Biography of Lord of the Rings Author J.R.R. Tolkien Part 2

About the famous author J.R.R. Tolkien, biography and history of the Lord of the Rings writer.


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

While serving as a battalion signaling officer in W.W. I, Tolkien found some relief from the horror of trench warfare by scribbling ideas on the backs of envelopes. Convalescing from trench fever, he amused himself by composing a mythology for a Middle-earth--modeled after his beloved West Midlands--where elves, dwarves, goblins, and wizards coexisted with "Big Folk."

After the war Tolkien worked briefly on the Oxford English Dictionary. (Later, when his publisher tried to correct the spelling of elves and dwarves, Tolkien replied, "After all, I wrote the Oxford English Dictionary!") He taught at the University of Leeds for five years before returning to Oxford in 1925 as professor of Anglo-Saxon. One day, while correcting some dull examination papers, he wrote on a blank page: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

By a process of spontaneous generation--"out of the leafmold of the mind"--Tolkien wrote The Hobbit (1937), which enjoyed a mild critical and popular success. He continued to write, drawing on his knowledge, experience, and whimsy to create a whole cosmogony, which included a language, geography, and history for Middle-earth. (The Elven language was modeled after Finnish, the dwarves' names were borrowed from the Norse epics, and the cycles of the moon in The Lord of the Rings were taken from the 1942 calendar.) Fourteen years after it was begun, The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954-1956 as a trilogy. By the mid-1960s it had become a favorite on college campuses all over the world, selling 3 million copies in nine languages and inspiring a network of Tolkien buffs to form clubs, exchange memorabilia of Middle-earth, and write inspired graffiti ("Tolkien is hobbit-forming!").

Wealth and celebrity had little effect on Tolkien, who continued to teach until his mandatory retirement in 1959. He spent his last years wrestling with his literary correspondence. Financially able to indulge himself, he enjoyed an occasional gourmet meal, affected colorful vests, and wrote on a check for his income tax, "Not a penny for Concorde." (Politically, he preferred feudalism to democracy; historically, he detested the French.) And he tried, unsuccessfully, to complete The Silmarillion, his story of the creation of Middle-earth begun during W.W. I, long before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were written. Upon the 81-year-old author's death in 1973, his son, Christopher Tolkien, finished the book, working from a jumble of notes and manuscripts left by his father. The Silmarillion made publishing history in 1977 by breaking records for advance publication sales.

Tolkien is buried next to his wife in Oxford. Their tombstones are engraved with the names of Luthien and Beren, two Middle-earth lovers.

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