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J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform, photograph taken in 1916.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. At three, he and his mother travelled to England. When his father unexpectedly died in South Africa before joining them, Tolkien’s family was forced to remain in England indefinitely. Tolkien grew up in several villages around Birmingham in the West Midlands. He particularly enjoyed exploring rural areas such as his Aunt Jane’s farm, Bag End, a name that should be quite familiar to lovers of Tolkien’s work.

As a teen, Tolkien began to experiment with constructed languages as a hobby, in addition to his love of writing poetry. By the time he was 23 Tolkien had graduated with a degree in English Language and Literature from Exeter College, Oxford. He had also fallen in love with and married a girl named Edith Mary Bratt. Unfortunately for the newly married lovers, World War I had rushed their marriage. John was going to the continent.

He had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1915, and after marrying Edith he spent time in France where he participated in several military assaults. In late October 1916, Tolkien fell ill with trench fever and was removed back to England. His battalion that had continued fighting in France was almost completely decimated, a fate Tolkien might well have shared had he not fallen ill.

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The dust jacket to the first edition of ‘The Hobbit,’ printed in 1937.

It was during Tolkien’s time recovering that he began to write The Book of Lost Tales. He began his literary career by joining the faculty at the University of Leeds in 1920 and several years later became a professor at Oxford. It was at Oxford that Tolkien helped found a social club called ‘The Inklings’ among whose membership was one C.S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien. It was also at Oxford that Tolkien published The Hobbit, a children’s story that had originated as a story he told his own children.

His sequel to The Hobbit was of a more serious nature, and The Lord of the Rings series launched Tolkien to fame. The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954, and both The Two Towers and The Return of the King in 1955 gained wide acclaim and quickly became popular around the world. They became so popular, in fact, that Tolkien was forced to move and to change his phone number simply to escape the attention he’d gained as the creator of Middle Earth.

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J.R.R. Tolkien

Though he’d retired from the limelight, Tolkien continued to expand the mythology of Middle Earth, a fact which can be seen in the numerous posthumous publications that have been undertaken by his son. After his retirement in 1959 Edith and Ronald moved to Bournemouth. On 22 November 1971 Edith died. Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on her tombstone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 months later on 2 September 1973, at the age of 81, he was buried in the same grave, with `Beren’ added to his name.