Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
J. R. R. Tolkien
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (January 3, 1892 - September 2, 1973) worked as Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and as Professor of English Language and Literature, also at Oxford, from 1945 to 1959. He also wrote fiction and poetry throughout his adult life, and this latter pursuit has enhanced his fame.

Outside academia, many people have come to know Tolkien as the author of The Lord of the Rings, its precursor The Hobbit, and a number of posthumous books about the history of the imaginary world of Middle-earth where they take place. The enduring popularity and influence of these works have established Tolkien's reputation as the father of the modern high fantasy genre.

Inside academia, he was an eminently distinguished lexicographer and an expert in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. He belonged to the literary discussion group The Inklings, and had a close friendship with C. S. Lewis.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Writings
3 Languages
4 Books about Tolkien and Tolkien's worlds
5 Works based on Tolkien's worlds
6 Named after Tolkien
7 External links


Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (today a part of South Africa), to Arthur Tolkien, an English bank manager who was in Africa on behalf of his employer, and his wife Mabel Tolkien, born Suffield. His father's family had its roots in Saxony (Germany), but had been living in England for a number of generations by this time. Most of his paternal ancestors, as far as can be known, were craftsmen. The surname Tolkien derives from German tollkühn, which can be translated as foolhardy or temerarious.

Tolkien moved with his mother, who did not cope well with the African climate, to England when he was 3 - his father died in South Africa before he could join them. He spent most of his childhood in Sarehole, Birmingham, England; he attended King Edward's School, St. Phillip's Grammar School, and Exeter College, Oxford. His mother converted to Roman Catholicism, despite the vehement protests of her family. She died of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was 12, but he felt for the rest of his life that she had become a martyr for her faith; this had a profound effect on his own Catholic beliefs. Tolkien's devout faith proved a significant factor in the conversion of C. S. Lewis to Christianity, and his writings contain Christian symbolism and values.

During his subsequent orphandom he was brought up by Father Francis Morgan from the Birmingham Oratory. He met and fell in love with Edith Bratt (later to serve as his model for Lúthien;). Despite many obstacles, he succeeded in marrying her, the first and truest love of his life.

Tolkien joined the British Army during World War I. He served in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He saw a number of his fellow servicemen, as well as several of his closest friends, lose their lives, and he himself ended up in a military hospital suffering from trench fever.

During his recovery he began to write an invented series of fairy tales, based upon his studies of mythology and folklore, which he called 'The Book of Lost Tales'. Scholars of his work say that the war influenced his writings; that he saw fantasy as a way to escape from the harsh reality of factories, machines, guns and bombs of the 20th century.

After World War I, Tolkien worked for a time on the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1920 he took up a post as Reader in English language at the University of Leeds, but in 1925 he returned to Oxford as a Professor of Anglo-Saxon. In 1945 he moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959.

Engraved on the stone at the Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford, where he and his wife are buried, is Beren and Lúthien;, paying homage to one of the greatest love stories in all of Middle-earth.


Tolkien enjoyed inventing fantasy stories to entertain his children. He wrote annual Christmas letters from Father Christmas for them, building up a series of short stories (later compiled and published as The Father Christmas Letters).

Tolkien never expected his fictional stories to become popular. Through the intercession of a former student, he published a book he had written for his own children called The Hobbit in 1937. Though intended for children, the book gained an adult readership as well, and it became popular enough for the publisher (Allen & Unwin) to ask Tolkien to work on a sequel. This prompted him to create his most famous work, what would become the epic three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings (1954 - 55). The writing of this saga took nearly ten years, during which time he received the constant support of the Inklings, in particular his closest friend, C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books.

While The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular with many students in the 1960s, and has remained highly popular since, many scholars (particularly those working in the field of Norse mythology), aware of Tolkien's sources, consider the work highly derivative. Tolkien at first thought that The Lord of the Rings would tell another children's tale like The Hobbit, but it quickly grew darker and more serious in the writing. Though a direct sequel to The Hobbit, it addressed a much older audience, drawing upon the immense back-story of Middle-earth that Tolkien had constructed and that eventually saw posthumous publication in The Silmarillion and other volumes.

The Lord of the Rings became, judged both by sales and by surveys of readers, one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century. The influence of Tolkien weighs heavily on the fantasy genre that grew up after the success of The Lord of the Rings.

In the late 1990s, director Peter Jackson filmed all three volumes of The Lord of the Rings simultaneously. They were released in installments in 2001 until 2003 to widespread popularity and critical acclaim. As a result, Tolkien's work is today more popular than ever.

