John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born January 3, 1892, was a writer, poet, and academic who rose to fame as the author of high fantasy literary works like “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” His books defined the fantasy genre and paved the way for thousands of works and novels about epic fantasy. He had the unique ability to bring his characters to life through crafty storytelling. His works have spawned hugely successful film adaptations. We are pleased to celebrate him here on this day.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His parents were Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Tolkien. His father was a bank manager. Tolkien had a younger brother, Hilary Arthur Tolkien, who was born on February 17, 1894. When he was three years old, he traveled to England with his mother and brother on a family visit. Unfortunately, his father died in South Africa before he could join them.
They later settled in Birmingham, England, with his mother’s parents. His mother taught him botany, which piqued Tolkien’s interest in plants and nature. Tolkien enjoyed drawing trees and landscapes; he also took a special interest in languages. His mother taught him Latin. He learned how to read and write at a very early age. Tolkien loved reading books and some books he read later influenced his writings. In 1904, when Tolkien was 12, his mother died and a Catholic priest took over guardianship of him and his brother.
Tolkien attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham and later Exeter College in Oxford, graduating in 1915. On July 15, 1915, during the First World War, Tolkien was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British Army. He left active service on July 16, 1919, before finally leaving the army in 1920. Tolkien taught English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds from 1920 to 1925. He also taught at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1959.
Tolkien privately wrote a series of fantasy stories often containing dark themes set in a fictional world of his creation, which he called “The Legendarium” later known as “The Silmarillion.” He later developed a series of child-friendly stories for his children, which included “The Hobbit.” In 1936, a friend who worked at a London publishing firm read the book and convinced him to submit it for publication. It was published a year later. Subsequently, the book became so popular that the publishers requested a sequel.
It was the need for this sequel that prompted Tolkien to write “The Lord of the Rings,” which was published in 1954. It became popular in the 1960s, and it remains so to this day. “The Lord of the Rings” ranks as one of the best works of fiction in the 20th century. Its success paved the way for the fantasy-fiction genre to thrive. The book has sold over 50 million copies in about 30 languages in the 21st century. Both books have movie adaptations that have achieved critical and commercial success.
Tolkien met his wife, Edith Mary Bratt, when he was 16 at the boarding house where he and his brother lived. She was also an orphan. They fell in love with each other but Tolkien faced opposition from his guardian, who disapproved of their relationship because Edith was older and was a protestant. He prohibited Tolkien from seeing or speaking to her until he was 21.
On his 21st birthday, Tolkien wrote a letter to Bratt asking her to marry him. She accepted Tolkien’s proposal and returned the engagement ring she got from her previous suitor. Bratt and Tolkien became formally engaged in 1913 and married in 1916. They had four children, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla Tolkien.
He attends King Edward’s School on a scholarship.
Tolkien receives a scholarship and starts studying at Exeter College, Oxford.
During World War I, he is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the British Army.
Tolkien begins work as a reader in the English language.
He writes “The Hobbit,” among other books, to entertain his children.
A year after its submission, the book is published and becomes an instant success.
The first installment of “The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring)” is published.
Why We Love J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s works have inspired countless authors in the fantasy genre. The success and popularity of his books made epic fantasy a highly sought-after genre among readers. His books remain relevant and loved to this day.
His in-depth writing
Tolkien was more than just an author, he was a creator. His writing was so detailed that he created a fictional world with its own history, geography, languages, peoples, and genealogies.
He was a romantic
At 16, Tolkien fell in love with Edith Bratt who was three years older than him. He was prohibited from seeing her until he turned 21, but that didn’t deter him. They spent the rest of their lives together and even shared a gravestone upon death.
5 Surprising Facts
King George V’s coronation
While attending King Edward’s School, Tolkien was one of the cadets who lined the parade route of King George’s coronation.
He disliked Shakespeare
Tolkien studied Shakespeare in school; he, however, did not enjoy the lessons, which made him dislike some of Shakespeare’s works.
Tolkien was a polyglot
So great was his fascination with languages that not only did he learn many languages, he also invented languages of his own.
He has a day dedicated to him
March 25 every year is Tolkien Reading Day — a day to celebrate and promote the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Famous first line
He came across the first line of “The Hobbit” while he was grading papers at Oxford University. “In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit” was written on the blank page of an exam paper.
J.R.R. Tolkien FAQs
Why did Tolkien write “The Lord of the Rings?”
Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings” because his readers wanted to learn and read more about hobbits.
Are Tolkien’s books for adults?
Although initially written as a fairytale for his children, “The Hobbit” and later “The Lord of the Rings” began to take on a darker theme that appealed to a more mature audience.
What is the Tolkien world called?
Middle-earth is the fictional world created by Tolkien for his fantasy stories.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday dates