by Contributing Writer Aly Runke
J.R.R. Tolkein’s name sends shivers down every fantasy literary nerd’s spine, he is a solemn monarch, a god upon his pedestal, and most of all a simply ingenious man. He was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and today is his birthday. On this day, January 3, in the year 1892, Tolkien was born to Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Tolkein (neé Suffield).
As any Tolkien fan knows, John Tolkien did not know his father very well. When he left South Africa and went with his mother to England, he never saw his father or South Africa ever again. From that day on, life was a bit of a struggle for the Tolkiens, but from this childhood came a most brilliant author full to the brim with imagination.
More than a great author, J.R.R. Tolkien is a part of the western modern mythology, like Star Wars or Harry Potter, but his work provides the foundation for both.
Tolkien himself lead quite the extraordinary life. After a rather rough and sad early childhood, Tolkien happened upon a bit of good luck in that a dear family friend and priest was willing to support Tolkien in his education. Around this time, Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt. Their courtship was a bit taboo and took place in villages far from prying eyes. The two biggest objections to Tolkien and Bratt’s relationship was that Edith was older than Tolkien by three years as well as being protestant while Tolkien himself was Catholic. Eventually, he was forbidden from seeing Edith. The two did ultimately come together, for, when Tolkien was of age (21 years old), he sought his old flame out. She was engaged to someone else, but Tolkien’s love won out and the two were married. They had four children together; John Francis Reuel Tolkien, Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien, Christopher John Reuel Tolkien, and daughter Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien.
Tolkien began his second adventure in life, not in a matter of love but in one of war, World War I, to be exact. Tolkien fought in the trenches against the Germans and suffered greatly from it. Many of his friends did not survive the war. One man very close to him inspired him to chase his dreams of creating his mythical world. His dear friend encouraged him in a letter, telling him to write his story. It was soon after this man’s death that the world that had only lived in Tolkien’s head was poured out into words on paper.
Academically, he had to fight quite a few battles. Oxford was an elitist school and at first he did not fit their criteria. Eventually, Tolkien became a most esteemed and beloved Professor of Anglo-Saxon and other ancient languages and literature. He translated Beowulf from the Old English and gave many lectures thereupon. He also worked to make a translation of Sir Gawain the Green Knight. While, in an academic sense, these writings were of great note, they were not what gained Tolkien his literary fame. That would fall to the fairy tale he wrote for his children, The Hobbit.
That first book became wildly popular. Those who loved it had passionate feelings both negative and positive. The Inklings, a small Oxford writing club, was run at the time by Tolkien and his fellow literary giants and friends, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams; they loved all of Tolkien’s work, as did his editor. He demanded more and many years later he got the Lord of The Rings. And even though the fame of these novels was not instant, they have grown to become the most beloved of Tolkien’s prolific work.
After his death on September 2, 1973, his son Christopher published further writings by his father (Christopher passed away in 2020 at the age of 95). Years later when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out in 2001, the public’s love for Middle Earth grew even more. Now, with six movies covering the events from The Hobbit through the Return of the King, fans have had the opportunity to visit this fantastic land and its characters for years, and in myriad ways. And though the Tolkien family renounces the films, that doesn’t stop Tolkien fans from watching or reading.
Today, fan clubs the world over will be doing a special commemoration in honor of the beloved author’s birthday: a toast made to The Professor by anyone with any drink. And toast him we do, and thank him for the wonders of imagination he gave us.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolkein. And thank you.
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