J.R.R. Tolkien

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The name J.R.R. Tolkien refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see J.R.R. Tolkien (disambiguation).
The name Tolkien refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Tolkien (disambiguation).
"Who told you, and who sent you?" — Gandalf
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J.R.R. Tolkien
Biographical Information
Born3 January, 1892
Died2 September, 1973
(aged 81 years)
EducationUniversity of Oxford
LocationUnited Kingdom
WebsiteTolkien: The official site of the Tolkien Estate

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, (3 January, 18922 September, 1973) was a philologist and writer, best known as the author of The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings. He worked as reader and professor in English language at the University of Leeds from 1920 to 1925; as professor of Anglo-Saxon language at the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1945; and of English language and literature from 1945 until his retirement in 1959. Tolkien was a close friend of C.S. Lewis, and a member of the Inklings, a literary discussion group to which both Lewis and Owen Barfield belonged.

Tolkien created a legendarium, a fictional mythology about the remote past of Earth, of which Middle-earth in particular is the main stage. Parts of his legendarium are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth series (published by his son, Christopher Tolkien, posthumously) revealed Tolkien's lifelong work on that same legendarium, a process which he called "sub-creation". Tolkien's other published works includes philological essays, modern adaptations of medieval literature and rendering of stories originally told to his children but not directly related to the legendarium.


Family ancestry

See also: J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Tree

Many of Tolkien's paternal ancestors were craftsmen. According to Tolkien's own understanding, the Tolkien family had its roots in Saxony (present-day Germany), but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly and intensely English (not British)".[1] The surname Tolkien is anglicised from Tollkiehn (i.e. German: tollkühn, "foolhardy", the etymological English translation would be "dull-keen", a literal translation of "oxymoron").[2] The character of Professor Rashbold in The Notion Club Papers is a pun on the name.

Research conducted by Ryszard Derdziński shows that the Tolkien family actually had its roots in Gdańsk (German form Danzig) in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and earlier in Kreuzburg, East Prussia, but had been living in England since 1770.[3] Derdzinski also suggests another etymology of the Tolkien family name, deriving it from Baltic Tolk-īn, "a descendant of Tolk", tolk being a Baltic term for "translator, interpreter".[4] Tolkien himself had always been dismissive of this connection.[5]


Plaque commemorating J.R.R. Tolkien's birthplace in President Steyn Avenue, Bloemfontein.

Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now the Free State province of South Africa) to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (18571896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, née Suffield (18701904). Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was born on February 17, 1894.

While living in Africa he was bitten by a large 'baboon spider', and this echoes in his stories. However, Tolkien said that he did not develop a particular fear of spiders after this event, and, when he was older, recalled picking small spiders up and putting them outside.

When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father, however, died in South Africa of a severe brain haemorrhage before he could join them. This left the family without an income, so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Birmingham, England. Soon after in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent Hills and Lickey Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books along with other Worcestershire towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt's farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.

Ronald and Hilary Tolkien in 1905

Mabel tutored her two sons, and Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany, and she awoke in her son the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees. But his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early. He could read by the age of four, and could write fluently soon afterwards. He attended King Edward's School, Birmingham and, while a student there, helped "line the route" for the coronation parade of King George V, being posted just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. He later attended St. Philip's School and Exeter College, Oxford.

His mother converted to Roman Catholicism in 1900, despite vehement protests by her Baptist family. She died of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was twelve, at Fern Cottage, Rednal, which they were then renting. For the rest of his life, Tolkien felt that she had become a martyr for her faith; this had a profound effect on his own Catholic beliefs. Tolkien's devout faith was significant in the conversion of C.S. Lewis to Anglicanism.

During his subsequent orphanhood he was brought up by Father Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He lived there in the shadow of Perrott's Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. Another strong influence was the romantic medievalist paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a large and world-renowned collection of works and had put it on free public display from around 1908.

J.R.R. Tolkien in 1911


Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt, three years his senior, at the age of sixteen. Father Francis forbade him from meeting, talking, or even corresponding with her until he was twenty-one. He obeyed this prohibition to the letter.

In 1911, while they were at King Edward's School, Birmingham, Tolkien and three friends, Robert Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society which they called "the T.C.B.S.", the initials standing for "Tea Club and Barrovian Society", alluding to their fondness of drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and, illegally, in the school library. After leaving school, the members stayed in touch, and in December 25 1914, they held a "Council" in London, at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.

