Biography of J. R. R. Tolkien

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J. R. R. Tolkien

Name: J. R. R. Tolkien
Bith Date: January 3, 1892
Death Date: September 2, 1973
Place of Birth: Bloemfontein, South Africa
Nationality: English
Gender: Male
Occupations: writer, essayist, poet, editor

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) gained a reputation during the 1960s and 1970s as a cult figure among youths disillusioned with war and the technological age; his continuing popularity evidences his ability to evoke the oppressive realities of modern life while drawing audiences into a fantasy world.

Tolkien was born on Jan. 3, 1892, the son of English-born parents in Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State of South Africa, where his father worked as a bank manager. To escape the heat and dust of southern Africa and to better guard the delicate health of Ronald (as he was called), Tolkien's mother moved back to England with him and his younger brother when they were very young boys. Within a year of this move their father, Arthur Tolkien, died in Bloemfontein, and a few years later the boys' mother died as well. The boys lodged at several homes from 1905 until 1911, when Ronald entered Exeter College, Oxford. Tolkien received his B.A. from Oxford in 1915 and an M.A. in 1919. During the interim he married his longtime sweetheart, Edith Bratt, and served for a short time on the Western Front with the Lancashire Fusiliers. While in England recovering from "trench fever" in 1917, Tolkien began writing "The Book of Lost Tales," which eventually became The Silmarillion (1977) and laid the groundwork for his stories about Middle-earth. After the Armistice he returned to Oxford, where he joined the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary and began work as a freelance tutor. In 1920 he was appointed Reader in English Language at Leeds University, where he collaborated with E. V. Gordon on an acclaimed translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was completed and published in 1925. (Some years later, Tolkien completed a second translation of this poem, which was published posthumously.) The following year, having returned to Oxford as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, Tolkien became friends with a fellow of Magdalen College, C. S. Lewis. They shared an intense enthusiasm for the myths, sagas, and languages of northern Europe; and to better enhance those interests, both attended meetings of "The Coalbiters," an Oxford club, founded by Tolkien, at which Icelandic sagas were read aloud.

During the rest of his years at Oxford--twenty as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon, fourteen as Merton Professor of English Language and Literature--Tolkien published several esteemed short studies and translations. Notable among these are his essays "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (1936), "Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve's Tale" (1934), and "On Fairy-Stories" (1947); his scholarly edition of Ancrene Wisse (1962); and his translations of three medieval poems: "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," "Pearl," and "Sir Orfeo" (1975). As a writer of imaginative literature, though, Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, tales which were formed during his years attending meetings of "The Inklings," an informal gathering of like-minded friends and fellow dons, initiated after the demise of The Coalbiters. The Inklings, which was formed during the late 1930s and lasted until the late 1940s, was a weekly meeting held in Lewis's sitting-room at Magdalen, at which works-in-progress were read aloud and discussed and critiqued by the attendees, all interspersed with free-flowing conversation about literature and other topics. The nucleus of the group was Tolkien, Lewis, and Lewis's friend, novelist Charles Williams; other participants, who attended irregularly, included Lewis's brother Warren, Nevill Coghill, H. V. D. Dyson, Owen Barfield, and others. The common thread which bound them was that they were all adherents of Christianity and all had a love of story. Having heard Tolkien's first hobbit story read aloud at a meeting of the Inklings, Lewis urged Tolkien to publish The Hobbit, which appeared in 1937. A major portion of The Fellowship of the Ring was also read to The Inklings before the group disbanded in the late 1940's.

Tolkien retired from his professorship in 1959. While the unauthorized publication of an American edition of The Lord of the Rings in 1965 angered him, it also made him a widely admired cult figure in the United States, especially among high school and college students. Uncomfortable with this status, he and his wife lived quietly in Bournemouth for several years, until Edith's death in 1971. In the remaining two years of his life, Tolkien returned to Oxford, where he was made an honorary fellow of Merton College and awarded a doctorate of letters. He was at the height of his fame as a scholarly and imaginative writer when he died in 1973, though critical study of his fiction continues and has increased in the years since.

