Tolkien 1916 when he served in World War I. Image sourced from Wikimedia

Top 10 Unbelievable Facts about J. R. R. Tolkien


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 rd. January 1892 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State in South Africa. His father was Arthur Reuel Tolkien, an English banker manager and his mother’s name was Mabel.

His parents had left England when Arthur was promoted to head the Bloemfontein office of the British bank for which he worked. Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hillary Arthur Reuel Tolkien, who was born on 17 February 1894.

Later in life, Tolkien became an established English writer, poet, philologist, and academic. One of his best-known works is the hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Additionally, he was a professor of Anglo Saxon in Rawlinson and Bosworth and a fellow of Pembroke College both at the University of Oxford.

Here are the top 10 unbelievable facts about J.R.R. Tolkien

1. Tolkien could read and write fluently at a very early age

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When he was four, Tolkien could read and write fluently unlike children his age. This was thanks to his mother who let him read several books.

Interestingly, Tolkien did not enjoy reading Treasure Island and the pied piper. Moreover, he thought Alice’s adventure in wonderland by Lewis Carroll was entertaining but disturbing.

What he loved reading were stories about Red Indians and the works of fantasy by George MacDonald. One book that he found interesting and influential in his career as ‘the fairy books’ by Andrew Lang.

In University, he graduated with first-class honors in English language and literature.

2. Tolkien is considered the father of modern fantasy

A cup of coffee and a copy of The Hobbit. Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash

While there were several other authors who had published different works of fantasy before Tolkien, the great success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings led directly to a popular rebirth of the genre.

He was then recognized as the ‘father’ of modern fantasy literature.

In his book, The Hobbit, Tolkien gave some of his characters his personal attributes. Some of these attributes were the love of nature, cooking, and aversion to travel.  

Published in 1937, ‘The Hobbit’ captivated literature lovers of all ages. This was an interesting turn of events since Tolkien never wanted to publish his work.   

It took 15 years until Tolkien published “The Lord of the Rings.”

After all, writing was his hobby, not his profession.

3. Tolkien fought in World War I and almost World War II

Men of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers in a communication trench near Beaumont Hamel, 1916. Photo by Ernest Brooks – Wikimedia

In August 1914, Britain entered the First World War. Tolkien’s family was shocked when he opted not to volunteer immediately for the British army.

It was only until he graduated from University in 1915 that he enlisted to serve in World War I. He was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire fusiliers on 15 July 1915. 

Tolkien trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Rugeley Camp near Rugeley, Staffordshire, for 11 months.

During World War II, he was reserved as a code breaker and even went for training at the London HQ of the Government Code and Cypher School. Lucky for him, his service was not required.

He later relieved this moment in a letter in 1941 to his son Michael. In the letter, Tolkien recollected his earlier days saying:

“In those days’ chaps signed up, or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage”.

4. Christopher, his son, published some of Tolkien’s work after his death

A copy of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash

Tolkien died in 1973 from a bleeding ulcer and chest infection. He still had several manuscripts that were not yet published left under the care of his son Christopher.

One of the manuscripts was Silmarillion which formed part of an anthology. It was collectively a part of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, poems fictional histories, and invented languages.

Christopher published these under the title Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.

Another publication was called The History of Middle-earth. There is no complete consistency between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

These are the two most closely related works because Tolkien never fully combined all their traditions into each other.

5. After the war, his first job was as an etymologist

After World War I, Tolkien got a job with the Oxford English dictionary. His job involved defining the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W.

Later in 1920, Tolkien took up a post as Reader of English language at the University of Leeds, becoming the youngest member of the academic staff there.

While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary. He also translated Sir Gawain, pearl, and Sir Orfeo.

6. Tolkien was seen as feeble and highly likely to die in World War I

Tolkien 1916 when he served in World War I. Image sourced from Wikimedia

Ronald Tolkien and Edith Bratt got engaged at Birmingham in January 1913 and married at St Mary’s immaculate Catholic Church at Warwick on 22 March 1916.

He admitted years later in a letter to Michael, that he had a deep admiration for his wife Edith. When they got married, Tolkien had no job and had been enlisted in World War I.

The couple had four children: John Francis Reuel Tolkien, Michael Hilary Reuel Tolkien, Christopher John Reuel Tolkien, and Priscilla Mary Anne Reuel Tolkien.

As a father, he dearly loved his children.

7. He regretted not retiring early

Tolkien retired in 1959 and this came with a lot of attention due to his literary work. This continued until his death in 1973.

In 1961, his friend C.S Lewis nominated him for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  His books were bestsellers, even today, and this made him wish he had retired early. I m

This came with the class as he got new status in society, something that he was entirely comfortable with. While it took him a while to warm up to this, his wife Edith enjoyed hosting.

8. He had to change his phone number after the enormous success of his books

With the popularity of his books came intense attention from his ardent fans. His phone would not stop ringing since his phone number was in the public directory.

When they moved to Bournemouth, a British upper class, they removed their number from the directory. They lived a quiet life at the seaside resort.  

9. Tolkien loved nature

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

Tolkien would get saddened when forests would get damaged or trees fell. He shared these through private letters before they were politicized.  

These sentiments were seen in his work of The Lord of the Rings. The story increased interest in the value of wild and untamed nature as well as the need to protect wild nature.

When he was younger, he loved drawing landscapes and trees. His mother taught him about botany and this made him love plants.  

10. His most prized books were meant for children, the hobbit was meant to be a bedtime story

When he first wrote the book The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien intended it to be a children’s book just like the style of The Hobbit.

However, the more he wrote, the more the narrative changed. Its sequel addressed an older audience. Tolkien greatly influenced the fantasy genre that grew up after the book’s success.

Tolkien invented the word “hobbit” which he used to mean small human-like creatures with fur on their feet and who lived in caves in the verdant Shire.

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