In the summer of 1911, Tolkien went on holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter,[6] noting that Bilbo's journey across the Misty Mountains ("including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods") is directly based on his adventures as their party of twelve hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembers his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn ("the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams"). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg on to Grindelwald and across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass and through the upper Valais to Brig, and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.

Tolkien in 1916, wearing his British Army uniform in a photograph from the middle years of WWI

On the evening of his twenty-first birthday (1913), Tolkien wrote to Edith a declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. She replied saying that she was already engaged, but had done so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. The two met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love, with Edith returning her ring and choosing to marry Tolkien instead. A condition of their engagement was that she was to convert to Catholicism for him. They were engaged in Birmingham, in January 1913, and married in Warwick, England, on March 22, 1916.

With his childhood love of landscape, he visited Cornwall in 1914 and he was said to be deeply impressed by the singular Cornish coastline and sea. After graduating from the University of Oxford (Exeter College, Oxford) with a first-class degree in English language in 1915, Tolkien joined the British Army effort in World War I and served as a second lieutenant in the eleventh battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. His battalion was moved to France in 1916, where Tolkien served as a communications officer during the Battle of the Somme, until he came down with trench fever on October 27, and was moved back to England on November 8. Many of his fellow servicemen, as well as many of his closest friends, were killed in the war. During his recovery in a cottage in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, England, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps, and was promoted to lieutenant. When he was stationed at Thirtle Bridge, East Yorkshire, one day he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing thick with hemlock plants in bloom. This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien, and Tolkien often referred to Edith as his Lúthien.


Tolkien's first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary (among others, he initiated the entries "wasp" and "walrus"). In 1920 he took up a post as Reader in English language at the University of Leeds, and in 1924 was made a professor there, but in 1925 he returned to Oxford as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College.

Tolkien and Edith had four children: John Francis Reuel (November 16, 1917 - January 22, 2003), Michael Hilary Reuel (October 22, 1920 - February 27, 1984), Christopher John Reuel (November 21, 1924 - 16 January, 2020) and Priscilla Anne Reuel (June 18, 1929 - February 28, 2022). Tolkien assisted Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the unearthing of a Roman Asclepieion at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, in 1928. During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Of Tolkien's academic publications, the 1936 lecture "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" had a lasting influence on Beowulf research.

Since 1920, Tolkien dedicated his time, even vacations, to finding extra work to supplement his family's income, especially for doctor bills[note 1] and educate his children. He "stole" some free time for himself and his personal hobby of writing his own mythology.[7] Around the time The Hobbit was published (1937) Tolkien suffered from an ailment and had to use crutches, the only time he was free from examining work.[8] The success of The Hobbit and a request for its sequel, was an oportunity to combine his personal desire for writing, and financial needs, and agreed on writing a sequel.[7]

In the turn of 1939, and in the midst of writing the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien faced financial stress and was obliged to do exams and lectures: his son, Michael was preparing for university, and Christopher, being home-schooled for health reasons, wanted to go to school.[9] In the summer of that year, while gardening, Tolkien fell and suffered a concussion which required stitches; he was unwell for some time[10]:p. xxi and this, along with his fatigue, worries, obligations, Edith's illness, his loss of his chief assistant and understudy, prevented him from continuing his writing, including a foreword to Beowulf as had promised.[11] At the outbreak of WWII, his academic duties increased.[12] Juggling between work, "Civil Defence" and writing in intervals, he doubted that, because of the War, completing the book had any use.[13] Failing to progress during Christmas vacations, he resumed only two years later. It was the enthusiasm of his friends and Christopher (to whom he was sending copies by mail to South Africa) who encouraged him to continue.[10]:p. xxv

In 1945, he moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959. In 1946 he faced fatigue from academic work and an illness, and although he recovered, and was free from examining work, he had to deal with a "mountain of neglects".[8]

Tolkien spent the late summer (August-September) of 1948, at the home of Michael at Payables Farm, Woodcote. As Michael and his family were on holidays, Tolkien found the time and quiet he needed to finish Lord of the Rings, close to a decade after the first sketches.[10]:p. xxvii

