John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 in South Africa but at the age of 3, when his father died, the family returned to England, settling in Birmingham.
Initially home schooled by his mother he could read by the age of 4 and write fluently shortly after. He loved to read and enjoyed the fantasy and fairy books of Andrew Lang and George MacDonald.
In 1911 Tolkien went on a holiday to Switzerland where he hiked in a party of 12 through the mountains. This adventure was to inspire him as he penned Bilbo Baggins journey across the Misty Mountains.
He graduated from Oxford University in 1915 with a first class honours degree in English Language and Literature but it wasn’t until the end of WWI that he took his first job, working for the Oxford English Dictionary.
But it was whilst working as a professor back at Oxford (a position he took in 1925) that he wrote The Hobbit (a story he had written for his children – published in 1937) and started work on The Lord Of The Rings. During WWII he was offered work for the British Government as a code breaker, but never served as one.
The Lord of The Rings was published in 1954 and took him 10 years to write. He originally intended it to be a children’s story (like The Hobbit) and although a sequel, it soon developed a darker and more adult theme as he wrote.
In 1959 Tolkien retired. The income from his books by this stage so profitable that he regretted not retiring earlier. Tolkien never liked to sign his books and subsequently, the rare signed copies that exist set high prices.
British adventure stories, European Mythology and his Catholic beliefs heavily influenced Tolkien. He said himself that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
After his wife’s death he returned to Oxford, where the University gave him rooms and died there in 1973 at the age of 81, a year after receiving an OBE from The Queen.
My Favourite Tolkien quotes:
“If you’re going to have a complicated story you must work to a map; otherwise you’ll never make a map of it afterwards.”
“I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.”
“Being a cult figure in one’s own lifetime I am afraid is not at all pleasant. However I do not find that it tends to puff one up: in my case at any rate it makes me feel extremely small and inadequate. But even the nose of a very modest idol cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense.”
“It is the job that is never started that takes longest to finish.”
1968 interview with Tolkien.
We often forget that Tolkien wrote anything other than The Hobbit (100 million copies sold) and Lord of the Rings (150 million copies sold), but he has a large body of work including poetry. all of his work has a similar theme and was influenced by his interests. I’m finding with my own writing there is a “theme” developing, stuff that I’m interested in comes up time and time again, but there are certain subjects that interest me that I haven’t used….yet. Do you find that all your work has a similar theme, inspired by something you’re interested in?