J.R.R. Tolkien

Thomas Honegger
[email protected]
J.R.R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Tolkien the Philologist/Medievalist
Tolkien the Catholic
Tolkien the Poet and Storyteller
Tolkien the Artist and Illustrator
Tolkien the Family Man
Tolkien the Soldier
Tolkien the Icon of Popular Culture
Why a biographical
the traditional literary critical tool-kit
seems inadequate for dealing with
Tolkien’s work
Tolkien’s literary works are ‘byproducts’ of his passion for languages
Tolkien did not see himself as an author
of fiction
Tolkien’s primary motivation for writing
was personal pleasure (and that of his
children and friends)
Main Works of Fiction
The Hobbit (1937)
The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
The Silmarillion (1977)
Main Works of Tolkien
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by
Humphrey Carpenter (1977)
The Road to Middle-earth by
Tom A. Shippey (1992, 3rd edition 2003)
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Born 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein
(Orange Free State, South Africa)
Dies 2 September 1973 in Bournmouth
The Tolkien Brothers
(John Ronald & Hilary *1894)
Tolkien’s Childhood
born 1892 in Bloemfontein
return to England in Spring 1895; father
Arthur remains in South Africa
1896 Arthur Tolkien dies
1896-1900: Sarehole Mill (Birmingham)
Early Influences
being bitten by a tarantula in SA
Mabel Tolkien (neé Suffield) knows
Latin, French, German and could paint,
draw, and play the piano.
gamgee-tissue = a surgical tissue made
from cotton wool (ater Dr Gamgee)
reads Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tale Books:
story of Sigurd who slew the dragon
Early Influences 2
being chased by a farmer for picking
Atlantis dream: a great wave towering
up and advancing ineluctably over the
trees and green fields => drowning of
the unspoilt and pre-industrial
landscape of Sarehole Mill => partial
inspiration for The Shire
The Idyll of Sarehole Mill
Early Influences 3
1900 Mabel Tolkien is received into the
Catholic Church.
Moving house to Moseley, a
Birmingham suburb.
Ronald begins to attend King Edward’s
1901 Move to King’s Heath. Names on
coal-trucks: Natyglo, Senghenydd,
Blaen-Rhondda => Ronald discovers
Early Influences 4
1902 Move to Edgbaston
St. Philip’s Grammar School
Birmingham Oratory; friendship with
Father Francis Xavier Morgan
1903 Ronald back to King Edward’s
School => Greek, Shakespeare (Great
Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill),
Chaucer (Middle English)
Father Francis Morgan
Early Influences 5
1904 Mabel Tolkien is discovered to
have diabetes; dies aged 34 => Ronald
and Hilary left full orphans
1905 the boys move to their Aunt
Beatrice’s house. Father Francis
Morgan is their guardian.
teachers: Robert Cary Gilson &
medievalist Brewerton
Early Influences 6
Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Old
Brunaim bairiπ Bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudanei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
fagrafahsa, liπulinπi,
fraujinodei fairguni.
The birch bears fine leaves on shining
boughs, it grows pale green and
glittering, the flower of the trees in
bloom, fair-haired and supple-limbed,
the ruler of the mountain.
Early Influences 7
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and
other Middle English poems
Early Influences 8
1908 Tolkien brothers move to Mrs
Faulkner’s house. Ronald meets Edith
Edith Bratt (*1889)
Edith Bratt (c. 1916)
Influences 9
1909 Ronald and Edith decided that
they were in love.
Autumn 1909: romance discovered by
Father Francis Morgan. Further contact
forbidden. They continue to see each
other in secret.
Ronald fails to attain a scholarship for
Father Francis Morgan
Influences 10
1910 Ronald and Hilary move to new
lodgings. Secret meetings discovered.
Ban on all contact.
Edith Bratt moves to Cheltenham.
December: Ronald wins scholarship at
Exeter College, Oxford.
J.R.R. Tolkien 1911
Ronald and Edith
1910 - 3 January 1913:
Tolkien respects Father Francis ban on
all communication with Edith.
3 January 1913: Ronald writes to Edith
and asks her to marry him.
1914 Ronald and Edith engaged.
1916 22 March Ronald and Edith are
Device of Luthien
Device of Beren
Device of Melian
Device of Thingol
Ronald & Edith / Beren &
Luthien (Silmarillion)
(Ronald 16, Edith
difference in religion
difference in social
father figure (Father
Francis) opposed to
‘task’ to achieve
age/racial difference
(Beren mortal
human, Luthien
immortal elf)
father (Thingol)
opposed to union
task to achieve
Another ‘Patient’ Couple
Influences 11
1911 T.C.B.S. (Tea Club Barrovian
Society < friends who meet at Barrow’s
Visit to Switzerland => Redhorn Pass
Tolkien at Oxford 1
Autumn 1911-Summer 1915
reads Classics, later switches to
Germanic languages (Honours School
of English Language and Literature)
extensive ‘club’ life
The Battle of the Eastern Field
Summer 1912: trains with a cavalry
regiment => Tolkien was a good
Tolkien at Oxford 2
philology (Joe Wright)
linguistic aesthetics
cellar door
ancient texts, words and languages
windows into the past
abandons neo-Gothic
develops a new language based largely
on Finnish ????
=> origins of Quenya
Tolkien at Oxford 3
1912 discovers the Kalevala
1913 reads the Edda
1914 reads William Morris House of the
Wolfings => archaic language
develops his skills as painter
Tolkien at Oxford 4
Summer 1915: he is awarded First
Class Honours in his final examination
=> could be confident to get an
academic post after war
Tolkien the Soldier (1915-18)
War and Middle-earth 1
Summer 1915: Tolkien is commissioned
to the Lancashire Fusiliers, he begins
training in Bedford and Staffordshire
publication of the poem Goblin Feet
Goblin Feet (1915)
I am off down the road
Where the fairy lanterns glowed
And where the little pretty flittermice are
A slender band of grey
It runs creepily away
And the hedges and the grasses are
Goblin Feet (1915)
The air is full of wings,
And of blunderning beetle-things
That warn you with their whirring and
their humming.
O! I hear the tiny horns
Of enchanted leprechauns
And the padding feet of many gnomes
War and Middle-earth 2
Ai lintulinda Lasselanta
Pilingeve suyer nalla ganta
Kuluvi ya karnevalinar
V’ematte singi Eldamar.
(November 1915/ March 1916)
War and Middle-earth 3
June 1916: Tolkien at the Somme;
serves as Battalion Signalling Officer
November 1916: Tolkien back in
England suffering from ‘trench fever’
War and Middle-earth 4
January & February 1917: begins to
write The Book of Lost Tales while
Earendil the Mariner <
Eala Earendel engla beorhtast
ofer middangeard monnum sended
(Christ I, l. 104f)
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