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Timeline (1892-1949)

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Born in Bloemfontein

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is born to English parents in Bloemfontein (Orange Free State, now in South Africa). His father, Arthur Reuel Tolkien, is the manager of the Bank of Africa.

3 January


Brother is born

Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien is born in Bloemfontein.

17 February


Visits England

Arrives in England with his mother Mabel and his younger brother Hilary to visit family. Mabel had not been home for four years and it was the boys’ first visit to England.



Father dies

Arthur Reuel Tolkien planned to join his family in England at the end of their extended visit and travel back to South Africa with them. Unexpectedly he falls ill with rheumatic fever and dies in Bloemfontein, aged thirty-eight.

15 February



Mabel decides to remain in England. She and her two young sons move to the village of Sarehole, near Birmingham where she educates the boys at home.



Mother converts to Catholicism

Mabel Tolkien is received into the Catholic Church against the wishes of her family.



School-years in Birmingham

Mabel and her children move closer to King Edward’s School in Birmingham, where her eldest son is now a pupil.



Mother dies

Mabel Tolkien dies of diabetes, aged thirty-four. Father Francis Morgan, a Catholic priest, becomes the boys’ guardian.

14 November


Meets Edith Bratt

Moves to a new lodging house in Duchess Road, Edgbaston, with his brother Hilary. They meet fellow lodger, Edith Bratt, who is also an orphan.



Invents languages: Qenya

After Nevbosh, after the Book of the Foxrook (1909), he keeps on inventing new languages such as Qenya: after new developments in 1914, the language is recorded in the 1915 Qenyaqetsa.


Discovers sagas & the Kalevala

Reads the Icelandic sagas and the Finnish Kalevala in translation and discovers a love of northern myths and legends.


Writes poetry

He writes many poems; some like ‘The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star, (Sep 1914) are related to his burgeoning mythology. A volume of poetry is rejected by the publisher, Sidgwick and Jackson, in 1916.


Foundation of the T.C.B.S.

Becomes part of the Tea Club & Barrovian Society (T.C.B.S.), a group formed at school with his friends Chris Wiseman, Rob Gilson and Geoffrey Smith. The four young men, each with their different individual talents, aim to make the world a better place and to create, ‘beauty in daily life.’


Holiday in Switzerland

During the summer, before starting at university, he goes on a walking tour in the Swiss Alps, with a group that includes his brother Hilary and his aunt Jane Neave. Their experiences will inspire the mountain episodes in The Hobbit.


Student in Oxford

Studies Classics at Exeter College, Oxford for two years before changing to the English course so that he can pursue his interests in Germanic philology, and Old and Middle English in particular.


‘The Bloodhound, the Chef and the Suffragette’

Writes (and plays the lead role in) the comic play, ‘The Bloodhound, the Chef and the Suffragette’, as part of family festivities with his Incledon cousins in Barnt Green, Worcestershire.



Trip to France

Employed as a tutor for three Catholic Mexican boys, he accompanies them to Paris and Brittany with their two aunts. One of the aunts is knocked down and killed by a car.



‘The Story of Kullervo’

Rewrites the story of Kullervo from the Kalevala. Influenced by William Morris, the story is a mixture of prose and poetry.



Completes his studies and is awarded a first class honours degree in English.



Enlists in army

Enlists as an officer in the Lancashire Fusiliers, and by May 1916 completes specialist training in signalling. The T.C.B.S. meet for what will be the last time in Lichfield in September.



Marries Edith Bratt in St Mary’s Catholic church in Warwick.

22 March


Active service

Sent to France in June for the start of the Somme offensive, he experiences the ‘animal horror’ of trench warfare. Rob Gilson is killed on the first day of the Somme. Tolkien falls ill in October with trench fever and is invalided home in November. Geoffrey Smith dies from his wounds in France on 3rd December.


Writes the ‘Lost Tales’

Starts to write The Book of Lost Tales, a fiction in prose, partly rewritten in 1920 – and later published by Christopher Tolkien in The Book of Lost Tales, vols. 1 & 2 (1983-4).


