There are few authors as beloved as J.R.R. Tolkien, the author who brought readers the furry-footed fantasy creatures known as hobbits. Nearly forty years after his death, Forbes ranked him as one of the most successful “dead celebrities”.
Some of his continued success may be due to his son Christopher, who continued to publish his late father’s material in collections such as The Children of Húrin and The Tale of Sigurd and Gudrún as recently as 2015.
Perhaps it is due to the popularity of the Lord of the Rings films, which reimagined the great author’s works (with plenty of hobbit mischief and gorgeous New Zealand backgrounds) in stunning cinematography.
Or perhaps it was simply that Tolkien’s work is imbued with his own, fascinating, personality.
The “father of modern fantasy literature” would be proud of that title. Tolkien saw it as his mission to reintroduce fantasy and mythology into the literature of his lifetime. It was this mission that forged his friendship with Narnia author C.S. Lewis. The two authors belonged to the literary group the Inklings, and spent years speaking of storytelling and religious faith; Tolkien was instrumental in Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Anglicanism. Tolkien himself was a devout Roman Catholic whose faith remained deeply important to him throughout his life and was a pivotal theme in his work.
In addition to being an author, Tolkien was a poet, a skilled linguist, and a professor of English and English literature. Born in South Africa in 1892, he shortly moved to England with his mother and brother, where he would spend the remainder of his life.
In 1913, he married Edith Mary Bratt, but separation soon became inevitable when Tolkien entered the army during the First World War. His time there left him bored, suffering from a host of health problems, and mourning the many friends killed in France. He returned to England in 1916.
During his time as a professor (first at the University of Leeds, then at Pembroke College) Tolkien wrote the books that would become The Hobbit and the first two installments of The Lord of the Rings.
He was an avid linguist, studying Latin, English, and Nordic languages, from which he drew inspiration for his own invented languages and writing systems, some of which made their way into his most popular works.
Tolkien died in 1973.