After a disagreement with Allen and Unwin concerning "The Silmarillion", and failing to reach an agreement with Collins, he settled the dispute with the Unwins. He reported to Rayner Unwin that he had been unwell (having recovered from "a terrible bout" of fibrositis and neuritis of the arm) burdened and downhearted. In the prospect of a nearing retirement of poverty, during which he would work as an examiner to survive, and the raising paper costs, he had modified his views ("Better something than nothing!").[14] Tolkien readily agreed to the 'profit-sharing' arrangement, where Tolkien would not receive an advance or royalties until the books had broken even.[15] Between 1953 and 1955 Tolkien worked closely with Allen & Unwin on production of The Lord of the Rings, agreeing on the division of volumes, their titles, correcting proofs that arrived at intervals, complete and correct artwork, the maps and the dust-jacket designs.[10]:p. xxxiv

During the 1950s, Tolkien spent many of his long academic holidays at the home of his son John Francis in Stoke-on-Trent.

Tolkien had an intense dislike for the side effects of industrialization, which he considered a devouring of the English countryside. For most of his adult life he eschewed automobiles, preferring to ride a bicycle. This attitude is perceptible from some parts of his work, such as the forced industrialization of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings.

W.H. Auden was a frequent correspondent and long-time friend of Tolkien's, initiated by Auden's fascination with The Lord of the Rings: Auden was among the most prominent early critics to praise the work. Tolkien wrote in a 1971 letter,

I am [...] very deeply in Auden's debt in recent years. His support of me and interest in my work has been one of my chief encouragements. He gave me very good reviews, notices and letters from the beginning when it was by no means a popular thing to do. He was, in fact, sneered at for it.

The last known photograph of Tolkien, taken 9 August 1973, next to one of his favourite trees (a Pinus nigra) in the Botanic Garden, Oxford


During his life in retirement, from 1959 up to his death in 1973, Tolkien increasingly turned into a figure of public attention and literary fame. The sale of his books was so profitable that Tolkien regretted he had not taken early retirement. While at first he wrote enthusiastic answers to reader inquiries, he became more and more suspicious of emerging Tolkien fandom, especially among the hippy movement in the USA. Already in 1944, he made a somewhat sarcastic comment about a fan letter by a twelve-year-old American reader ("It's nice to find that little American boys do really still say 'Gee Whiz'"[16]). In a 1972 letter he deplores having become a cult-figure, but admits that

even the nose of a very modest idol (younger than Chu-Bu and not much older than Sheemish) cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!


Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory, and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth on the south coast. Tolkien was awarded a CBE ("Commander of the British Empire") by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on March 28, 1972.

The grave of J.R.R. and Edith Tolkien

Edith Tolkien died on November 29, 1971, at the age of eighty-two, and Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on the stone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 months later of pneumonia on September 2, 1973, at the age of 81, he was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name, so that the engraving now reads:

Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889 – 1971
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892 – 1973

Posthumously named after Tolkien are the Tolkien Road in Eastbourne, East Sussex, and the asteroid 2675 Tolkien. Tolkien Way in Stoke-On-Trent is named after J.R.R.'s son Father John Francis Tolkien, who used to be the priest in charge at the nearby Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Angels and St. Peter in Chains.


The early images of J.R.R. Tolkien in school and university show a serious young man, average height, slender, clean-shaven, and with his hair parted in the middle. By 1916 and Tolkien had joined the army he had changed to a more conventional haircut, as well as a moustache for a short period of time. Richard Plotz, who visited Tolkien in 1966, described him as

...a medium-sized man ... [who] looks much younger than his seventy-four years. Like one of his creations, the Hobbits, he is a bit fat in the stomach ...

In a letter on February 8th, 1967, to inter­viewers Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, Tolkien stated that he was not "tall, or strongly built. I now measure 5 ft 8 1/2, and am slightly built, with notably small hands. For most of my life I have been very thin and underweight. Since my early sixties I have become 'tubby'. Not unusual in men who took their exercise in games and swimming, when opportunities for these things cease".[17] In "The Man Who Understands Hobbits" (Daily Telegraph Magazine, 22 March 1968), the Plimmers also noted that Tolkien had 'grey eyes, firm tanned skin, silvery hair and quick decisive speech'.[18]

During Tolkien's time at King Edward's School he was noted for his choice in coloured socks.

