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Free Study Guide-The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien-Free Online Book Notes
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY

TOLKIEN

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His parents, Arthur Tolkien and Mabel Suffield, were English and had moved to South Africa to further Arthur's career. His father died when he was four, and Tolkien grew up in and around Birmingham, England, where he, his mother, and younger brother, Hilary, lived in near-poverty.

During this period, his mother converted to Catholicism. Tolkien, too, became a Catholic and remained so all his life. In 1904, Tolkien's mother died. This affected the young J. R. R. Tolkien adversely. He developed a split personality: one a cheerful humorous person with a tremendous zest for life, and the other, a person who often sank into profound despair. After their mother's death, the boys were placed under the guardianship of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Francis Morgan.

In 1910, Tolkien won a scholarship to Oxford. He thoroughly enjoyed himself at the university and became particularly interested in the history of the English language and medieval literature. He spent a lot of his time during college creating an elfish language and an elfish mythology. He received his degree in English Language and Literature in 1915. He enlisted in the army that same year, and, before departing to serve in World War I in 1916, he married Edith Bratt, his childhood sweetheart. They eventually had three sons and a daughter.

After the war, Tolkien returned to Oxford, where he got a job as a lexicographer, working on the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1921, he began his teaching career as a Reader (approximately the equivalent of an assistant professor) in English Language at the University of Leeds and was made a Professor within a few years. In 1925, he was appointed Professor of Anglo-Saxon Literature at Oxford. In 1945, he was appointed Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, a post he held until his retirement in 1959. After his retirement, he was elected Emeritus Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.


Most of Tolkien's writings deal with medieval England. One of his most well-known works is an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925), which he worked on in collaboration with E. V. Gordon. His academic publications, though respected, did not win him fame; instead, the publication in 1937 of a children's fantasy book, The Hobbit, made his name known throughout England. "Middle-earth," Tolkien's imaginary world inhabited by elves, dwarves, hobbits, humans, goblins, wizards, and sorcerers, quickly became famous.

Encouraged by his success with The Hobbit, the author further developed the world of Middle-earth in the epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, published in 1954-1955. A much darker and more obviously adult work, the trilogy enchanted its readers with an alternative world into which one could escape. The Lord of the Rings was generally well received in England and made into a radio series in 1956, but it was not widely known elsewhere. In 1965, a paperback edition was published in America and struck a nerve with youthful readers hungry for fantasy, eventually gaining Tolkien's work cult status and contributing to its world-wide fame. The current popularity of the fantasy genre in literature owes its origin, in part, to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Tolkien was both pleased and surprised over the eventual success of his Middle-earth series. He was also unprepared for the fame that came with it. Seeking a quieter life, he moved with his wife to Bournemouth, a South Coast resort town, in 1969, where they lived until her death in 1971. Tolkien died in 1973.

Other works by Tolkien include several books for children, including Farmer Giles of Ham (1949) and Smith of Wootton Major (1967). The Silmarillion, his other major work of fantasy for adults, was published posthumously in 1977.

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