Tolkien Gateway

J.R.R. Tolkien

Revision as of 09:28, 8 February 2006 by Earendilyon (Talk | contribs)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on the 3rd of January 1892 in Bloemfontein, South-Africa. His father, Arthur Tolkien, moved to Africa to make his career as banker. His wife, Mabel Suffield came when she was old enough to marry him in 1891. At this time they had been engaged for three years. To fathom the books written by Tolkien you have to look into his childhood and his interest in languages. His parents never agreed on what they would like their son to be named, so it ended in a compromise between his fathers wish, John after his father, and Reuel, which was his own middle name. Mabel wanted to call him Ronald and so it became John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

The Life in Africa was quite different from what they were used to from their time in England. Arthur liked it, but Mabel could not stand the climate. In 1893 she got pregnant again, with Hillary Arthur Tolkien added to the Tolkien family (February 17, 1894). The Spring and Summer that followed became very dry and dusty. Mabel could not stand it anymore and decided to bring the boys back to England. The plan was to bring Arthur back as well, but that was not possible because of business.

When they arrived back in Southampton, at the end of April 1895, they met Mabel's sister, May Incledon, who traveled with them to Birmingham. The Tolkien family moved in with Mabel's parents. Ten months later they got the message about Arthur's death. He died from a severe brain hemorrhage brought on by rheumatic fever and was buried in the Anglican church in Bloemfontein.

Near by lived John Ronald's grandfather (on his fathers side) and J R R T met him a couple of times before he died six months after Mabel and the boys arrival in Birmingham. J R R T also found an aunt, a younger sister of his father, who told him a lot about the Tolkien family.

In 1896 the Tolkien family moved once more, this time to the countryside, to a village named Sarehole just outside Birmingham. This became an important part of Tolkien's life. Here he discovered differences between the city and the village and he learned a new dialect. Many of the new words he started to use here we can find used in his books. Mabel soon discovered her sons interest for languages and started to teach him Latin and Greek. John Ronald liked Latin, but he did not like French as much. At this time he also started to grow interested in fairytales.

In 1900 Mabel converted to the Catholicism. Her father was shocked, he himself being a Methodist. The rest of the family were Baptists, and some of them were directly against the Catholicism the result of which was that they were excluded from the family.

The Tolkien family moved closer to the city again when John Ronald started school, but the years at the countryside had been good for him. Among other things he had fallen in love with trees.

At this time John Ronald discovered the Welsh language. Outside the window of his new home he could see train wagons passing by and on the side of them he could read names of places in Wales. He could not pronounce them but it meant something special to him.

Right over Christmas the year that John Ronald went to 6th grade, both he and his brother became ill. Mabel was not feeling to well either. This period broke her and she ended up in hospital. The diagnosis was diabetes and in November 1904 she died.

The death of his mother forced John to take a religious stand, both spiritually and emotionally. He became pessimist. Nothing was for sure or eternal anymore.

Father Francis Morgan became the brothers best support. He placed the boys in their Aunt Beatrice's home, but she did not give them anything more than a place to live. In this part of their lives they got all their help from Father Francis.

John Ronald liked the school and gained many friends there. He ended up number one in his class with his best friend, Christopher Wiesman, as number two. These two followed each other upwards class by class. They found that they had a common interest in Greek. John Ronald discovered more and more about languages and after a while he found out about Anglo-Saxon. After he had studied this he started to study Middle-English. All this ended in his own language used in his books.

The boys did not like the life at their aunts and Father Francis moved them to their music teachers house. This was where John Ronald met Edith Bratt, who he later married. They met in secret in teashops and on bike trips to the countryside. At this time John Ronald tried to enter Oxford University, but he could not manage to concentrate when the only thing he could think about was Edith and his own new language. When Father Francis found out about John's affair with Edith, he found a new place for the brothers to stay, and denied John Ronald to see Edith at all. In March 1910 Edith moved to Cheltenham. That was to be their last meeting for three years.

After this the centre of John's life became school again. His friends were young men of his own age with a great interest for the written word. A few others with Tolkien, Weisman and R. Q. Gilson met in the tea room in a place named Barrows Stores, and therefore they called themselves the "Tea Club, Barrovian Society". "T.C.B.S." for short.

