Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on January 3, 1892. His father, Arthur, was an Englishman who had left the Birmingham branch of Lloyds Bank to work for the Bank of Africa. Tolkien and his younger brother were sickly children. Hoping to improve her sons' health, Tolkien's mother, Mabel, took the boys to England in 1895. Arthur remained in Africa to work until his sons sufficiently recovered or he could find a position back in England. Unfortunately, only a few months later, Arthur died of acute peritonitis. Mabel and the boys remained in England.
Tolkien was interested in languages at an early age. His mother began teaching him Latin and Greek when he was seven years old. He also inherited his mother's love for nature and the Catholic church. In 1903 Tolkien won a scholarship to the prestigious King Edward VI School in Birmingham, where his studies included not only the mandatory Latin and Greek, but also Welsh, Old and Middle English, and Old Norse. Tragically, his mother died of diabetes when he was only twelve. A Catholic priest, Father Francis Morgan, cared for the Tolkien brothers after Mabel's death.
At sixteen Tolkien met his future wife, Edith Mary Bratt. Later, his burgeoning love of languages led him to pursue a degree in comparative philology at Exeter College, Oxford University, in 1911. He graduated with honors in 1915, and one year later, he and Bratt married. Shortly after, Tolkien was commissioned a second lieutenant in the English army and left his new bride to fight in World War I. Enclosed in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien contracted a severe case of trench fever and had to be evacuated in 1916.
After returning from the war, Tolkien spent the next several decades building a reputation as a noted scholar and professor at Oxford. He published several esteemed essays, including "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (1936) and "On Fairy Stories" (1947). Along with C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams, he was an important member of the literary group "The Inklings."
The Hobbit; or There and Back Again was published in 1937 to favorable reviews. It took Tolkien seventeen years before the hobbits returned in The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy consisting of The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the Ring (1955). Although Tolkien's bibliography contains many great works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings represent the heart of his literary accomplishments. He produced few writings after the success of his 1950s masterpiece. Tolkien died from complications resulting from a bleeding gastric ulcer and a chest infection on September 2, 1973, in Bournemouth, England. However, several of his works were published posthumously, including The Silmarillion (1977). Tolkien's work continues to be popular with readers and critics alike.
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