Clyde S. Kilby, who spent some time with Tolkien in the summer of 1966, noted that he "was always neatly dressed from necktie to shoes. One of his favourite suits was a herringbone with which he wore a green corduroy vest [waistcoat]. Always there was a vest, and nearly always a sport coat. He did not mind wearing a very broad necktie which in those days was out of style".[19]

Tolkien had a particular liking for decorative waistcoats: he told one correspondent that he had "one or two choice embroidered speci­mens, which I sometimes wear when required to make a speech, as I find they so fascinate the eyes of the audience that they do not notice if my dentures become a little loose with excitements of rhetoric" (from a letter to Nancy Smith, 25 December 1963.

Interviewers have noted that Tolkien almost clung to his smoking pipe, cradling it in his hand, or speaking with it in his mouth, sometimes making him difficult to understand. One of these, Richard Plotz, wrote that Tolkien "took out a pipe as he entered his study, and all during the interview he held it clenched in his teeth, lighting and relighting it, talking through it; he never removed it from his mouth for more than five seconds" ('J.R.R. Tolkien Talks...', p. 92).

Character, personality, ideology

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Tolkien had an intense dislike for the side effects of industrialization, which he considered a devouring of the English countryside. For most of his adult life he eschewed automobiles, preferring to ride a bicycle. This attitude is perceptible from some parts of his work, such as the forced industrialization of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings.

Some analysts consider Tolkien's personality as an Assertive Mediator (INFP).[20]


Cover design for the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Beginning with The Book of Lost Tales, written while recuperating from illness during World War I, Tolkien devised several themes that were reused in successive drafts of his legendarium. The two most prominent stories, the tales of Beren and Lúthien and that of Túrin, were carried forward into long narrative poems (published in The Lays of Beleriand). Tolkien wrote a brief summary of the mythology these poems were intended to represent, and that summary eventually evolved into "The Silmarillion", an epic history that Tolkien started three times but never published. The story of this continuous redrafting is told in the posthumous series The History of Middle-earth. From around 1936, he began to extend this framework to include the tale of The Fall of Númenor, which was inspired by the legend of Atlantis.

Tolkien was strongly influenced by Anglo-Saxon literature, Germanic and Norse mythologies, Finnish mythology, the Bible, and Greek mythology. The works most often cited as sources for Tolkien's stories include Beowulf, the Kalevala, the Poetic Edda, the Volsunga saga and the Hervarar saga. Tolkien himself acknowledged Homer, Oedipus, and the Kalevala as influences or sources for some of his stories and ideas. His borrowings also came from numerous Middle English works and poems. A major philosophical influence on his writing is King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy known as the Lays of Boethius. Characters in The Lord of the Rings, such as Frodo, Treebeard and Elrond make noticeably Boethian remarks.

In addition to his mythological compositions, Tolkien enjoyed inventing fantasy stories to entertain his children. He wrote annual Christmas letters from Father Christmas for them, building up a series of short stories (later compiled and published as The Father Christmas Letters). Other stories included Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham and Leaf by Niggle. Roverandom and Smith of Wootton Major, like The Hobbit, borrowed ideas from his legendarium. Leaf by Niggle appears to be an autobiographical work, where a "very small man", Niggle, keeps painting leaves until finally he ends up with a tree.

Tolkien never expected his fictional stories to become popular, but he was persuaded by a former student to publish a book he had written for his own children called The Hobbit in 1937. However, the book attracted adult readers as well, and it became popular enough for the publisher, George Allen & Unwin, to ask Tolkien to work on a sequel.

Even though he felt uninspired on the topic, this request prompted Tolkien to begin what would become his most famous work: the epic three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings (published 1954–55). Tolkien spent more than ten years writing the primary narrative and appendices for The Lord of the Rings, during which time he received the constant support of the Inklings, in particular his closest friend C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set against the background of "The Silmarillion", but in a time long after it.

Tolkien at first intended The Lord of the Rings as a children's tale like The Hobbit, but it quickly grew darker and more serious in the writing. Though a direct sequel to The Hobbit, it addressed an older audience, drawing on the immense back story of Beleriand that Tolkien had constructed in previous years, and which eventually saw posthumous publication in The Silmarillion and other volumes. Tolkien's influence weighs heavily on the fantasy genre that grew up after the success of The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien continued to work on the history of Middle-earth until his death. His son Christopher, with some assistance from fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, organised some of this material into one volume, published as The Silmarillion in 1977. In 1980, Christopher Tolkien followed this with a collection of more fragmentary material under the title Unfinished Tales, and in subsequent years he published a massive amount of background material on the creation of Middle-earth in the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth. All these posthumous works contain unfinished, abandoned, alternative and outright contradictory accounts, since they were always a work in progress, and Tolkien only rarely settled on a definitive version for any of the stories. There is not even complete consistency to be found between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the two most closely related works, because Tolkien was never able to fully integrate all their traditions into each other. He commented in 1965, while editing The Hobbit for a third edition, that he would have preferred to completely rewrite the entire book.[source?]

