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J. R. R. Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien) Biography

(1892–1973), (John Ronald Reuel Tolkien), A Middle-English Vocabulary, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

British writer and academic, born in South Africa; he came to England at the age of three and was educated at Exeter College, Oxford. From 1945 he was Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford. Among his early works are A Middle-English Vocabulary (1922), an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925; with E. V. Gordon), and Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936). While serving in the trenches in the First World War, he began, for consolation and pleasure, to create tales set in a ‘Secondary World’. The theoretical foundations for this ‘subcreation’ were presented in ‘On Fairy-Stories’, the definitive form of which appeared in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947); with Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who edited the volume, Charles Williams was a leading member of the Inklings, at whose meetings in the 1930s Tolkien began to read the draft excerpts from the Secondary World tales which later became The Lord of the Rings (3 volumes, 19545). This World was partially glimpsed in The Hobbit (1937), a children's novel and the first published tale of Middle-earth; even the enormous (but meticulously constructed over a 40-year period) epic narrative contained in The Lord of the Rings only hinted (in long appendices) at the extraordinary substrata of created mythology surrounding Frodo the Hobbit's long soul-searching quest to return the Ring of Power to its immemorial source. The events in this novel were rooted in an extended history of Middle-earth, of which some details appeared in The Silmarillion (1977), Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth (1980), and The Book of Lost Tales (2 volumes, 19835); the languages of human and elf and Orc quoted in the text were samples of tongues Tolkien had created. After several years of moderate sales, Tolkien's works became vastly popular and influential. Among the many studies are Humphrey Carpenter's biography J. R. R. Tolkien (1977) and T. A. Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth (1982).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: James Thomson Biography to Hugh [Redwald] Trevor-Roper Baron Dacre Biography