🧙 The Tolkien Forum 🧝

Welcome to our forum! Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox! Plus you won't see ads ;)

The life of J.R.R. Tolkien

ArwenStar

Active Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2019
Messages
235
Reaction score
73
Location
Melbourne, Victoria
The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the best loved authors for kids and adults alike. He was born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, on the 3rd of January 1892 in South Africa. His parents were Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Tolkien née Suffield.

In 1895, when he was three, John traveled with his mother and younger brother Hilary Authur Reuel Tolkien to England for a family visit. Before he could join them however, Tolkien’s father died in South Africa of rheumatic fever. The family had no income, so they went to live with Mabel’s parents in King’s Heath, Birmingham.

When Ronald, as he was known, turned four, his mother taught him Latin and reading, as well as writing, which he seemed to have a liking and affinity for. He also enjoyed reading, and liked stories about native Americans, and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. Another big influence in his reading and writing was the fairy books of Andrew Lang, though he disliked Treasure Island and the Pied Piper.

When Ronald was 12 years old, his mother died of acute diabetes, living to the maximum age she could live without treatment. Just before her death, she entrusted guardianship of her two sons to close friend Father Francis Xavier Morgan. After his mother’s death, Tolkien moved to Edgbaston, Birmingham.

When he was old enough, Ronald attended King Edward’s School, and later on St. Philip's school. In 1903, he won a Foundation Scholarship to return to King Edward’s. While he was a student there, Tolkien was a cadet with the Student’s Officers Training Corps.

In his teens, Tolkien created several languages, both by himself and with others. He worked with two of his cousins, and they created Animalic, a simple language. They quickly lost interest, but sometime later, two of them (Tolkien included) created Nevbosh, a more complex language. Later on, Ronald created Esperanto, and wrote the 16 page Book of Foxrook, written in Esperanto.

In October 1911, Tolkien studied at Exeter university, Oxford, taking a degree in English language and literature.

When Tolkien was 16, he met Edith Mary Bratt, who would inspire his fictional character Luthien Tinuviel. He and his brother soon moved into the boarding house where she stayed. A friend once said ‘Edith and Ronald took to frequenting Birmingham teashops, especially one which had a balcony overlooking the pavement. There they would sit and throw sugarlumps into the hats of passers-by, moving to the next table when the sugar bowl was empty. ... With two people of their personalities and in their position, romance was bound to flourish. Both were orphans in need of affection, and they found that they could give it to each other. During the summer of 1909, they decided that they were in love’. Father Morgan disapproved of their relationship, and deemed it ‘altogether unfortunate’ that they had met. He forbid Tolkien to see or contact Edith till he was 21, and he only disobeyed on one occasion. In a letter to his son he wrote ‘I had to choose between disobeying and grieving (or deceiving) a guardian who had been a father to me, more than most fathers ... and "dropping" the love-affair until I was 21. I don't regret my decision, though it was very hard on my lover. But it was not my fault. She was completely free and under no vow to me, and I should have had no just complaint (except according to the unreal romantic code) if she had got married to someone else. For very nearly three years I did not see or write to my lover. It was extremely hard, especially at first. The effects were not wholly good: I fell back into folly and slackness and misspent a good deal of my first year at college.’. On the evening of his 21st birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith and proposed. She wrote back that she was already engaged, because she felt he did not love her anymore. He met her at the train station on the same day, and had a walk with her. At the end of it, Edith said yes. They were officially engaged in January 1913, and married at the St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church on the 22nd of March 1916.

In August, 1914, Tolkien’s family were shocked that he did not enscript to the first world war willingly. He delayed his enlistment until he had completed his degree. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on the 15th of July 1915. He trained with the 13th Reserve Battalion for 11 months. In one letter to Edith, he complained that ‘Gentlemen are rare among the superiors, and even human beings rare indeed’. On the 2nd of June 1916 he was summoned for a posting in France. Later on, in a letter to his son, he wrote ‘Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death’. On the 5th of June he boarded an overnight voyage to Calais. On the 7th he was told that he had been assigned as a signals officer to the 11th Service Battalion. Tolkien was sent to the British Expeditionary Force’s base at Étaples. While waiting at the base, he was extremely bored and decided to write a poem: The Lonely Isles. It was about the feeling he had going to Calais. The first verse went:
O glimmering island set sea-girdled and alone -
A gleam of white rock through a sunny haze ;
O all ye hoary caverns ringing with the moan
Of long green waters in the southern bays ;
Ye murmurous never-ceasing voices of the tide ;
Ye plumèd foams wherein the shore and spirits ride ;
Ye white birds flying from the whispering coast
And wailing conclaves of the silver shore,
Sea-voiced, sea-wingèd, lamentable host
Who cry about unharboured beaches evermore,
Who sadly whistling skim these waters grey
And wheel about my lonely outward way -


While at war, Tolkien created a dot code to evade the British Army’s postal censorship, so that he could tell Edith where he was and what was happening. On the 27th of June, he left Étaples to join his battalion at Rubempré, and arrived at Somme in early July, 1916. While there, Tolkien played a part in the assaults on the Schwaben Redoubt and the Leipzig Salient. On the 27th of October 1916, his battalion attacked the Regina Trench. During the attack, Tolkien came down with trench fever, a disease carried by lice. He was invalided to England in November. While recovering in a cottage in Staffordshire, he began to work on the Book of Lost Tales, an attempt to create a mythology for England, something he would never finish. At this time Edith had their first child, John Francis Reuel Tolkien.

