by Roland King
A Biography of Tolkien
|J.R.R. Tolkien is a name synonymous with Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. More interested reading audiences will also mention The Silmarillion which is essentially an origin story in itself of Middle Earth, the setting of his famous saga. Not only a famous book series, but the inspiration for multiple film adaptations, Tolkien’s books have inspired the imagination of multiple generations since the 1900s. How did these stories come to be? And what of the mind that conceived them? These are questions with answers intimately linked to the events and people in Tolkien’s life.
Born in 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien lived in a world hardly as fantastic as the setting of his later masterpieces. However even at a young age, he quickly developed a knack for both studying and developing languages. He mastered Latin and Greek as well as developed a strong understanding of Germanic and Anglo-Saxon languages. Gothic and Finnish languages he quickly built a competence in and as a fun hobby began developing his own languages. For those familiar with his tales, this clearly goes to show how he so deftly developed the many languages of Middle-Earth that expand the culture and experience of this made-up world.
Nevertheless, life was not all education and scholarly journeys for Tolkien. At a young age, he was introduced to a young woman in a boarding house named Edith Bratt. At the time he was only 16 and she was 19. Their romance was ultimately cut short by Father Francis Morgan who was somewhat of a stand-in for a guardian in young Tolkien’s life. Yet ultimately Edith would remain an influence in Tolkien’s life, so much so that she became a distraction that greatly affected his grades. With a disappointing slump in his grades, he was forced to change his concentration for his degree from “Classics” to the simpler “English Language and Literature.” This did not, however, stop Tolkien from pursuing his passions regarding language, or his passion for Edith. In fact, while studying Old English poems, he came across a passage that roughly translated to: “Hail Earendel brightest of angels, over Middle Earth sent to men.” This passage would ultimately help be one of the many building blocks in creating the world that populated his timeless classics.
Furthering the influence and chain of events leading to his novels, he built a great friendship with C.S. Lewis as well as other like-minded writers and peers that allowed him to workshop and receive feedback for his writings. However, the outbreak of World War I influenced Tolkien in profound ways. Although initially not in the war effort, he eventually did fight in the war and subsequently suffered from “trench fever.”
After regaining his health, and while the war continued to be waged, Tolkien sheltered in a woodland glade in Yorkshire with Edith. That walk inspired him to write a love story that ultimately was about Edith and himself. She was an Elvish princess, Lúthien, and he was a mortal human, Beren. This story was so precious and influential to Tolkien that after his wife’s passing, he had "Lúthien" written on her gravestone. For his own, he ensured that "Beren" would be written on his own. For those familiar with Silmarillion, this story of Edith and Tolkien (Lúthien and Beren) ultimately would also be the origin story and framework for Tolkien’s entire saga.
With friends and peers the likes of C.S. Lewis, a brilliant mind that could develop entire languages for made-up words, and a love for a woman that would encompass and entire life’s work of writings, it is no wonder that Tolkien was able to build such a fantastic world. A master of his art, Tolkien’s works will live on in the hearts and imaginations of readers for generations to come.
An entry for "The Rising Stars Handbook "