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

J. R. R. Tolkien was born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien on January 3,1892 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State (now part of South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield. He had a brother Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1894-1976). In 1896, his father died when J. R. R. Tolkien was just 4 years old. In 1900, he and his family became Catholics much to the dismay of his mother’s family was staunchly Baptist. The family was furious and stopped all financial assistance to the Tolkiens. In 1904, when J. R. R. was just 12 years old, his mother died of diabetes. Her death had a profound effect on him and he regarded her as a martyr. He and his brother were raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham and St Philip’s School also in Birmingham. In 1908, he began a courtship with Edith Bratt, a 19 year old Protestant woman. This was met with protest by his guardian Father Francis Morgan. In 1913, he became engaged to Edith and she converted to the Catholic faith. Her landlady, a staunch Anglican and also anti-Catholic, told her to leave. Despite the drama, on March 22,1916 at St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church in Warwick. On June 2,1916, he was enlisted to fight in the British Army during World War I (1914-1918). He arrived in Calais on June 5. He saw action during the Battle of Somme in July 1916. He was promoted to lieutenant on January 6,1918 and served until he demobilized on November 3,1920. Right afterwards, he worked at the Oxford English Dictionary. That same year he also took up a post as Reader in English at the University of Leeds and became its youngest professor there. In 1925, he returned to Oxford and served as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. He served there until 1945. During this period of 1925 to 1945, he wrote his best known children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit (1937). He was also known for devout Catholic beliefs and was instrumental in helping C. S. Lewis returning to Christianity from atheism in 1931 and joined the Church of England, much to the dismay of Tolkien who hoped that Lewis would join the Catholic Church. He was also a political conservative, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he voiced support for the Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco upon hearing that Communist Republicans were murdering priests, nun, and laypeople, and destroying churches. He was an opponent of Communist leader Joseph Stalin and referred to him as “that bloodthirsty old murderer”. He was also an opponent of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. He was also opposed opposed to Nazi racist and anti-Semitic ideology. He also opposed total war conducted  by the Allies against civilians of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. He was horrified by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. That same year, he moved to Merton College in Oxford and became the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature. During this time he wrote another known book which was successful, The Lord of the Rings. In 1959, he retired from Merton College after being there since 1945. He was greatly disappointed by the Reforms of Vatican II (1962-1965) and was not happy when the liturgy was changed from Latin to English and was always answered in Latin when he attended Church for the rest of his life. He was also against the 1960s counter-culture that was nationwide. On November 29,1971, his wife, Edith, whom he was married to for 58 years, died at the age of 82. He missed her dearly. In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Tolkien as Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1972 New Year Honours and received the insignia of the Order of Buckingham Palace on March 28,1972. That same year, he was conferred an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Oxford University. He died on September 2,1973 in Bournemouth at the age of 81 from a bleeding ulcer and chest infection. He and his wife were survived by their four children: Father John Francis Reuel Tolkien (1917-2003), Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien (1920-1984), Christopher Tolkien (1924-present), and Priscilla Tolkien (1929-present). He and his wife are interred at Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford. Engraved on his gravestone is “Beren” and engraved on his wife’s gravestone is “Lúthien”. The names were character from his last novel, The Silmarillion, which was published in 1977, after his death.


2 thoughts on “J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)

  1. I must say I am a huge fan of the man’s works, a great novelist, poet, and philologist. He was familiar with over a dozen languages both modern and antiquated, and he even developed his own languages for his Middle-earth saga!


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