January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings became international best sellers and are often listed among the most influential works of fiction of the 20th century.
Tolkien showed a keen interest in languages from a young age. By his teens he had mastered both Latin and Greek, and had started crafting his own languages. During World War I, Tolkien enlisted as a first lieutenant in the British army, fighting in the trenches in France until he was released from duty due to illness. While recovering, he spent much of his time writing and giving shape to the stories and languages he had imagined in his youth.
At Oxford University, while grading papers, Tolkien famously began writing The Hobbit (1937) on the backs of student blue-book pages. Originally viewed as a children’s book, the novel incorporated sophisticated themes that would be further built upon in later works.
The Lord of the Rings was released in three volumes beginning in 1954 with The Fellowship of the Ring and followed by The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Influenced by his study of languages, religion (Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic), Finnish, Anglo-Saxon, and Norse mythology, as well as his personal experiences in the military, The Lord of the Rings is regarded as Tolkien’s greatest work. Due in part to an unauthorized publication, The Lord of the Rings became extremely popular in the United States in the 1960s, embraced by the counterculture movement, which identified with its environmentalist message. In the years since its release The Lord of the Rings has become one of the highest-selling novels in history.
The popularity of Tolkien’s work continues to soar, evidenced by the award-winning film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. His works have almost solely defined the genre of high fantasy and inspired a generation of writers, filmmakers, and game producers.