Published in his lifetime

Published posthumously

Tolkien continued to work upon the history of Middle-earth until his death. His son
Christopher Tolkien, with assistance from fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, organised some of this material into one volume, published as The Silmarillion in 1977. Christopher Tolkien continued over subsequent years to publish background material on the creation of Middle-earth: and culminating with The History of Middle-earth series: Note that the posthumous works such as The History of Middle-earth and the Unfinished Tales contain unfinished, abandoned, alternative, and outright contradictory versions of the stories simply because Tolkien kept working on his mythology for decades, constantly rewriting, re-editing and expanding the stories. Only The Silmarillion maintains full consistency with The Lord of the Rings, and this only thanks to heavy editing by Christopher Tolkien — and even he states that many inconsistencies remain in The Silmarillion. Even The Hobbit never became fully synchronised with The Lord of the Rings.

An interesting posthumous piece of Middle-earth material is the poem

Non-Middle-earth children's books, stories told to Tolkien's children when they were young:

Non-Middle-earth academic material, reprints of academic lectures and essays:

A compilation of Tolkien's art, both Middle-earth and non-Middle-earth:

The library of the Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, preserves many of Tolkien's original manuscripts, notes and letters; other original material survives at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Marquette has the manuscripts and proofs of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, manuscripts of many "lesser" books like the Farmer Giles of Ham, and Tolkien fan material, while the Bodleian holds the Silmarillion papers and Tolkien's academic work.


Philology, the study of languages, remained Tolkien's first academic love, and his interest in linguistics inspired him to invent fifteen artificial languages (most famously the two Elvish languages in The Lord of the Rings: Quenya and Sindarin). He later elaborated an entire cosmogony and history of Middle-earth as background.

In addition to his deep knowledge of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and Old Norse, Tolkien had varying fluency in as many as a dozen of European languages, ranging from Welsh and Gaelic to the Romance languages of French, Spanish, and Italian, as well as other Germanic languages (early forms of German and Dutch such as Old Saxon), and Baltic and Slavic languages (Lithuanian and Russian). In his personal correspondence he noted the sound of the Finnish language as the most pleasing to his ears.

The popularity of his books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature, especially the use of the forms "dwarves" versus the standard "dwarfs", and "elvish" as opposed to "elfin".

See also: Languages of Middle-earth, Quenya, Sindarin, Tengwar

Books about Tolkien and Tolkien's worlds

A small selection of the dozens of books about Tolkien and his worlds:

Works based on Tolkien's worlds

The Lord of the Rings forms the basis and namesake of a
trilogy of films (20012003) directed by Peter Jackson.

Ralph Bakshi directed an earlier movie in 1978 (made with the rotoscope technique), which however covered only the first half of the books. Rankin-Bass covered the second half with a children's TV animation The Return of the King (1980); earlier they had made a TV animation of The Hobbit (1977).

Tolkien originally sold the film, stage, and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1968, but they never made a film, and in 1976 the rights were sold to Tolkien Enterprises, a division of the Saul Zaentz Company. In addition to Jackson's and Bakshi's films, many computer games, and role-playing games such as MERP (Middle-earth Role-playing) have been created. The rights of The Silmarillion and other material remain with The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Ltd. a company owned by Tolkien's heirs. The split of Tolkien's works between Tolkien Enterprises and the Estate means that none of the Tolkien Enterprises products can include source material from outside the Hobbit and LOTR, and therefore a film or stage version of The Silmarillion is highly unlikely.

Artists who have found inspiration in Tolkien's works include:

Donald Swann set music to The Road Goes Ever On, a collection of Tolkien's lyrics and poems. Other composers working with Tolkien lore include Howard Shore, the composer of the movies directed by Peter Jackson; David Arkenstone; the Tolkien Ensemble; and Blind Guardian.

Named after Tolkien

External links

Informational, academic, or thematic sites:

Fan or community sites:


J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium Finished works
The Hobbit | The Lord of the Rings | The Adventures of Tom Bombadil | The Road Goes Ever On | Bilbo's Last Song Posthumous works (edited by Christopher Tolkien)
The Silmarillion | Unfinished Tales | The History of Middle-earth
The Book of Lost Tales | The Lays of Beleriand; | The Shaping of Middle-earth; | The Lost Road and Other Writings; | The History of The Lord of the Rings; | Morgoth's Ring; | The War of the Jewels; | The  Peoples of Middle-earth; List of Middle-earth articles by category | articles by name | writings | characters | peoples | rivers | realms | ages