(Reported by Jasmine Angell, Year 8)
Cursed jewellery, hidden in lone mountains. Mythological beasts, guarding age old jewels. Hobbits, elves, dwarves and orcs. I’m sure you’ve heard of these tales before, but who is the man who invented such influential narratives? Where did he find inspiration to create such a detailed world that lives on through his books to this day? John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is behind the languages and creatures of this extraordinary universe. But where did he get his inspirations from? Was it his surroundings, his experiences or just pure imagination?
Childhood and Youth
J.R.R Tolkien was an English author and poet. He was born 3rd January 1892. He was born to Arthur Reuel Tolkien who was a bank manager and his wife Mabel nee Suffield. Tolkien was originally born in Bloemfontein in South Africa but moved to England. While in his early teens, he encountered his first constructed language Animalic which was an invention of his cousins Mary and Marjorie Incledon. Soon after, Mary and others, including Tolkien himself invented Nevbosh, a more complex language than Animalic. The next constructed language that Tolkien would encounter would be one of his own creation: Naffarin.
As a child, Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider. Some say that this event is echoed in his stories. He had an early introduction to the literary world as he learnt to read by the age of four. Mabel Tolkien taught her two children at home and Ronald, as he was known in the family was taught a great deal of botany. His growing knowledge of the subject aroused in him an enjoyment of the look and feel of plants. His favourite lessons were languages and his mother taught him Latin very early. He liked fantasy stories by George Macdonald and Red Indians (Native Americans). He disliked Treasure Island and thought Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was “amusing but disturbing”.
In 1904, when Tolkien was twelve, his mother died of acute diabetes. She was thirty four years of age. After his mother’s death, Tolkien attended King Edwards School in Birmingham. In 1911, he began studying at Exeter College, Oxford and was initially studying Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first class honours.
First World War
Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he made the decision to not volunteer for the British Army. He instead entered a programme that delayed enlistment until finishing his degree. In 1915, he was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers.
When he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, he and Edith (his wife) went walking in the woods and Edith began to dance for him in a clearing full of flowering hemlock. Tolkien himself never called Edith Luthien but she was the source of the story that inspired the historic meeting of Beren and Luthien in the Silmarillion.
Tolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary. He is the renowned author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Many authors had published works of fantasy before Tolkien but the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings soon led to a resurgence of the genre. Because of the genre’s rise to fame, Tolkien was soon identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature. In the year 2008, The Times ranked him sixth on a list of “The fifty greatest British writers since 1945”.
In 1920, Tolkien took up a post as Reader in the English Language at the University of Leeds and in doing so became the youngest professor there. During his time at Pembroke College, he wrote the Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. So what did inspire him to spin such an enthralling tale that is still appreciated? Some would say that it was his experiences and what he saw that painted such fantastical and breath-taking scenes in his mind. This is certainly the case with the meeting of Beren and Luthien in The Silmarillion. In the 1920s, Tolkien undertook the task of translating Beowulf which was finished in 1926. He never published it. Many years after Tolkien’s death, his son edited it and finally published it in 2014.
Second World War
Tolkien was designated as a codebreaker in the run up to the Second World War. He was soon asked if he would like to serve in the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office and began on 27 March.
J.R.R Tolkien died on the second of September 1973 and Edith Tolkien died on the twenty-ninth of November 1971. His imaginative world lives on through his books. The question is, where did her get his inspiration from?
During his time as a student, Tolkien was heavily influenced by Norse mythology. Tolkien’s elves and Dwarves are based on Norse and Germanic mythologies. Overall, his influences seem to come from a variety of different mythologies and literature.