The John P. Raynor, S.J., Library at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, preserves many of Tolkien's original manuscripts, notes and letters; other original material survives at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Marquette has the manuscripts and proofs of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and other manuscripts, including Farmer Giles of Ham, while the Bodleian holds "The Silmarillion" papers and Tolkien's academic work.

The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys. In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's Best-loved Book". Australians voted The Lord of the Rings "My Favourite Book" in a 2004 survey conducted by the Australian ABC. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium". In 2002 Tolkien was voted the ninety-second "greatest Briton" in a poll conducted by the BBC, and in 2004 he was voted thirty-fifth in the SABC3's Great South Africans, the only person to appear in both lists. His popularity is not limited just to the English-speaking world: in a 2004 poll inspired by the UK's "Big Read" survey, about 250,000 Germans found The Lord of the Rings (Der Herr der Ringe) to be their favourite work of literature.


Both Tolkien's academic career and his literary production are inseparable from his love of language and philology. He specialised in Greek philology in college, and in 1915 graduated with Old Icelandic as special subject. He worked for the Oxford English Dictionary from 1918. In 1920, he went to Leeds as Reader in English Language, where he claimed credit for raising the number of students of linguistics from five to twenty. He gave courses in Old English heroic verse, history of English, various Old English and Middle English texts, Old and Middle English philology, introductory Germanic philology, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and Medieval Welsh. When in 1925, aged 33, Tolkien applied for the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon, he boasted that his students of Germanic philology in Leeds had even formed a "Viking Club". He also made an appearance at SSC Highschool.

Privately, Tolkien was attracted to "things of racial and linguistic significance", and he entertained notions of an inherited taste of language, which he termed the "native tongue" as opposed to "cradle tongue" in his 1955 lecture English and Welsh, which is crucial to his understanding of race and language. He considered west-midland Middle English his own "native tongue", and, as he wrote to W.H. Auden in 1955, "I am a West-midlander by blood (and took to early west-midland Middle English as a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it)".[21]

Parallel to Tolkien's professional work as a philologist, and sometimes overshadowing this work, to the effect that his academic output remained rather thin, was his affection for the construction of artificial languages. The best developed of these are Quenya and Sindarin, the etymological connection between which are at the core of much of Tolkien's legendarium. Language and grammar for Tolkien was a matter of aesthetics and euphony, and Quenya in particular was designed from "phonæsthetic" considerations. It was intended as an "Elvenlatin", and was phonologically based on Latin, with ingredients from Finnish and Greek (Letters, no. 144). A notable addition came in late 1945 with Adûnaic, a language of a "faintly Semitic flavour", connected with Tolkien's Atlantis myth, which by The Notion Club Papers ties directly into his ideas about inheritability of language, and via the "Second Age" and the Eärendil myth was grounded in the legendarium, thereby providing a link of Tolkien's 20th-century "real primary world" with the mythical past of his Middle-earth.

Tolkien considered languages inseparable from the mythology associated with them, and he consequently took a dim view of auxiliary languages. In 1930 a congress of Esperantists were told as much by him, in his lecture A Secret Vice, "Your language construction will breed a mythology", but by 1956 he concluded that "Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends".[22]

The popularity of Tolkien's books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature in particular, and even on mainstream dictionaries, which today commonly accept Tolkien's revival of the spellings dwarves and elvish (instead of dwarfs and elfish), which had not been in use since the mid-1800s and earlier. Other terms he has coined, like legendarium and eucatastrophe, are mainly used in connection with Tolkien's work.

Works inspired by Tolkien

In a 1951 letter to Milton Waldman, Tolkien writes about his intentions to create a "body of more or less connected legend", of which:

The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.

