Introducing J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) wasa major scholar of the English language,specialising in Old and Middle English. TwiceProfessor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the University of Oxford, he also wrote anumber of stories, including most famously The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings(1954-1955), which are set in a pre-historic era in an invented version of the world whichhe called by the Middle English name of Middle-earth.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, as he waschristened, was born in Bloemfontein, SouthAfrica in 1892. His early and barelymemorable years were spent dividedbetween the city and a country farm. Hisfather, an English banker, was makingefforts to establish a branch in that country.Many of Tolkien's early memories of SouthAfrica and are reported to have influencedhis later works.He left South Africa to return to England withhis mother and his brother, Hilary. His father,Arthur, was supposed also to return toEngland within the next few months.However, Arthur Tolkien died of rheumaticfever while still in South Africa. This left thegrieving family in relatively dire straights andon a very limited income. They soon movedto Birmingham, England, so that youngTolkien could attend King Edward VI school.His mother, Mabel, converted to Catholicismand the religion would have a long lastingeffect on young Tolkien. The family wasbefriended by the Parish Priest, Father Francis Morgan, who would see the Tolkiensthrough some troubled times.An avid reader, Tolkien was influenced bysome of the great writers of his day includingG.K. Chesterton and H.G. Wells. It wasduring this period of financial hardship, butintellectual stimulation that Tolkien sufferedthe loss of his devoted mother. Shesuccumbed to diabetes in 1904 whenTolkien was only 12 years of age. Father Morgan took over as his guardian, placinghim first with an aunt and then at a boardinghouse for orphans. It was at this boardinghouse, at the age of 16 that he would meetand fall in love with Edith Bratt. Naturally,their relationship was frowned upon. Tolkienand Edith were caught in affectionatecircumstances - they bicycled together out tothe countryside surrounding the city and hada picnic.Throughout his life, Tolkien had cultivated alove of language, especially ancientlanguages. At Oxford he would major inphilology, which is the study of words andlanguage. He would be much influenced byIcelandic, Norse and Gothic mythology. Evensome of the characters and place names hewould later develop would be drawn from thenames from ancient sagas. The forest of Mirkwood, which played a prominent roll inboth The Hobbit and in "The Lord of theRings" was borrowed from Icelandicmythology. The names of many of thedwarves in The Hobbit were actualplacenames in the myths.While still attending college, he looked up hislost love, Edith Bratt, and proposedmarriage. She had accepted a proposal fromanother, but in the end was persuaded toreturn to Tolkien. They would marry in 1916.World War I, the war to end all wars, came in1914. It would forever mark the end of manyof the Empires of Europe and would unleashdeath across the European Continent.Tolkien lost many of his friends in the war,and he himself would serve as an officer onthe front lines at the Battle of the Somme. Hecaught trench fever in 1917 and was sent