Background on J.R.R. Tolkien - dummies

By Greg Harvey

Part of The Origins of Tolkien’s Middle-earth For Dummies Cheat Sheet

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was one of the most beloved authors of the 20th century. He was born in South Africa in 1892 of British parents. When he was 2, his mother brought him and his brother back to England, to a village named Sarehole. The idyllic landscape there later inspired his vision of the Shire, home of the hobbits in Middle-earth.

By the time he was 12, both of his parents had died, and he was raised under the guardianship of a priest. He remained a devout Catholic the rest of his life. After graduating from Exeter College at Oxford, Tolkien entered the military and served as a lieutenant in World War I, where he took part in the Battle of the Somme.

During this time he began working on an invented mythology that later became The Silmarillion. After the war, he helped edit the Oxford English Dictionary and taught English literature at the University of Leeds. He joined the faculty of Oxford University in 1925, where he was a professor first of Anglo-Saxon and then of English Language and Literature until 1959.

He studied and spoke more than a dozen languages, and invented several more for his fantasy world of Middle-earth. In 1937, he published The Hobbit. He continued the story of hobbits and other Middle-earth beings in the much larger and more complex The Lord of the Rings, which became a best-seller in the decades that followed and is now recognized as a brilliant literary classic. After a long and successful career of writing, scholarship, and teaching, he died in 1973.