20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings

Tim Flight - December 12, 2018

There are two types of authors: those whose lives are better known than their writing, and those whose books are more famous than they are. J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), the author of The Lord of the Rings, is definitely in the latter camp. Most people don’t even know that his initials stand for ‘John Ronald Reuel’, let alone who on earth the creator of one of the most popular fantasy series actually was. But although the real Tolkien was a humble man who would like things to stay that way, his life story is definitely one worth telling.

If The Lord of the Rings was Tolkien’s only achievement, his would still have been a life well-lived. However, there was so much more to him than just his fiction. Tolkien was a pioneering expert on medieval literature and language, a veteran of World War 1, and a talented illustrator. He remains one of the world’s best-loved authors, and in 2009 he was the fifth top-earning dead celebrity according to Forbes. So who was this enigmatic chap? Let’s make like Bilbo Baggins and go on an adventure together to learn about his life and understand his fiction a little better…

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The dust jacket for the first edition of The Hobbit, published in London in 1937. Forbes

20. The Hobbit started out as a bedtime story

As will become abundantly clear in this list, Tolkien never saw himself as just a writer of fiction. His first great success, The Hobbit, actually began as a bedtime story for his young children. Instead of reading from books, Tolkien would regale his children with wonderful yarns about strange creatures and adventures. Over the course of many nights, and egged on by his fascinated children, the character of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, emerged. But though composed orally, the stories about Bilbo that Tolkien made up on the spot were subject to rigorous editing and correction from his precocious kids.

Anticipating how closely analyzed the tales of Middle Earth would eventually be, Christopher Tolkien, five, once interrupted his father mid-story to inform him that ‘last time, you said Bilbo’s front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a gold tassel on his hood, but you’ve just said that Bilbo’s front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin’s hood was silver’. The Hobbit was eventually published to the delight of children and adults alike in 1937, but appropriately enough it was the glowing endorsement of 10-year-old Rayner Unwin, whose father owned a publisher, that secured its commission.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The Eagle and Child pub, Oxford, known affectionately as the ‘Bird and Baby’ by The Inklings. Oxford Mail

19. He was a member of The Inklings with C.S. Lewis and others

Tolkien was a professor at Oxford at a very germane period for famous scholars with a penchant for writing fiction. Amongst his colleagues, for example, was C.S. Lewis, an expert on medieval literature who also found time to write The Chronicles of Narnia. Tolkien and Lewis were the most eminent members of a group called The Inklings, who met twice a week through the 1930s and ‘40s to discuss their fiction and engage in intellectual conversation. Tolkien explained the name ‘Inklings’ as a pun meaning ‘people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas’ and ‘those who dabble in ink’.

Although there were no limitations on what was discussed, The Inklings had a very set routine. On Tuesday mornings they would meet at The Eagle and Child pub to drink and chat about everything under the sun, and on Thursday evenings they would gather at Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College to read aloud their literary endeavors for comment and critique. Their routine only changed when The Eagle and Child, affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’, became the haunt of beer-loving American soldiers during World War 2, and they were forced to patronize The Lamb and Flag across the road.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of many texts edited by Tolkien, from its 14th Century Manuscript witness, England. Wikimedia Commons

18. Tolkien is one of the most famous medieval scholars of all time

Though Tolkien would be delighted to be remembered chiefly for what he wrote than for his personal life, he would be less than impressed with his largely-forgotten career as an academic. That said, anyone who has majored in English will be familiar with his many publications and editions of medieval literature. Tolkien saw himself as a lecturer who wrote fantasy fiction in his spare time, and spent most of his life in Oxford’s ancient, dusty libraries poring over old books. And you will not be surprised to hear that he was absolutely brilliant at his day job.

