Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Tolkien!

Continuing our Fortnight of Tolkien, allow me to invite you to join us in celebrating that august person's birthday. (Or what would have been his birthday had Tolkien lived to be 121 this year.) 

Thanks to the Lord of the Rings films and the long-awaited resuscitation of The Hobbit and its much anticipated sequels, Tolkien's works have re-entered the public spotlight and captured the attention of people worldwide. And while many people would be able to quote Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit at you with no issue in the slightest....

....Not many are as familiar with the actual author. Many people have no idea, in fact, that Tolkien was an expert on Old and Middle English, and for many years was a professor of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) at the venerated University of Oxford. The man was so brainy, in fact, that he actually invented the entire language of Elvish. If you're interested in learning it, feel free to take the course at the University of Wisconsin. (It's taught by the primary linguistic consultant hired by Peter Jackson for the LOTR films--David Salo.) And Tolkien actually picked out who he wanted to play Gandalf, should the novels be made into film; can you believe that he actually chose Christopher Lee (also known as Saruman the White and Count Dooku)? 

So, let's take a gander at Tolkien himself, shall we?  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa to Arthur and Mabel in 1892 (yes, Arthur and Mabel! Isn't that cute?); when Arthur died from peritonitis (right after I noted how cute that couple was, how ironic, and just when you were all giddy about Arthur and Mabel), the family relocated to Birmingham, England. When Mabel died, J.R.R. and his brother were sent to live with a relative and numerous boarding homes, including a guardian Catholic priest. He received his degree in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages, along with classic literature, at Exeter University, and even served as a lieutenant in World War I. 

After marrying in 1916, during his service, Tolkien was relieved of duty thanks to illness and attained a teaching position at the University of Leeds before taking up that professorship at the University of Oxford. It was at Oxford that he formed a little writing group ("The Inklings") that included C.S. Lewis (!) and Owen Barfield. It was also during his time at Oxford that he wrote a bit about "a hobbit," and the idea was conceived.

J.R.R. is top left; C.S. Lewis is top right, bottom right is Charles Williams, and bottom left is Owen Barfield.

The Hobbit was published in 1937 as children's literature, although Tolkien stressed that it was not, in fact, children's literature; he produced about 100 drawings for the novel himself. He continued to work on the LOTR trilogy, basing much of it and Middle-Earth on European mythology. Upon the publication of the trilogy in 1954 and 1955, Tolkien gained a vast throng of followers around the world and his works lodged themselves into history as some of the best-selling works in the world. Here's a fun fact: Thanks to his environmental positions, the author actually became a sort of symbol for the counter-culture in the 1960s.

After Tolkien passed away in 1973, following his wife (1971), his son Christopher took up the mantle of Middle-Earth and finished several of Tolkien's incomplete works for publication, such as The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin, ensuring that J.R.R.'s unpublished projects did not pass away into obscurity. 

So thank you, Tolkien; without you, we wouldn't have the amazing epics that chronicle the events of Middle-Earth. We wouldn't have humorous "One does not simply [X] into Mordor" memes. We would not be privy to the human intelligence you brought forth with your immense creativity and creation of new languages. And we certainly wouldn't have this great giveaway for you to enter! What are you waiting for! Go now! Your fellowship awaits you! 


Doughan, D.  (2002).  J.R.R. Tolkien: A biographical sketch.  The Tolkien Society.  Retrieved from

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved from

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