A devout Roman Catholic throughout his life, Tolkien began creating his own languages and mythologies at an early age and later wrote Christian-inspired stories and poems to provide them with a narrative framework. Based on bedtime stories Tolkien had created for his children, The Hobbit concerns the reluctant efforts of a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to recover a treasure stolen by a dragon. During the course of his mission, the hobbit discovers a magical ring which, among other powers, can render its bearer invisible. The ability to disappear helps Bilbo fulfill his quest; however, the ring's less obvious faculties prompt the malevolent Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, to seek it. The hobbits' attempt to destroy the ring, thereby denying Sauron unlimited power, is the focal point of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which consists of the novels The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). In these books Tolkien rejects such traditional heroic attributes as strength and size, stressing instead the capacity of even the humblest creatures to prevail against evil.

The initial critical reception to The Lord of the Rings varied. While some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the story's great length and one-dimensional characters, the majority enjoyed Tolkien's enchanting descriptions and lively sense of adventure. Religious, Freudian, allegorical, and political interpretations of the trilogy soon appeared, but Tolkien generally rejected such explications. He maintained that The Lord of the Rings was conceived with "no allegorical intentions ..., moral, religious, or political," but he also denied that the trilogy is a work of escapism: "Middle-earth is not an imaginary world.... The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live." Tolkien contended that his story was "fundamentally linguistic in inspiration," a "religious and Catholic work" whose spiritual aspects were "absorbed into the story and symbolism." Tolkien concluded, "The stories were made ... to provide a world for the languages rather than the reverse."

Throughout his career Tolkien composed histories, genealogies, maps, glossaries, poems, and songs to supplement his vision of Middle-earth. Among the many works published during his lifetime were a volume of poems, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962), and a fantasy novel, Smith of Wootton Major (1967). Though many of his stories about Middle-earth remained incomplete at the time of Tolkien's death, his son, Christopher, rescued the manuscripts from his father's collections, edited them, and published them. One of these works, The Silmarillion, takes place before the time of The Hobbit and, in a heroic manner which recalls the Christian myths of Creation and the Fall, tells the tale of the first age of Holy Ones and their offspring. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth (1980) is a similar collection of incomplete stories and fragments written during World War I. The Book of Lost Tales, Part I (1984) and The Book of Lost Tales, Part II (1984) deal respectively with the beginnings of Middle-earth and the point at which humans enter the saga. In addition to these posthumous works, Christopher Tolkien also collected his father's correspondence to friends, family, and colleagues in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981).

It is as a writer of timeless fantasy that Tolkien is most highly regarded today. From 1914 until his death in 1973, he drew on his familiarity with Northern and other ancient literatures and his own invented languages to create not just his own story, but his own world: Middle-earth, complete with its own history, myths, legends, epics, and heroes. "His life's work," Augustus M. Kolich has written, "... encompasses a reality that rivals Western man's own attempt at recording the composite, knowable history of his species. Not since Milton has any Englishman worked so successfully at creating a secondary world, derived from our own, yet complete in its own terms with encyclopedic mythology; an imagined world that includes a vast gallery of strange beings: hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and, finally, the men of Westernesse." His works--especially The Lord of the Rings--have pleased countless readers and fascinated critics who recognize their literary depth.

J. R. R. Tolkien is best known to most readers as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, regarded by Charles Moorman in Tolkien and the Critics as "unique in modern fiction," and by Augustus M. Kolich in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as "the most important fantasy stories of the modern period." From 1914 until his death in 1973, Tolkien drew on his familiarity with Northern and other ancient literatures and his own invented languages to create not just his own story, but his own world: Middle-earth, complete with its own history, myths, legends, epics and heroes. "His life's work," Kolich continues, "... encompasses a reality that rivals Western man's own attempt at recording the composite, knowable history of his species. Not since Milton has any Englishman worked so successfully at creating a secondary world, derived from our own, yet complete in its own terms with encyclopedic mythology; an imagined world that includes a vast gallery of strange beings: hobbits, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and, finally, the men of Westernesse." His works--especially The Lord of the Rings--have pleased countless readers and fascinated critics who recognize their literary depth.