The hands and minds of many artists have indeed been inspired by Tolkien's legends. Personally known to him were Pauline Baynes (Tolkien's favourite illustrator of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham) and Donald Swann (who set the music to The Road Goes Ever On). Queen Margrethe II of Denmark created illustrations to The Lord of the Rings in the early 1970s. She sent them to Tolkien, who was struck by the similarity to the style of his own drawings.

But Tolkien was not fond of all the artistic representation of his works that were produced in his lifetime, and was sometimes harshly disapproving.

In 1946, he rejected suggestions for illustrations by Horus Engels for the German edition of the Hobbit as "too Disnified",

Bilbo with a dribbling nose, and Gandalf as a figure of vulgar fun rather than the Odinic wanderer that I think of.

He was sceptical of the emerging fandom in the United States, and in 1954 he returned proposals for the dust jackets of the American edition of The Lord of the Rings:

Thank you for sending me the projected 'blurbs', which I return. The Americans are not as a rule at all amenable to criticism or correction; but I think their effort is so poor that I feel constrained to make some effort to improve it.

And in 1958, in an irritated reaction to a proposed movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by Morton Grady Zimmerman:

I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.

He went on to criticise the script scene by scene ("yet one more scene of screams and rather meaningless slashings"). But Tolkien was in principle open to the idea of a movie adaptation. He sold the film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, while, guided by scepticism towards future productions, he forbade Disney should ever be involved:

It might be advisable [...] to let the Americans do what seems good to them — as long as it was possible [...] to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).

United Artists never made a film, though at least John Boorman was planning to make a film in the early seventies. It would have been a live-action film, which apparently would have been much more to Tolkien's liking than an animated film. In 1976 the rights were sold to Saul Zaentz, who in turn formed Tolkien Enterprises, now named Middle-earth Enterprises, a division of it's company, and the first movie adaptation (an animated rotoscoping film) of The Lord of the Rings appeared only after Tolkien's death (in 1978, directed by Ralph Bakshi). The screenplay was written by the fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle. This first adaptation, however, only contained the first half of the story that is The Lord of the Rings. In 1977 an animated TV production of The Hobbit was made by Rankin/Bass, and in 1980 the company produced an animated film titled The Return of the King, which covered some of the portion of The Lord of the Rings that Bakshi was unable to complete. In 2001-3 The Lord of the Rings was filmed in full and as a live-action film as a trilogy of films by Peter Jackson. A decade later, Jackson proceeded with The Hobbit, envisioned as a prequel trilogy.

In 2019 it was produced and released by Fox Searchlight Pictures a film about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien in his youth, with Tolkien himself being portrayed by Nicholas Hoult and Harry Gilby.


For a complete list of all of Tolkien's published writings, see Writings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Fictional and poetic works

Academic works

Posthumous publications




Audio recordings

Note: for a detailed listing of all recordings of Tolkien, see Audio recordings of J.R.R. Tolkien


This list contains awards or recognitions given to J.R.R. Tolkien, it does not include awards given to his individual publications.

  • D. Lit., in University College, Dublin (1954)
  • Commander of Order of the British Empire (1972)
  • Doctorate of Letters by Oxford University (1972)
  • 6th "best postwar British writer" (The Times, 2008) [1]

Names and pseudonyms

JRRT's monogram

Family Tree

Mabel Suffield
Arthur Reuel Tolkien
Edith Bratt
J.R.R. Tolkien
Hilary Tolkien
Magdalen Matthews
John Tolkien
Michael Tolkien
Christopher Tolkien
Priscilla Tolkien

See also

Further reading

A small selection of books about Tolkien and his works:

