January 3, 1892
Bloemfontein, Orange, Free State, South Africa
September 2, 1973
Bournemouth, Dorset, England, United Kingdom
Hailed as one of Britain's greatest post-war writers, author, philologist and professor J.R.R. Tolkien helped to popularize the modern-day fantasy genre with the phenomenally successful The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1892, Tolkien moved to the UK with his mother and brother Hilary three years later, but tragically his bank manager father, who had later intended to join them, passed away shortly after. Tolkien became an orphan aged twelve when his mother died of acute diabetes, and was subsequently taken in by family friend, Father Francis Xavier Morgan. After leaving high school, Tolkien further pursued his early interest in linguistics by studying English Literature and Anglo-Saxon and Germanic languages at Oxford's Exeter College, and continued to write while serving in World War I as a lieutenant for the Lancashire Fusiliers. After fighting in the Battle of Somme, Tolkien spent several years battling illness and was eventually released from duty in 1920, the same year he joined the University of Leeds' faculty, firstly as a Reader of English Language and then as its youngest professor. Tolkien produced several notable academic works during his five-year stint there before moving to Oxford's Pembroke College where he served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and began writing a fantasy novel about the adventures of a diminutive furry-footed creature named Bilbo Baggins. Published in 1937, The Hobbit was initially regarded as a children's book but its complex fantasy world of Middle Earth proved to be equally inviting to adult readers, and publishers soon requested a sequel. Tolkien spent ten years writing it inbetween his duties as Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford's Merton College, a post he held from 1945 up until his 1959 retirement. Inspired by his passion for British adventure tales, European mythology and Catholicism, his career-defining epic, The Lord of the Rings, was published in three parts; The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954 and then The Two Towers and The Fellowship of the Ring a year later. Populated by wizards, elves, goblins and various other fantastical creatures, the trilogy became a literary sensation, selling tens of millions of copies worldwide over the next half-century and inspiring a devoted fanbase who deeply immersed themselves in its intriguing world. Tolkien struggled to deal with his new-found status as a counter-culture icon in the late 1960s and spent his latter years living in the tranquil surroundings of England's south coast. In 1973, two years after his wife Edith passed away and twelve months after being made an OBE, Tolkien died from a chest infection and bleeding ulcer at the age of 81. Several of his uncompleted works were later published posthumously under the guidance of son Christopher including The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin, while both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings reached new generations in the 21st Century thanks to Peter Jackson's award-winning big-budget film adaptations.