Tolkien began to create his secondary world while still in school, shortly before enlisting to fight in World War I. In 1914, Humphrey Carpenter states in J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Tolkien wrote a poem based on a line from the works of an Old English religious poet. Entitled "The Voyage of Earendel, the Evening Star," the poem marked the first appearance in his work of the mariner who sails across the heavens through the night, and was "the beginning of Tolkien's own mythology"--the stories that, edited by Christopher Tolkien, appeared after the author's death in "The History of Middle Earth" and The Silmarillion. Nearly all of Tolkien's fiction drew on these stories for their background. The Hobbit had at first no connection with Tolkien's legendary histories; he wrote it to please his own children and later remarked that "Mr. Baggins got dragged against my original will" into his imagined mythos. The Lord of the Rings also moved into the realm of legend until it became the chronicle of the last days of the Third Age of Middle-earth. After The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien published a sequence of related poems, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, but the other fiction he published during his lifetime, including the satirical Farmer Giles of Ham, the allegorical Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wootton Major, and Roverandum,one of his last works, drew on other sources.

However, Tolkien held another reputation not as well known to readers of his fantasies: he "was in fact one of the leading philologists of his day," Kolich reports. His essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics"--a plea to study the Old English poem "Beowulf" as a poem, and not just as a historical curiosity--is regarded as a classic critical statement on the subject, and his renditions of the Middle English poems "Sir Orfeo," "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," and "Pearl" into Modern English are used as texts in some literature classes. His academic work, teaching English language and literature at Leeds and later at Oxford, heavily influenced his fiction; Tolkien himself wrote that "a primary `fact' about my work [is] that it is all of a piece, and fundamentally linguistic in inspiration." "` Philology,'" says T. A. Shippey in The Road to Middle Earth, quoting Tolkien, "is indeed the only proper guide to a view of Middle-earth `of the sort which its author may be supposed to have desired.'" Carpenter declares, "There were not two Tolkiens, one an academic and the other a writer. They were the same man, and the two sides of him overlapped so that they were indistinguishable--or rather they were not two sides at all, but different expressions of the same mind, the same imagination."

What is philology? The concise edition of the Oxford English Dictionary--a book that focuses on the meaning of words through time, rather than just their present definition, and on which Tolkien himself worked--derives the word "philology" from two Greek stems: philo, meaning "love of," and logos, meaning "words" or "language," and defines it as "the study of literature in a wide sense, including grammar, literary criticism and interpretation, the relation of literature and written records to history, etc." Tolkien was a philologist in the literal sense of the word: a lover of language. It was a passion he developed early and kept throughout his life, exploring tongues that were no longer spoken and creating languages of his own. Carpenter explains, "It was a deep love for the look and sound of words [that motivated him], springing from the days when his mother had given him his first Latin lesson." After learning Latin and Greek, Tolkien taught himself some Welsh, Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Gothic, a language with no modern descendant--he wrote the only poem known to exist in that speech. Later he added Finnish to his list of beloved tongues; the Finnish epic The Kalevala had a great impact on his Silmarillion, and the language itself, says Carpenter, formed the basis for "Quenya," the High-elven tongue of his stories.

But philology also refers to a discipline: linguistics, the science of language, the application of observed, consistent change of tongues through time to reconstruct languages no longer spoken. After recognizing the common ancestry of certain tongues, philologists devised laws--such as Grimm's Law of Consonants, devised by the great philologist Jacob Grimm, of Grimm's Fairy Tales fame--to describe the changes these languages underwent in their development to modern form. Because the changes were regular, these laws make it possible to reconstruct words that do not exist in written records. Reconstructed words are marked with an asterisk (*) to show that the word in question is inferred and does not appear in any known document. Modern philologists have used the principles of linguistics to recover and interpret ancient languages and their literatures ranging from Mycenaean Linear B script--the language contemporary with The Iliad's heroes--to the Hittite language of Old Testament times.

Throughout his fiction, from the early tales of The Silmarillion to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien exercised his philological talents and training to create an "asterisk-epic"--an inferred history--that revealed elements of the Northern (and especially the English) literature he loved, and of which so little remains. "The dwarf-names of `Thorin and Company,' as well as Gandalf's," declares Shippey, "come from a section of the Eddic poem Voluspa, often known as the Dvergatal or `Dwarves' Roster.'" "In the case of the `ents,'" states A. N. Wilson in the Spectator, quoting Tolkien, "... `as usual with me they grew rather out of their name than the other way about. I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar Anglo-Saxon word ent for a "giant" or a mighty person of long ago--to whom all old works are ascribed.' He was not content to leave the ents as they appear on the page of Beowulf, shadowy, unknown figures of an almost forgotten past." "That is lovely," writes Ursula Le Guin in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction; "that is the Creator Spirit working absolutely unhindered--making the word flesh."