Now’s not the time or place to dwell on Tolkien’s academic achievements in detail, but out of respect for his wishes, here’s a very brief summary. His edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (above), a 14th-century Arthurian romance in Middle English, remained the essential version for decades, and is still consulted today. The slime-green 1970s edition of the work is still a common fixture of university libraries around the world. His much-cited lecture on Beowulf, ‘The Monsters and the Critics’, was also instrumental in changing how people thought about the poem, and has influenced hundreds of other publications.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The behaviour of Smaug, here depicted in Peter Jackson’s 2013 adaptation, would be familiar to anyone who has read Beowulf. The One Ring

17. Tolkien based The Lord of the Rings on his knowledge of medieval literature

As much as he gave to the field of medieval literature, Tolkien also took an awful lot away for his fiction. In simple terms, Tolkien absolutely loved the tales of knights, dragons, and monsters he encountered in his professional life, and wanted to share them with the world. Even those early bedtime stories about Bilbo Baggins were inspired by old stories, and his children’s great joy at them made Tolkien realize that other people would like them if only they knew about them. The things he borrowed from medieval literature would also have appealed to his friends in The Inklings.

Even the name “Middle Earth” is a translation of the Anglo-Saxon word middangeard. Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit, is similarly drawn from Anglo-Saxon literature. Anglo-Saxon dragons were obsessed with treasure, and spent their lives sitting on it. Their treasure-dens were either inside burial mounds or mountains. And the dragon in Beowulf burns a whole town alive because someone pinches a single cup. Sound familiar? The very plot of the whole Lord of the Rings is also heavily influenced by the late 13th-century Old Norse saga, Völsunga saga, whose plot centers around a magical and powerful ring called Andvaranaut.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien during his military career, photographed in 1916, either in France or England. Oxford Times

16. He fought in WW1, and was at the Battle of the Somme

Though he spent much of his life safely cloistered in the ancient colleges of Oxford, Tolkien bravely enlisted to fight in World War I. Aged just 22 and fresh out of his undergraduate degree, Tolkien was made a second lieutenant in the 13th Service Battalion of the Lancashire Fusilliers. He trained in signaling in Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and was shipped over to France in June 1916, barely 3 months after marrying his beloved Edith. He didn’t mince his words when describing what that felt like: ‘It was like a death’. And that was before he knew what horrors awaited him…

Tolkien fought at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, where over a million people died over 141 days of fighting. That October however he contracted trench fever, and spent the rest of the war deemed unfit for service in various English hospitals. It was during this convalescence that he first wrote about Middle Earth. The first dragons he wrote about were slow-moving, clanking beasts with orcs hidden inside them, much like the tanks at the Somme. The character of the brave, loyal, but essentially ordinary Samwise Gamgee is also based on Tolkien’s impressions of his fellow soldiers.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, in the outskirts of Oxford, the rather humble site of Tolkien’s devotions between 1953 and 1968. Wikimedia Commons

15. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic

Tolkien committed to Catholicism, and his religious faith was an important part of his character. Tolkien’s mother converted to Catholicism after the death of Tolkien’s father, and when she too died, Tolkien’s assigned guardian was a Catholic priest. As a child Tolkien served as an altar boy at Birmingham Oratory, and remained a devoted Catholic throughout his life. His religious fervor was instrumental in converting C.S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity (though Tolkien was not best impressed that Lewis decided to become a Protestant). And Catholicism played an important part in his writing of The Lord of the Rings.

Many evangelical Christians rage that The Lord of the Rings is a profoundly un-Christian series which has a bad influence on children and encourages belief in pagan magic. Tolkien however infused it with Catholic values and beliefs, despite its setting in a world without Christianity. Sauron and the orcs, for example, present the ugly reality of evil, which is a tenet of Catholic belief. His characters must also listen to their conscience and choose between good and evil, pride and humility. The trilogy’s happy ending sees the eventual triumph of good, a message of hope central to Christian belief.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Sarehole Mill, a 250-year-old mill in Sarehole, UK, where Tolkien grew up. Birmingham Museums

14. Surprisingly, he grew up in England’s industrial heartland

Given where Tolkien’s heroic hobbits live, you’d think that Tolkien grew up in some rural idyll with a village green and a cricket pitch. This picture, however, is inaccurate. After moving to Britain in 1895, Tolkien first lived in a dull suburb of Birmingham, one of the largest industrial centers in the UK. The family eventually settled in what was then the village of Sarehole, very much in the countryside but barely 4 miles from the soot-blackened centre of the city. Nonetheless, Tolkien’s experiences growing up in this strange hinterland between city and countryside directly informed his creation of Hobbiton.

