J. R. R. Tolkien was a man with many brilliant aspects. Many people have looked up to him and been influenced by his views, works, and teachings. Even though he had many hard times in his life, he fought through them and became one of the most recognized authors: he’s famous around the world and known for his detailed writings and religious influence. Tolkien was also known as an amazing man throughout many hardships, a brilliantly intelligent professor and a world-renowned and award-winning author, and still influences people around the world, even after his death.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa to Arthur and Mabel Tolkien. When he was three years old, he moved back to England with his mother and his brother, Hilary. His father, however, decided to stay in South Africa, and died from disease shortly after their move. The Tolkien boys were raised in the Catholic religion after their mother was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, which explains John’s deep and philosophical approach to the world when he was older.
Though spiritually rich, they lived in poverty until Mabel passed away in 1904 – John was only 12, and Hilary was only 10. Thankfully, Father Francis took them in and made sure they were taken care of until they were placed in foster care, and eventually boarded with their unsympathetic Aunt Beatrice. Later, they were moved in with a lady by the name of Mrs. Faulkner. During this time, John attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham for two years, where he excelled in classical and modern languages, proving his academic excellence that would later help him in his career (“Tolkien Biography”).
Old enough to be on his own, Tolkien went on to attend Exeter College, Oxford when he was 19. It was here that he began to show his love and skill for philology. He studied Classics, Old English, Germanic languages, Welsh and Finnish. He also published his first poem at age 21 called “From the many-willow’d margin of the immemorial Thames”. The following year, World War I broke out, and Tolkien enlisted and was commissioned in the Lancashire Fusiliers, though he did not see active duty for months. During this time period, he wrote the poem “Goblin Feet” about his longtime friend Edith Thames.
He ended up marrying Thames when he found out that he would be shipped out in March of 1916 (“Tolkien Biography’). Tolkien was sent to Western Front and fought in the Somme offensive, where all but one of his friends were killed (Doughan). After four months of war, he was sent back to England after getting sick, and he stayed there for the remainder of the war. This simply stands to show how Tolkien was willing to fight until he couldn’t anymore. I believe that this is a defining trait in Tolkien’s life, where he is willing to put all that he has into something that he loves because of his passion and drive.
Tolkien’s career as a professor started when he got his first job at the Oxford English Dictionary in 1920. Here, he worked on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W, and is most known for his definition of the word walrus (“J. R. R. Tolkien”). During this time, he gave one of the tales from his Lost Tales series a public airing. He read The Fall of Gondolin to the Exeter College Essay Club, who thought highly of this work (Doughan). After this work, he began creating his own languages that he imagined were spoken by elves.
These languages were based primarily off of the Welsh and Finnish languages that he knew so well. Tolkien proved to have an extensive knowledge of languages, and showed a deep passion for it. This was the start of his career as a philologist (“Tolkien Biography”). In the summer of 1920, he applied and was appointed for the post of Associate Professor in English Language at the University of Leeds. He became the youngest professor teaching at the university, where he remained until he took up a different teaching position at Oxford University in 1925.
Tolkien began to mix his teaching job with his love for writing – he created “scholarly publications” which, though rare, were very influential. A great example would be his lecture “Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics”. Other than his essays and lectures, his academic life was rather uneventful. His social life, however, was not nearly so boring (Doughan). Tolkien founded a group of friends from Oxford who had similar views as him. This group was called “The Inklings,” and they would gather on occasion to chat, drink, and share their works-in-progress.
Another member of this group was C. S. Lewis, one of Tolkien’s closest friends. With Tolkien being Catholic and Lewis being an agnostic (at the time), they were constantly debating religion and mythology with each other. Tolkien always insisted that myths and fairy tales held moral and spiritual value (Armstrong, Christian). It was during this time that he continued to develop his stories and myths, and it was during this time that he began to write the famous Lord of the Rings series. The beginning of Tolkien’s career as an author began when, one day, he found a piece of paper in one of his student’s exam books.
The only thing on it was the sentence “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. ” Of course, Tolkien took it upon himself to create an entire story around this “hobbit. ” He felt as though he had to find out what exactly it was and ended up creating a world-famous series complete with maps and languages completely made up from the mind of the man himself. Finally, in 1937, the book was published under a simple title: The Hobbit. This book was a major success, and is recognized globally to this day (Doughan).
Tolkien’s publisher, Stanley Unwin, was surprised by the major success of this book, and wanted to see a sequel that was equally successful. Thus, Tolkien started on The Lord of the Rings, which took more than a decade to complete the 12-book series because of Tolkien’s his strive for perfection and detail-orientation. When this was finally published in 1954-55, the public received it with enthusiasm, everyone had a different view on it. Some people were more interested in the story, others more so in the way that it was written.
On the side, The Lost Tales came to be known as The Silmarillion, and was basically the entire background to the world of Middle Earth, though it was not as popular as the main series which, 50 years later, had sold more than 100 million copies and has even been translated into 25 different languages. The success of his books is a great reflector of Tolkien’s brilliance and popularity among readers (“Tolkien Biography’). Tolkien’s many works, whether they were informationals or fairytales, were not only a huge success but also influential.
For example, authors who were inspired by him include Lester Del Rey, who wrote The Sword of Shannara, and Nick Perumov, who decided to write an unauthorized sequel series about Middle Earth itself (Anders). Dennis L. Mckiernan wrote the Silver Call duology, which was intended to be a direct sequel to The Lord of the Rings, but had to be altered, and the Iron Tower trilogy which was written as a backstory, according to blogger Charlie Jane Anders. But it doesn’t just end with stories. Tolkien influenced all kinds of different people, events, and findings (Anders).
There are many scientific findings which are named after him, such as the newly discovered dinosaur, Sauroniops. Its name literally means “the eye of Sauron” (Dickson). Other examples include constellations and asteroid belts, such as 2675 Tolkien, discovered and named by M. Watt, have also been named after him (Anders). Many people have also created dedication sculptures and statues, such as Danish artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund’s “The Dedication,” which was inspired by C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and Tolkien’s Mythopoiea (Anders).
The Foyer of the Stravanger Concert Hall sports a giant sculpture that was inspired by the Eye of Sauron, “in order to attract people the way that the Ring did to the characters in the book” (Inaba). What is most surprising for most people is the influence that Tolkien had on music – most significantly on rock and heavy metal music. Bands such as Led Zepplin were obsessed with Tolkien and inspired many songs to his works. There is even some debate about their famous song “Stairway to Heaven” being a dedication to him (Charlie Anders).
Even after death, Tolkien’s legacy goes on. Though he passed away on September 2, 1973 (age 81), his son, Christopher, finished what uncompleted novels he had left and published them under his father’s name (“J. R. R. Tolkien”). Christopher was known to his father as not only his son, but also as his “chief critic and collaborator. ” Some of his unfinished Tales include The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle Earth (“Christopher Tolkien”).
Aside from Christopher, Tolkien had three other children: John Francis, Michael Hilary, and Priscilla Mary Anne. Tolkien was dedicated to his children, and was known to write them letters with illustrations as though he were Father Christmas (“J. R. R. Tolkien”). From his own children to people on the around the world, Tolkien left an imprint either through his life story, his academic brilliance, and especially his works, whether they were fictional or educational.