The value of linguistics, or comparative philology, lies in its applicability. Knowing the history of the words forgotten people used can reveal something about the way those people thought and about the modern languages descended from their tongues. Once philologists recognized the relationship between English and Gothic (the oldest recorded Germanic language), for instance, they proved able to explain why certain English words are pronounced and spelled the way they are: "a whole series of things which people said, and still say, without in the least knowing why, turn out to have one very old but clear, 100 per cent predictable reason. It's almost like genetics," declares Shippey. Historians frequently use linguistic principles to trace patterns of settlement through place names. In England, for example, towns whose names end in the element -caster or -chester (from the Latin castrum, a fort) mark sites where Roman legions built fortifications, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Towns whose names end in -ham or -wich were once inhabited by speakers of Old English; in that language, wic is an encampment or village, while hamme can mean a meadow or a manor-house. Towns whose names end in -by, however, were settled by invading Vikings; byr is an Old Norse term for a dwelling-place. Tolkien, Shippey points out, uses place names in a "Celtic `style,' to make subliminally the point that hobbits were immigrants too, that their land had a history before them." The Carrock, the rocky island in the middle of the river of Wilderland in The Hobbit, is derived from the Welsh carrecc, a rock, while the town of Bree in The Lord of the Rings comes from a Welsh word for a hill.

One of the reasons that philologists have to rely on terms like place names is that so few manuscript sources have survived from ancient times. "The philologist," writes E. Christian Kopff in Chronicles of Culture, "lives in the tragic world of the partially lost or broken. He knows the 18th-century fire that ate away just that page of Beowulf that explains why the dragon attacks after so many years." Of the sixteen epic poems that originally told the entire history of the Trojan War and its aftermath, only Homer's Iliad and Odyssey remain intact; the others survive only in fragments or summaries. But careful examination of the fragments of ancient literature that do survive can often reveal facets of the writer's culture, and can contain echoes of still older tales. In Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode, writes Kopff, "Tolkien takes a brief and fragmentary tale sung by a bard in Beowulf and a fragment of a separate version of the same story that survives on a single manuscript page and tries to reconstruct the history that lies behind the two sources."

This sense of loss helps explain why Tolkien came to write the history of Middle-earth. "Like Walter Scott or William Morris before him," Shippey declares, "he felt the perilous charm of the archaic world of the North, recovered from bits and scraps by generations of inquiry. He wanted to tell a story about it simply, one feels, because there were hardly any complete ones left." "J. R. R. Tolkien," says Jessica Yates in British Book News, "began to write The Book of Lost Tales in 1916-17, as his first attempt on `a mythology for England.' He felt that the English people, as opposed to the Greeks or the Celts for example, had no `body of ... connected legend' of their own. All we had was Beowulf (imported from Denmark) and our native fairy stories. So partly with the sense of mission and partly as an escape from the horrors of the First World War, he wrote a series of tales about the creation of the world and the coming of the Elves, of evil Melko and the wars of Elves and Men against him."

Tolkien used the evocative power of language to create his English legend. Names in Tolkien's fiction are not merely identifying sounds, Shippey points out; they are also descriptions of the people, places and creatures that bear them. The name Gandalf, for instance, is made up of two Norse words: gandr, a magical implement (probably a staff), and alfr, an elf. Tolkien's Gandalf, therefore, is an elf with a staff, or a wizard. Shippey explains, "Accordingly when Gandalf first appears [in The Hobbit], `All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff.'... He turns out not to be an elf, but by the end of The Lord of the Rings it is clear he comes from Elvenhome." The character Gollum continually refers to himself and to the Ring throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring as "my precious"; Douglas A. Anderson, in his notes to The Annotated Hobbit, cites Constance B. Hieatt, who declares that "Old Norse gull/goll, of which one inflected form would be gollum, means `gold, treasure, something precious' and can also mean `ring,' a point which may have occurred to Tolkien." In the last appendix to The Lord of the Rings, Shippey points out, Tolkien derives the word hobbit itself from an Old English asterisk-word--*hol-bytla, meaning "hole-dweller" or "-builder"--although he worked out the meaning long after he first used the word.

