John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, born January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, was a man of diverse accomplishments, centered around the English language, especially Old and Middle English.
Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, he also wrote a couple of stories, including The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), which have spent months on bestsellers lists in the 1960s and the 2000s. His tales of hobbits, elves, dwarves, orcs, and humans are beloved by several generations.
His father died when he was four, whereupon his mother moved with her sons John and Hilary back to England. She succumbed to diabetes in 1904, leaving her children destitute orphans, looked after by their local priest. J.R.R. Tolkien was amazingly adept at languages, quickly learning languages such as Old and Middle English, Gothic, Welsh, and Finnish.
It was from his study of these languages and these cultures that the famous bedtime stories he told to his four children grew into The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. An editor at George Allen and Unwin (now part of HarperCollins) thought the manuscripts were intriguing. In the early ’60s, a pirated mass market paperback version was published and college students worldwide spread the word—these books were treasures. They became bestsellers, causing the now famous Tolkien and his beloved wife, Edith, to move to another town in order to acquire some anonymity.
Another important aspect of Tolkien’s life was his association with The Inklings, his writers’ group, of which C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Christopher Tolkien were members. Edith Tolkien died in 1971; J.R.R. Tolkien died in 1973. They are buried in the same grave in Bournemouth. Their epitaphs read: Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889-1971; John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973.