Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tolkien as Professor and Author...

Have you read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? If yes, you probably know that they have been acclaimed #1 in many polls and lists around the world. Current estimates put The Lord of the Rings as selling well over 150 million copies, with The Hobbit at over 100 million copies sold. It is amazing when you also read that these are books that "very nearly weren't."

The Hobbit was first published by Allen & Unwin in the UK. It so happened that Mr. Unwin liked to ask his son Rayner, who was 10 years old at the time, to give his opinion after reading a book they might publish. Rayner liked The Hobbit so it was published.

This book is called Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century. It is written by Devin Brown, who is a Lilly Scholar and a Professor of English at Asbury University, as well as an expert on both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. This new biography of Tolkien by Brown is published in the U.S. by Abingdon Press, at

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born January 3, 1892, not in England but in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, the former colony we now know as South Africa. His father. Arthur, was manager for a branch of the Bank of Africa. When Ronald was four, his homesick-for-England-mom, took Ronald and his brother Hilary (then two), back to England for family visits. While his family was in England, Arthur Tolkien died and was buried there in South Africa. This left the boys and their mother Mabel with family but what to do? Mabel was homeschooling for awhile but moved her little family several times in the Birmingham area, near schools she wanted the boys to attend. The boys loved living in the country and the scenery, woods and trees, a mill on a river, and other attractive scenes stayed in Ronald's mind when he began writing stories and eventually The Hobbit.

Schooling meant the need for scholarships.  Ronald admitted he was not a good student, often studying languages he loved instead of what was required to gain scholarship aid. He did eventually attend King Edward's School, then Exeter College, and then Oxford. And suddenly, there was World War I and he became a Second Lieut. in 1915. And in March 1916 he and his long-time love, Edith Bratt, were married. Tolkien had to go off to war, where he caught Trench Fever and was very ill, and finally returned to Birmingham Hospital for recuperation. As his health improved he was able to begin teaching, first at Leeds College, then back to Oxford, where he remained.

There, he met C. S. Lewis and the two professors-authors became good friends, sharing, critiqueing, and encouraging each other on their writings. Thus, the Inklings group began again, meeting each week to talk and share their work. Still, it was many years before Tolkien's The Hobbit, accepted by Allen & Unwin in 1930, was published in 1937; and even more years before his The Lord of the Rings, accepted in 1937, was finally published in 1954.

It took a long time, but eventually The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings "were translated into more than 40 different languages, and became beloved, best sellers all over the world."

---Lois Sibley