Tolkien: 7 Facts About Britain’s Most Famous Novelist

#1 His full name

His full name was John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, hence his pen name, ‘JRR Tolkien’. A common practice at the time that is still upheld by many authors today, for example J.K Rowling, was to abbreviate the first letters of your name on any published works and write only your last name in full. This was done for numerous reasons - some authors did it to attract an audience of both genders, others did it because they disliked their first names.

#2 His military service

Tolkien served in the First World War as a British soldier. In biographies of the author’s life, it is written that the harrowing experiences he had while serving in the war, including in the infamous Battle of the Somme, stimulated his imagination, giving inspiration for the fantasy worlds and the great battles he would come to write about.

#3 He was born in South Africa

He was born in South Africa. Despite the fact that his nationality was English and that he spent the majority of his life in England, Tolkien was actually born in British South Africa. During his childhood, he was bitten by a large baboon spider, an event that many believe came to influence his works as an adult (for example, Shelob the Spider in Lord of the Rings).

#4 His works were aimed at many audiences

His works were aimed at a variety of audiences. While the Hobbit was famously written for adolescent children, the Lord of the Rings was a much darker work, and aimed mostly towards teenagers and adults. Research by interested parties has shown that the average fan of Tolkien during the most successful years of his life were overwhelmingly male, and mostly in their early teens to early thirties.

#5 His education and influences

Tolkien was a scholar of Icelandic history and literature, the tales of which highly influenced his own fiction. He was educated at the University of Oxford, initially studying a Classics degree course, but later moving onto English Literature and Language, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours. As a young man, he entered into a programme whereby he delayed his enlistment until his graduation, allowing him to attain a full education, however at the cost of his reputation as he was publicly scorned by almost everybody in his life for not instantly volunteering to join the army. Tolkien recalled, “In those days, chaps joined up or were scorned publicly. It was a nasty cleft to be in for a young man with too much imagination and little physical courage.”

#6 He also served in the Second World War

He also served in the Second World War. However, unlike in the first, he did not take a role of active military deployment. Instead, he was earmarked as a codebreaker, serving in the cryptography department at the Foreign Office, to be called upon should there ever be a desperate need.

#7 His two main works

He published his two key literary works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in 1937 and 1954-55 respectively. The first edition of The Hobbit was also called, ‘There And Back Again’. This was also the in-universe name of Bilbo Baggins’ autobiography that recounted his adventures with the company of Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf the Grey.

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