Sarehole Mill (above) is the model for ‘the great mill’ in The Hobbit. Despite its close proximity to Birmingham, Sarehole still had snatches of woodland which are thought to have fired the young boy’s imagination, eventually resulting in The Old Forest of Middle Earth (though that also owes a lot to the forests of medieval literature and history). Make no mistake – Sarehole certainly wasn’t the suburbs. But Tolkien didn’t enjoy the pastoral childhood of, say, Thomas Hardy, and spent large parts of his time in Birmingham itself, where he attended King Edward’s School and served as an altar boy.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Varg Vikernes, a young man whose reading of Lord of the Rings inspired him to burn down churches, on trial for murder in Oslo, 1994. Tumblr

13. Despite his religious beliefs, Tolkien’s work inspired a Satanist to burn down churches in Norway

Kristian Vikernes, like many alienated young people, felt an instinctive lure to Tolkien’s rich world of fantasy literature. There is nothing strange about that, but Vikernes’s interpretation was rather unique: ‘I felt a natural attraction to Sauron… I could easily identify with the fury of the “dark forces”, and enjoyed their existence very much because they were making a boring and peaceful world dangerous and exciting’, he explained. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s incorporation of Norse mythology and Germanic literature simultaneously fed Vikernes’s growing racist and anti-Christian ideology, with disastrous and deadly consequences for Norway and one of his closest friends.

Vikernes (above, being sentenced) formed the band Burzum, meaning ‘darkness’ in Black Speech, the language of Mordor. He took the stage-name Count Grishnackh after an orc, and set about fighting against the real-world counterpart of the heroes of Lord of the Rings, Christianity. Vikernes burned down several churches in Norway and preached hate against all non-white races, inspired by what he saw as a race war in Tolkien’s work. He also murdered his friend, Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth, because he felt this was the Germanic-pagan way of settling a feud. Poor Tolkien would have been disgusted with this super-fan’s actions.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The nightmarish baboon spider, a species of which bit the young Tolkien in South Africa. Earth Touch News

12. Being bitten by a baboon spider in South Africa is believed by some to have inspired the character of Shelob

Shelob, like Aragog in Harry Potter, is a name guaranteed to put the fear of God into any arachnophobe. She has all the horrifying characteristics of a spider that anyone scared of arachnids will tell you about: dangerous to people, devilishly cunning, intelligent, and absolutely evil. And massive, as all spiders seem to those who fear them. It’s therefore not surprising to learn that Tolkien himself had a checkered history with our eight-legged friends. As a toddler growing up in South Africa (see below), the young Tolkien was once bitten by the nightmarish Baboon Spider (above).

Tolkien however denied that there was any link between the incident and the creation of Shelob: ‘people are welcome to the notion… [but] I can only say that I remember nothing about it, should not know it if I had not been told; and I do not dislike spiders particularly, and have no urge to kill them. I usually rescue those whom I find in the bath!’ His son, Michael, to whom he told the original Middle Earth bedtime stories, however, was mortally terrified of spiders, which may account for the characteristics of Shelob.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Merton College, Oxford, where Tolkien was professor between 1945 and 1959. Discover Oxfordshire

11. So many people rang him about Lord of the Rings that Tolkien permanently disconnected his telephone

As we have seen, Tolkien saw himself as a professional academic first, literary legend second. Inevitably, however, his two lives overlapped, no matter how hard he tried to keep them separate. Tolkien had to grow accustomed to receiving strange gifts from his adoring fans, such as a drinking goblet inscribed with the words on the One Ring, and was good-humored if rather bemused by his fiction’s popularity. He variously called his fans ‘lunatics’ and ‘my deplorable cultus‘, and once remarked that ‘many young Americans are involved in the stories in a way that I’m not’.