While he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, Tolkien and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him amongst some flowering hemlock. After her death, he recalled ‘I never called Edith Luthien—but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing—and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos’.
 

ArwenStar

Active Member
Joined
Sep 13, 2019
Messages
235
Reaction score
73
Location
Melbourne, Victoria
After the war, Tolkien’s first job was at the Oxford English Dictionary. He wrote about the etymology of words beginning with W with Germanic origin. In 1920 he became a reader at the University of Leeds, becoming the youngest professor at the time. While at Leeds, he wrote a Middle English Vocabulary and a finalised edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon. He also translated Sir Gawain, Pearl and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon. At this time, Tolkien also had a fellowship at Pembroke College. While at Pembroke, he also wrote some of his most famous high fantasy works; The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers.

During their marriage, the Tolkiens had four children; John Francis Reuel Tolkien (17 November 1917 – 22 January 2003), Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien (22 October 1920 – 27 February 1984), Christopher John Reuel Tolkien (born 21 November 1924) and Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien (born 18 June 1929).

In Tolkien’s retirement, his popularity soared. In 1961, his friend C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, nominated him for the Nobel Prize in literature. The sale of his books were so profitable that he almost regretted having an early retirement. Over time, he became increasingly frustrated at his popularity, and even took the measure of taking his phone number out of the directory. In the end, he and Edith moved to Bournemouth, a middle class seaside town.

Sadly for John, Edith Tolkien died on the 29th of November 1971, at the age of 82. According to Simon Tolkien: ‘My grandmother died two years before my grandfather and he came back to live in Oxford. Merton College gave him rooms just off the High Street. I went there frequently and he'd take me to lunch in the Eastgate Hotel. Those lunches were rather wonderful for a 12-year-old boy spending time with his grandfather, but sometimes he seemed sad. There was one visit when he told me how much he missed my grandmother. It must have been very strange for him being alone after they had been married for more than 50 years’.

Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on Edith's tombstone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 on 2 September 1973, 21 months later, from a bleeding ulcer and chest infection, at the age of 81, he was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name. The engravings read:

Edith Mary Tolkien
Lúthien
1889–1971
John Ronald
Reuel Tolkien
Beren
1892–1973
Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford

Tolkien is remembered as one of the greatest authors of all time. His popularity continues to grow, though the books themselves are old. He wrote over 46 amazing books, the ten most memorable being The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien, The Book of Lost Tales, The Children of Húrin, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth, and The History of Middle Earth.

Bibliography
Wikipedia
Britannica.com
Tolkiensociety.org
Thetolkienforum.com
Tolkienlibrary.com
Goodreads
 

Olorgando

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
723
Reaction score
358
Location
Germany
First, that’s quite an amazing compilation of yours. When I think back to when I was in 6th or 7th grade – er – there are probably good reasons why I’ve forgotten everything I wrote back then!
I’m sorry if my first post is almost all nags. It’s just the easiest to spot mistakes, at least for me.

JRRT did not create Esperanto. The first book detailing the artificial language was published in 1887, five years before he was born.
Exeter is a College at Oxford University.
I think JRRT only met Edith after he and his brother had moved into the boarding house in which she also lived, not before.
Where you write “enscript” I’ll guess you mean "enlist", meaning volunteer. The UK didn’t start drafting men into the army right at the beginning of WW I, relying on volunteers for a while. Later when men got drafted, they were “conscripts”. I’m not sure that his family were shocked about his not enlisting. But there was a general feeling in the UK in this direction.
At Leeds, while he started out as a reader, a professorship (or “chair”) was created for him, which then my have made him youngest professor.
JRRT did not have early retirement. He retired in 1959 at age 67, not an unusual age for professors to retire even nowadays. But I think he might also have been able to retire at 65, probably with some diminishment of his pension, and with his books selling so well, he regretted having stayed for the extra 2 years (one of the early cheques he got on that profit-sharing agreement he had with George Allen & Unwin exceeded his yearly salary at the university, I believe).
As for the books he actually published in his lifetime, of those you mentioned that was limited to The Lord of The Rings (with three subtitled volumes) and The Hobbit. Everything else you mentioned was edited and published by his son Christopher, between The Silmarillion 1977 and Beren and Lúthien 2017 – and in fact The Fall of Gondolin was the last one, in 2018.
 

Olorgando

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
723
Reaction score
358
Location
Germany
"In October 1911, Tolkien studied at Exeter university, Oxford, taking a degree in English language and literature."
Perhaps a bit too much shorthand? He started studying in 1911, and took his degree in 1915 ...
 

Alcuin

Registered User
Joined
Mar 9, 2005
Messages
915
Reaction score
512
Location
Consigned to the salt mines of Núrnen…
You might want to check out Humphrey Carter’s book, Tolkien: A biography, published by Houghton Mifflin. My copy is from 1977, so it was written soon after his death. All Tolkien’s children were still alive and contributed to the work, and they loaned Carter considerable written material. (The origins of Tom Bombadil as one of his son Michael’s toys is recounted there; John, the oldest child, didn’t like it, and once tried to flush it down the toilet.) It’ll take longer to read than website pages, but is well worth it.
 

Thread suggestions

Top