The mastermind behind the modern classics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a British writer, poet and professor. He wrote his two most popular novels, while working as a professor at Oxford University, which renewed interest in the fantasy genre and earned him the nickname ‘father of modern fantasy literature.’
Tolkien was born in South Africa on January 3, 1892, but relocated to Birmingham, England, at the age of 4, after his father passed away. He was accompanied by his mother and younger brother, and the trio lived with his maternal family for several years. During this time, Tolkien would explore his surroundings and many of his childhood play areas became inspiration for his novels, such as ‘Bag End,’ his aunt’s farm. The boys were originally home-schooled and Tolkien was an avid reader when they arrived in England. Among his favourite stories were the ‘Fairy Books’ by Andrew Lang.
When his mother converted to Roman Catholicism, she was disowned by her Baptist family, and was forced to move away. The guardianship of her two sons was taken over by a Catholic priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, after her death in 1904. Father Francis funded the boys’ education and in 1911, Tolkien started studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially pursued the classics, but switched to English Language and Literature, graduating with first class honours, in 1915.
Tolkien had met and fallen in love with Edith Mary Bratt, who was three years his senior, at the age of 16. Their relationship was condemned by his guardian, due to Edith’s religious beliefs, and Tolkien was forced to have no contact with her until the age of 21, at the cost of his university education. Never forgetting his true love, Tolkien wrote to her when he turned 21, asking for her hand in marriage. Edith converted to Catholicism and the couple wed at St. Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church, in Warwick, on March 22, 1916.
World War I
Although he avoided signing up for the military until after finishing his university education, Tolkien fulfilled his mandatory service requirement. He was given a position as a second lieutenant, and assigned to a post in France. He later wrote that ‘it felt like he was being summoned away, from his wife, to his death.’ The couple developed a secret code they used in letters, so that Edith could track his movements on a map. During the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien suffered health problems and could not fight. He later admitted his illness was the reason he survived the war, as his battalion was almost completely wiped. Tolkien’s writing career began during his recovery, which was spent serving at home camps, beginning with A Book of Lost Tales.
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