James Ronal Reuel, or J.R.R., Tolkien is one of the best-loved British writers of the 20th century. His main works, The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings have been celebrated for decades, and translated into many languages. The film version of The Lord of The Rings directed by Peter Jackson has created more interest into the author's background.
J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa, in 1892. His father died when he was only three, and the family relocated to the West Midlands section of England. Early on, Tolkien demonstrated an amazing aptitude for learning languages, mastering Greek and Latin in his early teens. Of particular importance was his mastery of Finnish, which later would greatly influence the Elven language, Quenya.
While Tolkien initially attended college at Oxford, he changed his emphasis to English Literature, and attained an Arts Degree in 1915. He also, met his future wife Edith Bratt. When she converted to Catholicism, the two were married. They had four children, to whom the writer often told his many stories.
While at college, Tolkien had already begun to work on original poetry and had begun to invent Quenya. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the British Army. Many believe that the depictions of war in The Lord of the Rings were greatly influenced by his time spent in the trenches of France. Tolkien hated this interpretation and refuted it, but close scholarship of his writings to his wife during the time definitely suggests similarities.
After the WWI, Tolkien became associate professor at Leed’s college. As he taught, he continued to work on stories and translations. His most noted translations were of long poems of the West Midland Dialect, quite distinct from other forms of Middle English. His translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Night is still considered by many to be an excellent verse translation.
In 1925, he was awarded full professorship at Oxford. He founded a group called the Inklings, becoming friends with both C.S. Lewis, writer of the Narnia series, and Charles Williams. Through them, and through his children, Tolkien tested out his theories and ideas about hobbits, desiring to create a mythology for Britain, since most early mythology derived from either Norse or Norman sources.
While he continued to teach and contribute many scholarly articles to philology publications, he began work in earnest on The Hobbit . It was not finished or published until 1937. After initial success with The Hobbit, he submitted what he considered to be his finest work, The Silmarillion, which was not published until after his death. This rejection was a source of deep regret to Tolkien.
However, Tolkien was encouraged to write something akin to The Hobbit , and The Lord of the Rings took shape. He initially wished to publish the whole work together, but publishers divided into three books. Reviews of the publications in the 1950s were mixed, but did attract a British following.
The work came to public notice in the US in the 1960s, as a result of pirated copies being printed. It was often tied with the counterculture movements of the 60s, which gave Tolkien some distress. It did, however, evolve into the cult following of his work still very much present today.
The Lord of The Rings as product of over 20 years of scholarship, is noted particularly for its depth, and underlayering of entirely invented cultures and languages. It is relatable to many and typifies the “hero’s journey.” Not all fans are equally pleased with the recent film version. Changes in behavior or characters like Faramir are distressing.
Tolkien, as a devout Catholic, believed there were some incorruptible people, such as his character Faramir. In the book, Faramir never tries to take the ring from Frodo. Jackson changes to Faramir not only being tempted but also actually starting Frodo back to Osgiliath. Unfortunately, Jackson seems not to have held the same faith that provides the work with this childlike belief in the infinitely good.
J.R.R. Tolkien died in 1973, and though he made other literary endeavors they were not well received. Primarily, he wrote a few short tales that were not published until after his death. Through the work of his youngest son, Christopher, lovers of the writer finally had access to The Silmarillion, as well as were privileged to read other tales he wrote along the way to his greatest work.