Biography of J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R.Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was a twentieth century writer famous for fantasies such as “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”.

When and Where was he Born?

3rd January 1892, Bloemfontain, South Africa.

Family Background:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s parents Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield came from Birmingham but his father became a Bank Manager with the Bank of Africa in South Africa when he decided his career prospects were better there than with Lloyd’s Bank in Birmingham.

Education:

King Edward’s School, Birmingham.
Exeter College, Oxford.

Timeline of J.R.R. Tolkien:

1892: Tolkien was bitten by a tarantula and narrowly missed death as a nurse managed to suck out the poison in time.

1894: Birth of his brother Hilary.

1896: As the climate in South Africa was bad for Tolkien’s health it was decided that Mabel and the boys should move back to England whilst his father stayed on at work for a few months. Sadly his father died of rheumatic fever before he could join them. Tolkien and his mother stayed firstly at his grandparents house at 9 Ashville Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham but then decided to settle at 264 Wake Green Road, Hall Green. (The district was then called Sarehole, said to be the model for Shire the home of Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit”).

Sarehole Mill
Sarehole Mill, Hall Green, Birmingham. 
Ronald and his brother spent much of their childhood in this area 
and were constantly chased away by the miller’s son. It inspired the Great Mill in “the Hobbit”. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1900: His mother converted to Catholicism which was to exert a large influence on her and Tolkien’s life although it meant that she was ostracised by the rest of the family.

1904: Death of his mother from diabetes aged 34. The education of the boys is left in the hands of the local priest, father Francis Xavier Morgan.

1908: The boys move in with an aunt in Birmingham. Tolkien meets and falls in love with Edith Mary Bratt at the age of 16 but is forbidden by Morgan to see her again until he is 21 years old.

1910: Tolkien gets a scholarship to Oxford University at the second attempt and is taught by Joseph Wright, Professor of Philology.

1913: He contacts Edith again and persuades her to drop her fiancé for him.

1915: Tolkien graduates with First Class Honours in English and is commissioned in the Lancashire Fusiliers as it is now the second year of the First World War.

1916: He marries Edith Mary Bratt. He is sent to the front on the Somme in France but is invalided out with Trench Fever.

1917: Tolkien begins work, whilst convalescing at Great Haywood, on what was later to become “The Silmarillion”. Birth of his first son John.

1918: He is promoted to First Lieutenant and posted to Staffordshire. At the end of the war he returns with family to Oxford. He becomes an assistant with the Oxford English Dictionary.

1919: He works as a freelance tutor in Oxford.

1920: Tolkien becomes Reader in English Language at Leeds University. Birth of his second son Michael.

1924: He becomes Professor of English Language at Leeds University. Birth of third son Christopher.

1925: He is elected Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.

1926: He begins a friendship with C.S. Lewis.

1929: Birth of his first daughter Priscilla. He works as a school certificate examiner and external examiner for other universities in order to earn enough money to support his family.

1936: He delivers his lecture on “Beowolf: The Monsters and the Critics”. He completes “The Hobbit” at C.S. Lewis’s prompting. It was originally based on stories told to his children. He submits the manuscript to the publisher Stanley Unwin whose ten year old son Rayner thought it fit for publication.

1937: Tolkien is asked to write a sequel to “The Hobbit” and begins what was later to become “The Lord of the Rings”.

Perrott's Folly
Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks in Birmingham said to be the inspiration for the “Two Towers”
(copyright Anthony Blagg)
Edgbaston Water Works
Edgbaston Water Works. The other tower in the “Two Towers” (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1939: He delivers his lecture on “Fairy Stories”. He works throughout the years of the Second World War on “The Lord of the Rings”.

1945: He is elected Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University.

1947: The first draft of “The Lord of the Rings” is sent to the publishers.

1948: The final draft is completed.

Eagle and Child
The Eagle and Child public House in St Giles, Oxford. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1949: Meetings of “The Inklings” continued on Monday or Tuesday lunchtimes in the “Rabbit Room” at the back of the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were amongst the regular attendees where their works were read aloud.

1959: Tolkien retires from academic life.

1965: He becomes a cult figure with the publication of the paperback version of “The Lord of the Rings” in the United States, a status which he disliked intensely.

1968: He moves to Poole in Dorset.

1971: Death of his wife Edith.

1972: He returns to Oxford and is made an honorary Doctor of Letters by Oxford University.

1973: Tolkien is awarded the C.B.E. by the Queen.

When and Where Did he Die?

2nd September 1973, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England.

Age at Death:

81.

Written Works:

1925: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.
1937: “The Hobbit”.
1949: “Farmer Giles of Ham”.
1953: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son”.
1954: “The Fellowship of the Ring”. “The Two Towers” (Parts 1 and 2 of “The Lord of the Rings”).
1955: “The Return of the King” (Part 3 of “The Lord of the Rings”).
1962: “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book”.
1964: “Tree and Leaf”.
1966: “The Tolkien Reader.
1967: “Smith of Wooton Major”.
1967: “The Road Goes On”.

Published After Death:

1977: “The Father Christmas Letters”.
1978: “The Road Goes Ever On.”
1981: “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
1983: “The Silmarillion.”
1989: “Oliphaunt.”
1992: “Bilbo’s Last Song.”

Marriage:

1916 to Edith Mary Bratt.

Site of Grave:

Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxfordshire.

Places of Interest:

BIRMINGHAM:

Sarehole Mill, Hall Green. (Museum run by Birmingham City Council (Inspiration for the Great Mill in “The Hobbit”).
Moseley Bog. (Said to be the old forest in “The Hobbit”).
Perrott’s Folly. A 96 Foot tower built in 1756. Nearby is a water tower and the two are said to have suggested the two towers of Gondor, which forms the second part of “The Lord of the Rings”.

OXFORDSHIRE:

The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Further Information:

Tolkien Society, c/o Sally Kennet, 210 Prestbury, Cheltenham, GL52 36R.