External links


  1. Christopher Tolkien suffered from a heart ailment.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 165, (undated, written June 1955)
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 324, (dated 4-5 June 1971)
  3. Ryszard Derdziński, "Paternal line of J.R.R. Tolkien" dated 7 November 2017, tolkniety.blogspot.com (accessed 22 November 2017)
  4. Ryszard Derdziński, "Elvish with Balto-Slavic sound and the matter of Laūmas 'Elves'" dated 19 November 2017, tolkniety.blogspot.com (accessed 22 November 2017)
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 349, (dated 8 March 1973)
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 306, (undated, late 1967 - early 1968)
  7. 7.0 7.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 17, (dated 15 October 1937), p. 24
  8. 8.0 8.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 105, (dated 21 July 1946), p. 117-18
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 35, (dated 2 February 1939), p. 42
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 35, (dated 2 February 1939), p. 44
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Foreword to the Second Edition"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 47, (dated 7 December 1941), p. 58
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 133, (dated 22 June 1952)
  15. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. xxxii
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 87, (dated 25 October 1944)
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 294, (dated 8 February 1967), p. 373
  18. Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, "JRR Tolkien: 'Film my books? It's easier to film The Odyssey'" dated 19 April 2016, The Telegraph (accessed 26 January 2020)
  19. Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and the Silmarillion (1976), p. 24
  20. Alycia, "J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Words and Worlds (The Lord of the Rings Personality Series)", 16personalities (accessed 14 January 2022)
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 163, (dated 7 June 1955)
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 180, (dated 14 January 1956)
  23. John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, "Part One: The immortal four", p. 19
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 309, (dated 2 January 1969), p. 398
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 272, (dated 20 July 1965), p. 357
J.R.R. Tolkien
Position created
President of The Tolkien Society
27 June 1972 - In perpetuo
Followed by:
None; perpetual title