Tolkien also drew on ancient words for inspiration. Shippey traces the origins of the Balrog--the evil creature Gandalf faces on the bridge in Moria--to an article Tolkien published in two parts in the journal Medium Aevum on the Anglo-Saxon word Sigelhearwan, used to translate Latin biblical references to natives of Ethiopia. Tolkien suggested that the element sigel meant both `sun' and `jewel,' and that the element hearwa was related to the Latin carbo, meaning soot. He further conjectured that when an Anglo-Saxon used the word, he did not picture a dark-skinned man but a creature like the fire-giants of Northern myth. "What was the point of the speculation," asks Shippey, "admittedly `guess-work,' admittedly `inconclusive'? It offers some glimpses of a lost mythology, suggested Tolkien with academic caution, something `which has coloured the verse-treatment of Scripture and determined the diction of poems.' A good deal less boringly, one might say, it had helped to naturalise the `Balrog' in the traditions of the North, and it had helped to create (or corroborate) the image of the silmaril, that fusion of `sun' and `jewel' in physical form." "Tolkien's attitude to language," writes Janet Adam Smith in the New York Review of Books, "is part of his attitude to history ... to recapture and reanimate the words of the past is to recapture something of ourselves; for we carry the past in us, and our existence, like Frodo's quest, is only an episode in an age-long and continuing drama."

Tolkien's ability to use ancient tongues--"tending," according to Shippey, "to focus on names and words and the things and realities which lie behind them"--helps create a sense of history within Middle-earth, a feeling many reviewers have noticed. Joseph McLellan writes in the Washington Post Book World, "Tolkien's stories take place against a background of measureless depth.... That background is ever-present in the creator's mind and it gives Frodo and company a three-dimensional reality that is seldom found in this kind of writing." Shippey explains that Tolkien's use of language "gave The Lord of the Rings a dinosaur-like vitality which cannot be conveyed in any synopsis, but reveals itself in so many thousands of details that only the most biased critical mind could miss them all." "In the Tolkinian world," states C. S. Lewis in Time and Tide, "you can hardly put your foot down anywhere from Esgaroth to Forlindon or between Ered Mithrin and Khand without stirring the dust of history."

Although many readers have viewed The Lord of the Rings as an allegory of modern history (especially of the Second World War), Tolkien explicitly rejected such an interpretation; in the foreword to the Ballantine edition of The Lord of the Rings, he stated, "As for any inner meaning or `message,' it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical." "I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations," he continued, "and have always done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse `applicability' with ` allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed dominations of the author." He expanded on these comments in a letter to his publisher Stanley Unwin in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: "There is a `moral,' I suppose, in any tale worth telling. But that is not the same thing. Even the struggle between light and darkness (as [Rayner Unwin] calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phase of history, one example of its pattern, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals--they each, of course, contain universals or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such." "You can make the Ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like," he concluded: "an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power. But that is only because all power magical or mechanical does always so work. You cannot write a story about an apparently simple magic ring without that bursting in, if you really take the ring seriously, and make things happen that would happen, if such a thing existed."

Tolkien did, however, suggest that his work had an underlying theme. "The Lord of the Rings," he wrote in a letter to the Jesuit Father Robert Murray published in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, "is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." Shippey points out that the rejoicing of the forces of the West after the downfall of Sauron in The Return of the King is an example of what Tolkien called a "eucatastrophe." Tolkien wrote to his son Christopher that in his essay "On Fairy Stories" "I coined the word `eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effects because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth." "It perceives," he explained, "... that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest `eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story--and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one." "Of course," he added, "I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy-story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy-story: the greatest. Man the story-teller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story."

