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J.R.R. Tolkien was born January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The family immigrated back to England shortly after his father’s death and resettled in Birmingham, England. In 1900 his mother converted to Roman Catholicism and on her death in 1904, Tolkien and his brother became wards of a Parish priest, Father Francis Morgan. Four years later Tolkien fell in love with another orphan, Edith Bratt, who would inspire his fictional character Lúthien Tinúviel. The relationship was frowned upon – Father Morgan saw it as a distraction from the young Tolkien’s studies—and after Tolkien’s first failed attempt to get into the Oxford the relationship ended. Tolkien eventually won a scholarship to Oxford where he studied philology (the study of words and language) particularly Old English and Norse mythologies.
At age 21 Tolkien was reunited with Edith Bratt and the couple married in 1916. Shortly after graduation, Tolkien was conscripted during World War and send to the front in Somme. His first job after the war was at the Oxford English Dictionary where he worked on several words starting with the letter W, including walrus, over which he struggled. By the 1920 Tolkien was teaching full time first at Leeds and later Oxford. At this he translated a definitive edition of the Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and began work on a translation of the Old English Beowulf. It was at this time while teaching at Pembrooke College at Oxford that Tolkien began writing The Hobbit.
Tolkien never expected his stories to become popular and it was by sheer accident that The Hobbit –written only for his own children– came to the attention of Susan Dagnall, an employee of the London publishing firm George Allen & Unwin. When it was eventually published in 1937 it was in instant hit prompting the publishers to ask Tolkien to produce a sequel, which eventually became The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien spent more than a decade writing the story (originally intended as a single volume) and appendices for The Lord of the Rings. During which time he received the constant support of the Inklings- a literary group of students and instructors at Oxford– and in particular his closest friend C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Tolkien originally intended The Lord of the Rings to be a children’s tale in the style of The Hobbit, but it quickly grew darker and more serious as he wrote it.
The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the 20th century.