Invents languages

Works on Primitive Eldarin and Gnomish (grammar & lexicon); makes lists of names used in The Lost Tales, and The Fall of Gondolin; works on Qenya pronouns.


John is born

First son, John Francis Reuel Tolkien, is born in Cheltenham.

16 November


Oxford English Dictionary

Returns to Oxford after the war, and works as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary.



Michael is born

Second son, Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien, is born in Oxford.

22 October

© Artemis, Leeds City Council



University of Leeds

Appointed Reader in English Language at Leeds in 1920; promoted to Professor of English Language in 1924.


Writes lays and poems

Besides The Lay of the Children of Húrin, he writes The Flight of the Noldoli, a Lay of Eärendel and a Lay of the Fall of Gondolin…, and leaves them unfinished. The texts are later published by Christopher Tolkien in The Lays of Beleriand (1985).


‘The Lay of the Children of Húrin’

Writes the first version of this alliterative poem, later published by Christopher Tolkien in The Lays of Beleriand (1985).


A Middle English Vocabulary

This glossary, intended to accompany Kenneth Sisam’s Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose (1921), was not completed in time and was published separately.


Invented languages

Compiles earlier work on Elvish into a Noldorin dictionary; also works on an English-Qenya dictionary, and a Qenya phonology and grammar.


Christopher is born

Third son, Christopher Reuel Tolkien, is born in Leeds.

21 November


Professor at Oxford

Elected Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. Purchases a family home at 22 Northmoor Road, Oxford.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Publishes an edition of the Middle English poem with his colleague at Leeds, E.V. Gordon.


Meets C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, a Fellow and tutor in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford becomes a lifelong friend. They are key members of an informal literary club called the Inklings, whose members meet once or twice a week to read aloud their own compositions in an atmosphere of male camaraderie.



Completes his prose translation of Beowulf but it is not published until 2015.


Priscilla is born

Fourth child and only daughter, Priscilla Mary Reuel Tolkien, is born in Oxford.

18 June



Moves to 20 Northmoor Road

He and Edith purchase a larger house next door (from the publisher, Basil Blackwell) and the family move their belongings over the fence. They live here for seventeen years.



Francis Morgan dies

Father Francis Xavier Morgan, his former guardian and ‘second father’ dies aged 78.

11 June


Songs for the Philologists

Booklet of poems, privately printed at University College, London, containing thirteen poems by Tolkien written to amuse his students at Leeds.


Beowulf lecture

Delivers, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, the Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture at the British Academy.

25 November


The Hobbit

His first work of fiction is published by George Allen & Unwin, with illustrations and maps by the author.

21 September


‘The Silmarillion’ is rejected

Following the commercial success of The Hobbit, he submits prose and verse sections of his unfinished work, ‘The Silmarillion’ but this work is rejected by his publisher.



Writes The Lord of the Rings

Starts writing a sequel to The Hobbit in December 1937. The book is eventually published in three volumes, 1954-55.


‘On Fairy-Stories’

Delivers ‘On Fairy-Stories’, the Andrew Lang Lecture at the University of St. Andrews. The lecture is later published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947).

8 March


Second World War

Takes part in the civil defence in Oxford as an Air Raid Warden. His son Michael trains as an anti-aircraft gunner and defends aerodromes during the Battle of Britain. His son Christopher trains as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force.



The Notion Club Papers

Writes The Notion Club Papers. This unfinished tale is published after his death in Sauron Defeated (1992).


‘Leaf, by Niggle’

Publishes this short story, written several years earlier, in the Dublin Review.



Merton Professor at Oxford

Elected Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Merton College.



‘Aotrou and Itroun’

Publishes ‘The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun’, a fairy tale in verse based on Breton folk-tales, in the Welsh Review.



Sells 20 Northmoor Road

Tolkien and his wife sell the family home which is now too large and move into a house owned by Merton College in Manor Road, closer to the centre of Oxford.



Farmer Giles of Ham

This comic tale is published with illustrations by Pauline Baynes.