Tribute to J.R.R.Tolkien

Best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. the English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE sadly passed away 2nd September 1973. Born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province in South Africa . As a child Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider in the garden, an event which some think would have later echoes in his stories, although Tolkien admitted no actual memory of the event and no special hatred of spiders as an adult. When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother to live with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with places  such as his aunt Jane’s farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.

Taught at home, Tolkien was a keen pupil and learnt a great deal about plants he also liked to draw landscapes and trees, and also enjoyed languages, so his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early and encouraged him to read many books. He liked stories about “Red Indians” and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. In addition, the “Fairy Books” of Andrew Lang were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings. Tolkien moved to the Edgbaston area of Birmingham where he lived in the shadow of Perrott’s Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. He attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip’s School, before winning a Foundation Scholarship and returning to King Edward’s School.

In 1911, Tolkien went on a summer holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter, noting that Bilbo’s journey across the Misty Mountains (“including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods”) is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn (“the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams”). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and on across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass, through the upper Valais to Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours in his final examinations.

In 1914, the United Kingdom entered World War I. Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army. Instead, Tolkien entered a programme wherein he delayed enlisting until completing his degree in July 1915. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months.Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt.Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends, including Gilson and Smith of the T.C.B.S., were killed in the war. He might well have been killed himself, but he suffered on more than one occasion from trench foot and was removed from front line combat multiple times. A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service. During his recovery he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps and was promoted to Lieutenant.

Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there.While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon. He also translated Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford with a fellowship at Pembroke College.During his time at Pembroke College Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis—they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien’s 1936 lecture, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” had a lasting influence on Beowulf research, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In 2003, Tolkien’s handwritten translation of and commentary on Beowulf, running to roughly 2000 pages, was discovered in the archives of the Bodleian Library.

In the run-up to World War II, Tolkien was earmarked as a codebreaker.In January 1939, he agreed to served in the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office in the event of national emergency. However, although he was “keen” to become a codebreaker, he was informed in October that his services would not be required at that time. From 1959 up to his death in 2nd September 1973, Tolkien received steadily increasing public attention and literary fame due to the ongoing popularity of his novels. The sales of his books were so profitable that he regretted that he had not chosen early retirement. Tolkien’s status as a best-selling author gave them easy entry into polite society, and he was also appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972 and also received the insignia of the Order at Buckingham Palace. In the same year Oxford University also conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.

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4 Comments

  1. May he rest in peace. Lovely tribute to a great writer.

    Like

  2. Thank you, being a big Tolkien fan I tried to do him justice, my original tribute was almost as epic and long as the novels, there is just so much to say. I can’t wait to see the Hobbit movies either.

    Like

  3. Wonderfully written and informative thanks

    Like

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