In 1911 Tolkien went to Exeter College in Oxford. Tolkien liked King Edwards' School and felt like "a bird when it got kicked out of it's nest". It was necessary, but he didn't like it. He continued to collect impressions. At a holiday to Switzerland he came upon a postcard, a copy of the painting "The Berggeist", an old man sitting on a rock under a three. This was the start of Gandalf. At Exeter College in Oxford he discovered the Finnish language at the same time as he worked with Germanic, Gothic and Welsh. At the same time he was active in debating groups and he was playing rugby. Tolkien based the language "Quenya" or high-elvish on what he found in the Finnish language.

In 1913 he met Edith Bratt again after tree years of separation. Exactly one year later she converted to the Catholicism, and in March 1916 they got married. This was just a few months before he was called up to go to war.

Halfway through his studies at Exeter College in Oxford he decided to study Old- and Middle-English. Tolkien already knew a whole lot about it and was familiar with a lot of it from earlier studies and this gave him time to do what he liked best, what he called "the mad hobby"; the making of languages. Early in 1915 he started on the Finnish-like language Quenya. After a time it grew clearer, this was the way the fairies and the Elves had to speak.

"Ai lintulinda Lasselanta
Pilingve suyer nalla ganta
Kuluvi ya karnevaliar
V'ematte singi Eldamar"

After this he had an English exam and got the highest possible mark. Then W.W.I. started. He had lost some of his best friends and he and Weisman were the only remaining of "T.C.B.S." Weisman gave him the start for what had been the vision for the "T.C.B.S's"; a mythology for England. At this time he called the project "The Book of Lost Tales". Later he decided to call it "The Silmarillion". When the war ended he and his family could move into a new apartment with their new-born son John. After his final exam, Tolkien worked for two years as an assistant on the finishing of "The Oxford English Dictionary". After this Tolkien started to teach at the university in Oxford and the family began to live a more normal life. Now they also had their second son Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien. This was in 1920.

In 1924 Tolkien became Professor in literature at the University in Oxford at the age of 32. Also in 1924 they had their third son Christopher Tolkien and a new apartment, in Leeds this time. In 1925 they moved back to Oxford where Tolkien now had become Professor in Anglo-Saxon. The Tolkien family lived here for some decades.

In 1926 he started the debate group "The Coalbiters". They had an interest for literature from Iceland. This was a group were the professors at the university read Norse Mythology and then translated it into English. When we are talking about this group we cannot exclude "The Inklings". This was a gathering of young Christian men who discussed the works they were writing and got responses from the others. Here was were Tolkien and C. S. Lewis became the core of the gatherings in a pub called "The Eagle and The Child" or "The Bird and The Baby" as it was called. Tolkien used the Inklings a lot in the work with the Hobbit. "The Hobbit" was published by Allen & Unwin in 1937. The publisher demanded a follow up novel and it took Tolkien eighteen years to finish it. It was in three books under the name "The Lord of the Rings". Tolkien worked on this book before, during and after W.W.II. At this time his wife's health was getting bad. In 1939 he gave his famous lecture "On Fairy-Stories" at St Andrew's University in Scotland. About this time he also wrote "Farmer Giles Of Ham", but it did not appear in book form before 1949 because of the war.

Work went slowly on the Lord of the Rings and in 1949 he finished the first sketch of the book. Fifteen years had by gone since The Hobbit had been published. The book went to press in 1954. Tolkien was not completely happy with the last of the three books and he wanted to write an appendix and get his son Christopher to work hard on the maps of Middle-Earth. LOTR was the breakthrough for Tolkien as an author. At this time he stood at the end of his career as a Professor at Oxford University but now he had finally found fame. The family had never had to much money and after this they had no more financial problems. What he did not like about this was all the letters from the fans. He did not like that the book was read as an allegory either because he had not written as one. When Tolkien retired in 1959 he hoped for a quiet life, but he did not get it that way. People started to come along to see his home or to get an interview just to see him. Later Tolkien was offered secretary on a part-time basis from the publisher of LOTR and the Hobbit in order to be able to finish the Silmarillion. He accepted, but he was still a long time finishing the book.

Edith Tolkien's health grew worse and they decided to move to Bournemouth in the south of England. Here Tolkien found the possibility of being alone. In 1971 Edith died and he moved back to Oxford. His son Christopher was asked to finish The Silmarillion because Tolkien's health was getting worse. In 1973 he was put on diet but when he went back to Bournemouth and fell ill and died at a private hospital.

He was buried together with his wife in Wolvercote cemetery in Oxford and their son conducted the burial ceremony.