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Who was J.R.R. Tolkien anyway?

From: The Tolkien FAQ by William D.B. Loos

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Englishman, scholar, and storyteller was born of English parents at Bloemfontein, South Africa on Jan. 3, 1892 and died in England on Sept. 2, 1973. His entire childhood was spent in England, to which the family returned permenantly in 1896 upon the death of his father. He received his education at King Edward's School, St. Philip's Grammar School, and Oxford University. After graduating in 1915 he joined the British army and saw action in the Battle of the Somme. He was eventually discharged after spending most of 1917 in the hospital suffering from "trench fever". [It was during this time that he began The Book of Lost Tales.]

Tolkien was a scholar by profession. His academic positions were: staff member of the New English Dictionary (1918-20); Reader, later Professor of English Language at Leeds, 1920-25; Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford (1925-45); and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature (1945-59). His principal professional focus was the study of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and its relation to linguistically similar languages (Old Norse, Old German, and Gothic), with special emphasis on the dialects of Mercia, that part of England in which he grew up and lived, but he was also interested in Middle English, especially the dialect used in the "Ancrene Wisse" (a twelfth century manuscript probably composed in western England). Moreover, Tolkien was an expert in the surviving literature written in these languages. Indeed, his unusual ability to simultaneously read the texts as linguistic sources and as literature gave him perspective into both aspects; this was once described as "his unique insight at once into the language of poetry and the poetry of language" (from the Obituary; Scholar, p. 13).

From an early age he had been fascinated by language, particularlythe languages of Northern Europe, both ancient and modern. From this affinity for language came not only his profession but also his private hobby, the invention of languages. He was more generally drawn to the entire "Northern tradition", which inspired him to wide reading of its myths and epics and of those modern authors who were equally drawn to it, such as William Morris and George MacDonald. His broad knowledge inevitably led to the development of various opinions about Myth, its relation to language, and the importance of Stories, interests which were shared by his friend C.S. Lewis. All these various perspectives: language, the heroic tradition, and Myth and Story (and a very real and deeply-held belief in and devotion to Catholic Christianity) came together with stunning effect in his stories: first the legends of the Elder Days which served as background to his invented languages, and later his most famous works, "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings".

  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
  • The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Road to Middle-earth (esp. ch 1, on philology)
  • The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam


Here you can find pages concerning J.R.R. Tolkien's life, work, what other people said about him and his books...
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