Death: September 2, 1973.
Comments: J.R.R. Tolkien was a British university professor and author. He was also the father of modern fantasy fiction, with his stories set in Middle-Earth influencing almost every fantasy author to come after him.
Tolkien was born in South Africa, but his family moved to England when he was very young. Both of Tolkien's parents died when he was quite young: His father contracted a fever and died when Tolkien was three, and his mother died of acute diabetes when Tolkien was twelve, but not before she had alienated her family by converting to Catholicism. Tolkien was then looked after by a Catholic priest for the rest of his teen years, attending King Edward's and St. Phillip's Schools. During these years, Tolkien's keen interest in languages flourished, as he studied Latin and Anglo-Saxon and also worked with his cousins to create several invented languages of their own. Tolkien later attended Exeter College at Oxford, earning a degree in English Language and Literature with first class honors.
Tolkien married Edith, a woman three years his senior and also a protestant, against his guardian's wishes - Tolkien's guardian prohibited him from seeing Edith until he turned twenty-one. Edith converted to Catholicism before she married Tolkien, which, given the views many people had of Catholics in early-twentieth century Britain, represented a substantial sacrifice on her part. Tolkien's love for Edith inspired the story of Beren and Lúthien found in the Silmarillion.
Tolkien delayed entering the British army to complete his studies, but with World War One still raging, he enlisted in 1915 and was made a second lieutenant. Tolkien saw action in and around the Somme area of France during the summer of 1916 before he became ill and returned to England due to sickness in November of that same year. Most of Tolkien's friends were killed in World War One, and his experiences during the war were clearly a strong influence upon his later writing, most notably the descriptions of the Dead Marshes in The Two Towers.
After he left military service, Tolkien obtained a position as a reader at the University of Leeds, and in 1925 he returned to Oxford with a position at Pembroke College, where he remained until 1945. He then took a position at Merton College, where he remained until his retirement in 1959. It was during his time at Pembroke and Merton that he wrote both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien also participated in the famed Inklings gatherings and formed friendships with C.S. Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green, Hugo Dyson, and Charles Williams, among other notable academics. Lewis and Tolkien's friendship is somewhat famous, and the closeness of the two men is evidenced by the story told by Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carter of Tolkien's role in converting Lewis to Christianity, although when Lewis converted to Anglicanism rather than Catholicism, Tolkien was apparently a little bit disappointed.
Tolkien's wife predeceased him, and was buried under a headstone that identified her as Lúthien. Twenty-one months later, Tolkien died and was buried alongside her, with the headstone identifying him as Beren. Following Tolkien's death, his son Christopher Tolkien organized many of his papers and writing into publishable form, resulting in books like The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales seeing print.
Tolkien left behind a substantial literary legacy, and several organizations have been formed to both honor and study that legacy including The Tolkien Society, The Mythopoeic Society, and The Tolkien Gateway.
My reviews of J.R.R. Tolkien's books:
Letters from Father Christmas
Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham
Other books by J.R.R. Tolkien that I have read but not reviewed:
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Return of the King
The Tolkien Reader
The Two Towers
An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day
Tolkien: The Authorized Biography by Humphrey Carter
A Tolkien Bestiary by David DayThe Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler
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