Who JRR Tolkien was before The Lord of the Rings.

JRR TolkienIt’s no exaggeration to state that J.R.R. Tolkien invented the contemporary fantasy genre as we know it today or at least the part of the genre that concerns itself with invented worlds, quests for treasure or magic and mythical races and creatures. But before he became one of the most famous and best-selling writers in English, Tolkien was a war veteran and a professor, and both of those things fed into the work that eventually became the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Tolkien lost both of his parents at a young age. As a teenager, he became interested in linguistics, invented languages and poetry, and all of these would find their way into his extensive chronicling of the world of Middle-Earth later in life. Tolkien married young and shortly after set off to face the horrors of World War I. Despite his repeated denials that he was writing about the war in his fiction, it is difficult not to see reflected in his fiction the enormity of loss he must have felt seeing all of Europe descend into war and the death of so many close friends.

Within a few years of the war’s end, Tolkien had begun teaching at the University of Leeds where he worked on both Middle and Old English texts. He began working on The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the late 1920s, and in 1937, The Hobbit was published. This beloved but modest book for children gave little hint of the vast history of Middle-Earth upon which Tolkien had embarked. For years, he met regularly with a group of British fantasists known as the Inklings that included C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams to exchange readings of each other’s work and critiques. One of Tolkien’s aims in writing The Lord of the Rings was to produce a kind of origin myth for English people who he felt had been deprived of such mythology due to multiple waves of invaders. He also based much of his work on the Finnish myth the Kalevala. In the 1940s, Tolkien became a professor literature at Oxford University, and in 1954 and 1955, his trilogy was published at last.

Are you a fan of JRR Tolkien?

, , ,

  • In fact, Tolkien didn’t really start to work on the Hobbit and LOTR in the late ’20’s. He started on the core stories of the mythology that later became the Silmarillion (The fall of Gondolin, the tale of Beren and Lúthien) after he returned from the war. Some poems, like “Kortirion among the Trees” even predate his going to the trenches.
    But “the Hobbit” grew out of one line that he absent-mindlessly doodled on a blank exam paper he was correcting in the early 1930’s – at the time he even didn’t know what a hobbit was or why it lived in a hole in the ground. Eventually, the story connected to and protruded into the mythology that he had already dedicated an enormous amount of effort and time to. When The Hobbit turned out to be a success, publisher George Unwin asked him for a “second Hobbit story”, to which he initially answered that “he had nothing more to say about Hobbits”, but that he had a lot to say – and much already written about the world into which the Hobbit had protruded. But that material was not in any publishable, coherent state and eventually he did start on a second hobbit story featuring one Bingo (who soon morphed into Frodo). That eventually grew into the Lord of the Rings, which was completed in ’46 or ’47 (I think).

    • Thanks for catching that, Lúthien. This is an old post long overdue for revision so will be taking that into account in further refinements. Thanks for reading and sharing.

  • I’m a very big fan Lord of the Ring but didn’t knew nothing about an author before this time. I never suspected that the book was written so long ago and even during the war. Very interesting fact

    • Hi Club, thanks for sharing that. It is interesting how stories like LOTR featuring quests and magic can be so timeless in their appeal, in their sense of tension, arc, character, and so forth.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This