"A good way to understand The Lord of the Rings in its full complexity," says Shippey, "is to see it as an attempt to reconcile two views of evil, both old, both authoritative, each seemingly contradicted by the other." To the orthodox Christian Evil does not exist by itself, but springs from an attempt to separate one's self from God--an opinion expressed most clearly in The Consolation of Philosophy, a work by the early medieval thinker Boethius, a Roman senator imprisoned and later executed for his views. Tolkien was probably most familiar with it through King Alfred's Old English translation, made in the 9th century A.D. An alternate view--labelled Manichaean, and considered heretical by the church--is that Good and Evil are separate forces, equal and opposite, and the world is their battleground. King Alfred's own career, campaigning against marauding Norsemen, writes Shippey, emphasizes the "strong point of a `heroic' view of evil, the weak point of a Boethian one: if you regard evil as something internal, to be pitied, more harmful to the malefactor than the victim, you may be philosophically consistent but you may also be exposing others to sacrifices to which they have not consented (like being murdered by Viking ravagers or, as The Lord of the Rings was being written, being herded into gas-chambers)." In The Lord of the Rings, Shippey states, Tolkien strikes a balance between these two views of evil, using the symbol of the shadow: "Shadows are the absence of light and so don't exist in themselves, but they are still visible and palpable just as if they did." Tolkien's attitude "implies the dual nature of wickedness," which can also be found in the Lord's Prayer: "`And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.' Succumbing to temptation is our business, one might paraphrase, but delivering us from evil is God's." "At any rate," Shippey concludes, "on the level of narrative one can say that The Lord of the Rings is neither a saint's life, all about temptation, nor a complicated wargame, all about tactics. It would be a much lesser work if it had swerved towards either extreme."

Nonetheless, Tolkien implies, to take The Lord of the Rings too seriously might be a mistake. "I think that a fairy story has its own mode of reflecting `truth,' different from allegory or (sustained) satire, or `realism,' and in some ways more powerful," he stated. "But first of all it must succeed just as a tale, excite, please, and even on occasion move, and within its own imagined world be accorded literary belief. To succeed in that was my primary object." "The tale is after all in the ultimate analysis a tale," Tolkien wrote, "a piece of literature, intended to have literary effect, and not real history. That the device adopted, that of giving its setting an historical air or feeling, and (an illusion of ?) three dimensions, is successful, seems shown by the fact that several correspondents have treated it in the same way ... as if it were a report of `real' times and places, which my ignorance or carelessness had misrepresented in places or failed to describe properly in others." "Having set myself a task," he concluded, "the arrogance of which I fully recognized and trembled at: being precisely to restore to the English an epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own: it is a wonderful thing to be told that I have succeeded, at least with those who have still the undarkened heart and mind."

Associated Works

The Hobbit (Book), The Lord of the Rings (Book)

Historical Context

  • The Life and Times of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
  • At the time of Tolkien's birth:
  • Asa Candler organized the Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta
  • Benjamin Harrison was president
  • Cornerstone of St. John the Divine Cathedral was laid in New York
  • Arthur Conan Doyle published The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • At the time of Tolkien's death:
  • Richard M. Nixon was president
  • Pablo Picasso died in France at 91
  • George Foreman, 24, knocked out Joe Frazier to gain the world heavyweight boxing title
  • The times:
  • 1830-1914: Industrial Revolution
  • 1901-1914: Edwardian period in English literature
  • 1914-1918: World War I
  • 1914-1965: Modernist period in English literature
  • 1939-1945: World War II
  • 1950-1953: Korean War
  • 1957-1975: Vietnam War
  • Tolkien's contemporaries:
  • Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) American novelist
  • George Paget Thomson (1892-1975) British physicist
  • Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
  • Mary Pickford (1893-1979) American actress
  • Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) British writer
  • Selected world events:
  • 1900: Russia annexed Manchuria
  • 1908: Kenneth Grahame published The Wind in the Willows
  • 1925: "Pretty Boy" Floyd began 9-year criminal career by robbing a St. Louis Post Office of $350 in pennies
  • 1946: The bikini swimsuit is introduced but will not appear on American beaches until the 1960s
  • 1960: John Updike published Rabbit, Run
  • 1972: An earthquake in Iran killed 5,000

Further Reading

  • Newsweek, September 17, 1973.
  • New York Times, September 3, 1973.
  • Publishers Weekly, September 17, 1973.
  • Time, September 17, 1973.
  • Washington Post, September 3, 1973.
  • Anderson, Douglas A., author of introduction and notes, The Annotated Hobbit, Houghton, 1988.
  • Authors in the News, Volume 1, Gale, 1976.
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography, Allen & Unwin, 1977, published as Tolkien: A Biography, Houghton, 1978.
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends, Allen & Unwin, 1978, Houghton, 1979.
  • Carter, Lin, Tolkien: A Look behind The Lord of the Rings, Houghton, 1969.
  • Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1973; Volume 2, 1974; Volume 3, 1975; Volume 8, 1978; Volume 12, 1980; Volume 38, 1986.

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