The Inklings
J.R.R. Tolkien · Owen Barfield · J.A.W. Bennett · Lord David Cecil · Nevill Coghill · James Dundas-Grant · Hugo Dyson · Adam Fox · Colin Hardie · Robert Havard · C.S. Lewis · Warren Lewis · Gervase Mathew · R.B. McCallum · C.E. Stevens · Christopher Tolkien · John Wain · Charles Williams · Charles Leslie Wrenn
Languages and scripts in Tolkien's works
Elvish Angerthas (Angerthas Daeron) · Avarin · Cirth (Certhas Daeron) · Common Eldarin · Mátengwië · Moon-letters · Nandorin · Primitive Quendian · Quenya (Exilic · Valinorean · Vanyarin) · Sarati · Silvan Elvish · Sindarin (Doriathrin · Falathrin · Númenórean · Mithrimin · Old) · Telerin (Common) · Tengwar
Mannish Adûnaic · Dalish · Drúadan · Dunlendish · Halethian · Northern Mannish · Pre-Númenórean · Rohanese · Taliska · Westron (Bucklandish · Hobbitish · Stoorish)
Dwarvish Angerthas (Erebor · Moria) · Aulëan · Iglishmêk · Khuzdul
Other Black Speech · Old Entish · Orkish · Valarin · Warg-language
Earlier legendarium Gnomish · Gnomic Letters · Gondolinic Runes · Ilkorin · Keladian · Noldorin (Kornoldorin) · Melkian · Oromëan · Qenya · Valmaric script
Outside the legendarium Animalic · Arktik · Gautisk · Goblin Alphabet · Mágol · Naffarin · New English Alphabet · Nevbosh · Privata Kodo Skauta
Real-world Celtic · English (Old · Middle · AB) · Finnish · Germanic · Gothic · Hebrew · Runic alphabet · Welsh
"A Secret Vice" (book) · "The Lhammas" · "The Tree of Tongues" · Sub-creation
The Tolkien Society
President: J.R.R. Tolkien · Vice-president: Priscilla Tolkien · Chair: Shaun Gunner
Topics History (Letter to Vera Chapman and the Tolkien Society) · Archives · Awards · Enyalië · Smials · Tolkien to the World · Tolkien fandom
Chairs Vera Chapman (1970) · Keith Bridges (1970-1973) · Hartley Patterson (1973-1974) · Jonathan Simons (1974-1984) · Brin Dunsire (1984-1988) · Alex Lewis (1988-1992) · Amanda Fingleson (1992-1996) · Chris Crawshaw (1996-2008) · Matthew Vernon (2008-2009) · Sally Kennett (2009-2013) · Shaun Gunner (2013-present)
Annual Events Birthday Toast (3 January) · Tolkien Reading Day (25 March) · AGM and Springmoot (April) · Seminar (July) · Oxonmoot (September)
Conferences Oxonmoot (annual, 1974-present) · J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference (1992) · Tolkien 2005: The Ring Goes Ever On (2005) · The Return of the Ring (2012) · Tolkien 2019 (2019)
Publications Journals Belladonna's Broadsheet (1969-1970) · Mallorn (1970-present) · The Tolkien Society Bulletin (1970-1971) · Andúril (1972) · Amon Hen (1972-present) · Quettar (1980-1995)
Books An Extrapolation on The Silmarillion (1975) · The Trees, the Jewels and the Rings (1977) · Tolkien in Oxford: The Tolkien Society Guide (1978) · The Tolkien Society Songbook (1985) · Tolkien and Romanticism (1988) · Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference (1995) · The Oxonmoot Songbook (1997) · The Filking Songbook (2001) · The Tolkien Society Guide to Oxford (2005) · Proceedings of the Tolkien 2005 Conference (2008) · Tolkien 2005 Souvenir Book (2009) · Proceedings of the Tolkien Society Conference 2012 (2016)
Peter Roe Books 1. Some Light on Middle-earth (1985) · 2. Leaves from the Tree (1991) · 3. The First and Second Ages (1992) · 4. Travel and Communication in Tolkien's Worlds (1996) · 5. Digging Potatoes, Growing Trees, vol. 1 (1997) · 6. Digging Potatoes, Growing Trees, vol. 2 (1998) · 7. Tolkien, the Sea and Scandinavia (1999) · 8. The Ways of Creative Mythologies (2000) · 9. Tolkien: A Mythology for England? (2000) · 10. The Best of Amon Hen, vol. 1 (2000) · 11. Digging Potatoes, Growing Trees, vol. 3 (2001) · 12. Sindarin Lexicon (2001) · 13. The Best of Amon Hen, vol. 2 (2002) · 14. Tolkien: Influenced and Influencing (2005)· 15. Freedom, Fate and Choice in Middle-earth (2012) · 16. Journeys & Destinations (2015) · 17. Death and Immortality in Middle-earth (2017) · 18. Poetry and Song in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (2018) · 19. Tolkien the Pagan? (2019) · 20. Adapting Tolkien (2021) · 21. Twenty-first Century Receptions of Tolkien (2022) · 22. Tolkien and Diversity (2023)
Illustrators of The Hobbit
Internal art J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-present) · Eric Fraser (The Folio Society: 1979, 1992-present) · Michael Hague (1984-1992) · David T. Wenzel (graphic novel: 1989-present) · Alan Lee (1997-present) · David Wyatt (1998-2001, 2012-2013) · John Howe (pop-up: 1999) · Jemima Catlin (2013-present)
Cover art only J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-present) · Pauline Baynes (1961) · Roger Garland (1987-1989) · John Howe (1991-present) · Ted Nasmith (1989-1991) · Barbara Remington (1965 US)
Illustrators of The Lord of the Rings
Internal art J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-present) · Eric Fraser/Ingahild Grathmer (The Folio Society: 1979, 1992-present) · Alan Lee (1997-present)
Cover art only J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-present) · Pauline Baynes (1970-1989) · Roger Garland (1983-1991) · John Howe (1991-present) · Ted Nasmith (1990) · Geoff Taylor (1999)
Illustrators of The Silmarillion
Internal art Francis Mosley (The Folio Society: 1997-present)· Ted Nasmith (1998-present)
Cover art only J.R.R. Tolkien (1937-present) · Roger Garland (1983-1991) · John Howe (1992-1995)
Illustrators of official Tolkien calendars
Emily Austin (2023) · Pauline Baynes (1973, 1974) · Cor Blok (2011, 2012) · Jemima Catlin (2014) · Jenny Dolfen (2023) · Inger Edelfeldt (1985) · Mary Fairburn (2015) · Roger Garland (1984, 1987, 1988, 1989) · Spiros Gelekas (2023) · Justin Gerard (2023) · Donato Giancola (2023) · Michael Hague (1986) · The Brothers Hildebrandt (1976 US, 1977 US, 1978 US) · John Howe (1987, 1988, 1991, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2013, 2021) · Tove Jansson (2016) · Michael Kaluta (1994) · Tim Kirk (1975) · Alan Lee (1987, 1993, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2024) · Ted Nasmith (1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2021, 2022) · Kip Rasmussen (2023) · Darrell Sweet (1982) · J.R.R. Tolkien (1973, 1974, 1976 UK, 1977 UK, 1978 UK, 1979, 2005, 2006, 2017)
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
On Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not on Arda Short stories
and others
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · Letters from Father Christmas ·
Mr. Bliss · Roverandom · Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · The Old English Exodus · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Letters & poems The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien · The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien
academic works
A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse
Books by other authors
Books on Arda The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Maps of Middle-earth
Tolkien biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Scholarly books The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library · Tolkien on Chaucer, 1913-1959
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline and an index.