by Lily Bell, age 14
John Ronald Ruel Tolkien, who is more commonly known as Tolkien, experienced a challenging childhood. He was born in Africa, where his father was on business, in 1882. Soon after, his brother, Hilary, was born. For a short time everything was pleasant. His mother courageously moved with her two sons back to England to wait for their father. Tragically, his father never made it back to England because he died in Africa. At a very young age, his mother taught him Latin and Botany, which inspired Tolkien’s love of nature and linguistics. His mother converted to Catholicism, and because of this, her family disowned her, leaving Tolkien, Hilary, and their mother to fend for themselves. In 1904, Tolkien’s mother died, leaving Hillary and Tolkien to the care of a Catholic priest. The boys spent the rest of their childhood drifting from one boarding school to another. Although his childhood was difficult, Tolkien did not
lose hope and found joy in his studies.
At sixteen, Tolkien had proved himself to be brilliant by mastering Latin and Greek, which he used as inspiration for his own fictional languages. He also met Edith Bratt, who was nineteen. She also was an orphan, and later the model for the beautiful character Luthian in one of his books. They became close friends although she was Anglican and he Catholic. Unfortunately, the priest who had raised him ordered him not to speak to her until he was twenty-one because of their religious differences. As he waited for Edith, Tolkien studied languages further and began to create some of his own. As soon as he turned twenty-one, he proposed to Edith, who promptly accepted. Edith converted, and during the chaos of World War One, they were married. Not long afterwards, Tolkien was commissioned to the war, where he got much of the inspiration for his stories.
For the next four months, the future author fought fearlessly until he caught an illness from the filth of the trenches and was set home to a heartbreaking welcome. While he was away, many of his childhood friends had died in the war. Later he attributed the bittersweet ending of The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and Sam victoriously returned to Hobbiton, but it has been changed forever, to this experience. Eventually he recovered from his illness, and his first son, John, was born. Presently, three other children followed. He became a professor at Oxford University, where he wrote his first book, The Hobbit. The Hobbit was published and well accepted in 1937. In 1954 he published the series The Lord of the Rings, which took him more than ten years to write. At sixty-seven he retired and moved with his family to Cournemouth where his wife died in 1971. On her tombstone he engraved “Luthian” because he had created that character in resemblance of his wife. In 1973 Tolkien himself died. His gravestone was engraved with “Beren,” who was Luthian’s husband, thus completing their real-life novel. To this day, the author is renowned as one of the greatest of all time, and audiences of all ages are still intrigued by Tolkien’s life and legends.
J.R.R. Tolkien Magazine. “The Mind of a Genius: The Man Behind Middle Earth.”