Saturday, April 25, 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien - Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

    Tolkien was an English writer, poet, and professor in Oxford, and is considered the father of fantasy.

    He's most famous for his books set in Middle Earth - The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Lost Tales, which have been copied endlessly in other stories and games.

    He was good friends with C.S. Lewis, and the two formed a group of writers called The Inklings.

    One of Tolkien's many students was the poet W.H. Auden. When Tolkien recited the first lines of Beowulf for his students, Auden remembered it as, "the voice of Gandalf."

    In WWII, Tolkien was recruited to break German codes, and was eager to help, but was then rejected. No one knows why. Possibly his German name?

    In 1972 Queen Elizabeth II appointed Tolkien the commander of The Order of the British Empire, a chivalric order--people were appointed to these orders as a way of showing respect and appreciation, it's an honour.

    Also in 1972, Oxford University gave him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.

    In 1999 polled readers who chose The Lord of the Rings as the best book of the millenium.

    In 2003, the BBC conducted a survey, finding The Lord of the Rings to be the UK's best loved novels. Australians voted the same in 2004.

    In 2008, The Times ranked him 6th on the list of 50 greatest writers since 1945.

Personal Life:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, called Ronald, was born in South Africa to English parents. His father worked for the British Bank there. He had a brother named Hilary Arthur Reuel. As a child he was once bitten by a large baboon spider, which may have influenced some of his writing. When he was three, his mother took him and Hilary to visit England, and while he was there, his father died of a fever.

Without money, his mother, Mabel, moved in with her parents' in Birmingham. Young Tolkien explored the lands and villages around Birmingham, which would inspire his writing, including his aunt's farm, Bag End. Mabel taught her two children to read, as well as botany, foreign languages, and drawing. In 1900 Mabel converted to Catholicism, angering her family who refused to give any more assistance. Four years later, she died of diabetes, age 34 (this was twenty years before insulin was developed). Young Tolkien was only twelve.

Mabel gave guardianship of her children to Father Francis Xavier Morgan, a good priest who Tolkien later said taught him forgiveness and charity. While a teen, his cousins sparked his interest in constructed language - the art of inventing new languages. In 1911 He took a hiking trip in Switzerland, inspiring his Misty Mountains in The Hobbit.

Tolkien went to school at King Edward's in Birmingham, and joined the Officer's Training Corps, becoming a cadet, and even standing at attention outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. He then studied English lit at Exeter College, Oxford, graduating with honours.

During this time, young Ronald fell in love with a girl named Edith, the love of his life, who was three years older. The girl was a protestant, and Ronald began neglecting his studies, so Fr. Francis was irrate, forbidding the boy to ever see her again, or he'd pull Tolkien out of school. Tolkien agreed to stop seeing her, but the second he finished school, he rushed back to her, convinced her to break off an engagement to another man (and friend of Tolkien) and marry him. He even convinced her to convert to Catholocism. They married in 1916, with no job and little money, and Tolkien went off to WWI three months later (at the insistance of his family). He later wrote, "Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death."

Tolkien fought in France as an officer, in the Battle of the Somme, a job he hated. "The most improper job of any man... is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." He sent letters to her regularly, and they developed a secret code of dots so she could know where he was. Tolkien was eventually sent home sick, from "trench fever" a disease carried by lice. The rest of his unit were soon wiped out.

In 1917, while recovering, Tolkien began writing the first of his stories in Middle Earth, The Book of Lost Tales. It took a long time to recover, but in a year or so Tolkien got his first job, working for The Oxford English Dictionary. He then became a professor and translated some of medieval poems into modern English, as well as Beowulf.

Meanwhile, Tolkien was a devoted father. He and Edith had four children, and Tolkien wrote Christmas stories for them, in which Santa Claus had to battle goblins, riding on giant bats.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in 1936, and was asked for a sequel. The Lord of the Rings series from 1938-48, all through WWII. As the books grew in success, Tolkien was able to retire, and he and his wife moved to Bournemouth, a seaside resort. They lived to their early eighties. When Edith died, Ronald returned to Oxford where he stayed in a little flat, near his family, until his death.

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