D I S C O V E R

T O L K I E N

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973): writer, artist, scholar, linguist. Known to millions around the world as the author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien spent most of his life teaching at the University of Oxford where he was a distinguished academic in the fields of Old and Middle English and Old Norse. His creativity, confined to his spare time, found its outlet in fantasy works, stories for children, poetry, illustration and invented languages and alphabets.

‘The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the Water’

W R I T I N G

Tolkien’s most popular works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in Middle-earth, an imagined world with strangely familiar settings inhabited by ancient and extraordinary peoples. Through this secondary world Tolkien writes perceptively of universal human concerns – love and loss, courage and betrayal, humility and pride – giving his books a wide and enduring appeal.

P A I N T I N G

Tolkien was an accomplished amateur artist who painted for pleasure and relaxation. He excelled at landscapes and often drew inspiration from his own stories. He illustrated many scenes from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, sometimes drawing or painting as he was writing in order to visualize the imagined scene more clearly

‘Mithrim’

‘hringboga heorte gefysed’, Beowulf, line 2561 (‘Now was the heart of the coiling beast stirred’)

S C H O L A R S H I P

Tolkien was a professor at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford for almost forty years, teaching Old and Middle English, as well as Old Norse and Gothic. His illuminating lectures on works such as the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, illustrate his deep knowledge of ancient languages and at the same time provide new insights into peoples and legends from a remote past.

L E T T E R S

Tolkien lived in an era when letter-writing was the main form of communication. His thoughtful and carefully crafted letters provide rich insights into a wide range of topics: scholarly, personal and authorial. He never wrote an autobiography and his letters now provide the most direct means of discovering his personal opinions as well as his hopes and fears throughout a long and productive life.

Family on holiday in Weston-super-Mare, 1940

Family on holiday at Weston-super-Mare

L I F E

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892 to English parents. He came to England aged three and was brought up in and around Birmingham. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1915 and saw active service in France during the First World War before being invalided home. After the war he pursued an academic career teaching Old and Middle English. Alongside his professional work, he invented his own languages and began to create what he called a mythology for England; it was this ‘legendarium’ that he would work on throughout his life. But his literary work did not start and end with Middle-earth, he also wrote poetry, children’s stories and fairy tales for adults. He died in 1973 and is buried in Oxford where he spent most of his adult life.

J.R.R. Tolkien in the grounds of Merton College, Oxford, 1968. © BBC.

A U D I O – V I S U A L

As a young man, Tolkien enjoyed performing in family plays at Christmas, and as an adult, his academic lectures were a type of performance, intended to capture the attention of weary students. In his readings from his own works, we can hear his dramatic aptitude as he takes the part of different characters including a hissing Gollum, a down-to-earth Sam Gamgee and a weary but determined King Théoden. Following the success of The Lord of the Rings he was much sought after by interviewers and was a natural and engaging presence, both in front of a microphone and on camera.

J.R.R. Tolkien in the grounds of Merton College, Oxford, 1968. © BBC.

“ All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. ”

The Fellowship of the Ring