabel, introduced him to Latin, French, and German, laying the groundwork for his later pursuits in philology, the study of languages. Tragically, Mabel passed away when Tolkien was just 12, but not before she had instilled in him a love for stories and fairy tales.
Tolkien’s academic journey began at King Edward’s School in Birmingham and later at Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied Classics before switching to English Language and Literature. His academic prowess led him to a distinguished career, and he eventually became a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. Here, his deep exploration into ancient texts, including “Beowulf,” influenced his subsequent literary creations.
Tolkien’s involvement in World War I
World War I was a transformative period in Tolkien’s life. He enlisted as a lieutenant and witnessed the horrors of the Battle of the Somme. The war’s devastating landscapes and the bonds of fellowship formed in the trenches would later emerge in his writings. The trauma of the war and the loss of close friends undoubtedly shaped Tolkien’s perception of heroism, sacrifice, and the battle between good and evil.
“The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”
Tolkien’s first notable literary achievement came with “The Hobbit” (1937). Initially conceived as a story for his children, the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who embarks on an epic journey, garnered immense acclaim. Its success paved the way for his magnum opus, “The Lord of the Rings.”
Spanning three volumes – “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers,” and “The Return of the King” – this monumental work took over a decade to complete. Published between 1954 and 1955, the trilogy intricately weaves themes of power, corruption, redemption, and the enduring struggle between good and evil. Drawing inspiration from various sources, including Norse and Celtic mythologies, his Catholic faith, and personal experiences, Tolkien crafted a universe teeming with diverse cultures, languages, histories, and races.
Other major achievements by J.R.R. Tolkien
One of Tolkien’s most remarkable achievements within Middle-earth, his fictional realm, was his creation of languages. As a philologist, he didn’t merely create a few words or phrases but developed full-fledged languages, with their own grammar, vocabulary, and evolution. Sindarin and Quenya, the Elvish languages, are the most developed and are studied by enthusiasts worldwide.
However, Tolkien’s ambition extended beyond “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” He desired to offer England a myth of its own, akin to the “Nibelungenlied” for Germans or the “Kalevala” for Finns. “The Silmarillion,” a collection of tales predating the events of his more popular works, was his attempt at this. Though he never saw it published in his lifetime, his son Christopher edited and released it in 1977. These stories, rich in tragedy, beauty, and heroism, trace the universe’s creation and the early days of Middle-earth, drawing heavily from Biblical narratives, Finnish, and Norse myths.
His association with fellow writer C.S. Lewis
Tolkien’s association with C.S. Lewis, another literary giant, deserves mention. They were part of a literary group at Oxford called the Inklings, where members read and critiqued each other’s works. Their friendship, rooted in mutual respect, significantly influenced both authors. They often engaged in theological and literary discussions, with Lewis even crediting Tolkien as a factor in his conversion from atheism to Christianity.
Influence and Legacy
Tolkien’s works, while firmly rooted in the genre of fantasy, grapple with universal themes: the transient nature of life, the corrupting influence of power, the significance of sacrifice, and the redemptive power of love. In doing so, he elevated fantasy from mere escapism to a genre capable of profound philosophical and moral introspection.
The influence of Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga is vast. It pioneered modern fantasy literature, inspiring a myriad of authors, from George R.R. Martin to Ursula K. Le Guin. Beyond literature, his works permeate popular culture, from music and art to films. Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations of both “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” in the early 2000s reintroduced Tolkien to a new generation, solidifying his legacy in the annals of literary history.
Tolkien passed away in 1973, but his impact endures. He was 81, and the cause of death was a bleeding ulcer and chest infection.
Through the Tolkien Society and countless fan organizations worldwide, his stories continue to captivate, transporting readers to a realm where, in the face of overwhelming darkness, there remains a steadfast belief in the enduring power of goodness.
Wife and Children
J.R.R. Tolkien’s family life was deeply significant to him, providing inspiration and grounding throughout his life.
- Edith Mary Tolkien (née Bratt): Born on January 21, 1889, Edith Bratt was Tolkien’s lifelong love. They met when Tolkien was 16 and Edith was 19. Despite initial objections from Tolkien’s guardian due to their age difference and Edith’s Protestant background (Tolkien was a devout Catholic), the two eventually married on March 22, 1916. Edith converted to Catholicism for Tolkien. Their love story is said to have inspired the tale of Beren and Lúthien, one of the central love stories in Tolkien’s legendarium. Edith passed away on November 29, 1971.
Children: Tolkien and Edith had four children:
- John Francis Reuel Tolkien: Born on November 16, 1917, John followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of faith, becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He passed away on January 22, 2003.
- Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien: Born on October 22, 1920, Michael became a lecturer in Old and Middle English as well as Old Icelandic at the University of St. Andrews. He passed away on February 27, 1984.
- Christopher John Reuel Tolkien: Born on November 21, 1924, Christopher played a pivotal role in preserving his father’s legacy. He edited and published many of Tolkien’s posthumous works, including “The Silmarillion.” Christopher passed away on January 16, 2020.
- Priscilla Anne Reuel Tolkien: Born on June 18, 1929, Priscilla was Tolkien’s only daughter. She worked as a social worker and was actively involved in Tolkien-related activities and societies. She died on 28 February 2022, unmarried, at the age of 92. She was the last living child of the English novelist.
In retrospect, J.R.R. Tolkien’s life is a testament to the transformative power of passion. His love for languages and mythology, combined with his experiences and profound faith, culminated in a legacy that transcends time and culture. In Middle-earth, he crafted not just a world, but an enduring reflection on the human condition.