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’
E C R I T U R E
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 E I N D R E
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.
‘hringboga heorte gefysed’, Beowulf, line 2561 (‘Now was the heart of the coiling beast stirred’)
S A V O I R
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.
The ring verse
L A N G U E S
Tolkien’s interest in languages, sparked by the Welsh names he saw on passing coal-trucks, developed from early childhood and he began to create his own languages while still at school. The result was the development of two complex Elvish languages, one influenced by Welsh (Sindarin) and one by Finnish (Quenya). Working on these throughout his life, he gave each its own distinct sounds, grammatical structure and vocabulary.
The ring verse
Letter from ‘Father Christmas’ to Michael.
L E T T R E 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 at Weston-super-Mare
LA V I 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. An early interest in languages led him to pursue 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.
Family on holiday in Weston-super-Mare, 1940