Perhaps he should have taken heed of his children’s firm line of questioning about his bedtime stories back in the 1920s. For whilst Tolkien was happy to receive correspondence and gifts, one thing he couldn’t abide was super-fans impinging on his working life. He was led to curse Alexander Graham Bell when the telephone at his office in Merton College started to ring throughout the day as fans sought for an explanation of a specific aspect of The Lord of the Rings or the meaning of an Elvish word. The only solution was to chuck the phone away altogether.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The grave of Tolkien and his wife, Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. Abo

10. Tolkien was devoted to his wife, Ethel, and their shared gravestone has an in-joke engraved on it

Tolkien met Ethel Mary Bratt (1889-1971) in 1909. He was then 16 years old, and she 19, and they met when Tolkien and his brother, Hilary, moved into the Edgbaston boarding house where Edith already lived. She, too, was an orphan, and the pair soon fell in love, passing afternoons together in tearooms where they delighted in practical jokes such as dropping lumps of sugar onto the hats of passers-by. Unfortunately, Tolkien’s Catholic guardian, Friar Francis Xavier Morgan, saw Edith as a distraction for his talented young charge, and so forbade them to meet again until Tolkien turned 21.

On the night before his 21st birthday in 1912, Tolkien wrote Edith a letter requesting her hand in marriage. Edith was betrothed to another man, believing herself to have been forgotten by her former lover, but instantly broke it off to accept Tolkien’s proposal. They remained devoted to one another for the next 59 years until Edith’s death. The strange names on their shared headstone are a reference to Tolkien’s tale of Beren and Lúthien, a story he wrote about a mortal man’s adventures during his love affair with the immortal elf Lúthien, based on his own relationship with Edith.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien loathed the Nazis so much that he even considered refusing permission for a German edition of his works during their rule. Klett-Cotta

9. His fiction was loved by the Nazis, but Tolkien described Hitler as ‘that ruddy little ignoramus’

The same Germanic mythology and legend in Tolkien’s work that Kristian Vikernes so loved was equally appealing to the Nazi Party, which similarly drew on a semi-legendary Germanic past to justify their view of Aryans as the superior race. In 1938, the German publisher Rütten & Loening asked permission to produce a German version of The Hobbit, and infuriated Tolkien by asking whether he was of Aryan origin. Tolkien’s response to his English publisher was unequivocal: ‘I have many Jewish friends, and should regret giving any color to the notion that I subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine.’

His reply to the German publisher itself was equally defiant. ‘If I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people’. He eventually consented to the German edition, but not because of any change of heart about Nazi ideology. In a letter to Michael Tolkien on June 9, 1941, Tolkien revealed that he had ‘a burning private grudge… against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler’ for his manipulation of the Germanic mythology and legends so dear to him.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
‘Conversation with Smaug’, Tolkien’s illustration for an episode of The Hobbit, Oxford, 1937. Tolkien Gateway

8. He provided many of the illustrations for his books himself

An often overlooked part of Tolkien’s genius is his artistic ability. Perhaps because the writing is so good, surprisingly few people realize that Tolkien actually illustrated his books himself. No less an authority than Tolkien’s son and literary executor, Christopher, has said that the art his father produced is essential to understanding his written work. Tolkien’s art actually predates his writing, and he first began to paint images from Middle Earth during his days at Exeter College. He called these pictures of imaginary realms ‘ishnesses’, and never showed them to anyone beyond his close family and friends.

To back up Christopher’s claim about the links between Tolkien’s art and writing, the original manuscript of The Hobbit was fully illustrated. When it was accepted for publication, Tolkien successfully convinced his publisher to include his illustrations, and the first edition had no fewer than 12 pictures and maps. The Lord of the Rings was only not illustrated because Tolkien’s drawings would have been too expensive to publish. Nonetheless, his illustrations did appear on the dust jackets of the three volumes. Equally adept with both pencil and paintbrush, Tolkien was a far greater artist than he ever realized.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien in academic dress by the Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, sometime in the mid-20th century. India Today

7. Despite his fame, Tolkien was a lecturer at Oxford University for most of his life

If you’d written something as successful as The Lord of the Rings, were famous around the world, and pretty wealthy, you’d probably retire, right? Not Tolkien. He stuck to his laborious day job of teaching students at Oxford until he retired in 1959, aged 67. Oxford has a reputation for exacting standards amongst both students and staff, and Merton College in particular, where he taught between 1945 and 1959, is renowned even at Oxford for demanding a lot from its members. Merton’s common nickname, ‘where fun goes to die’, is certainly hard-won.

Tolkien was a much-loved lecturer. According to his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, his lectures on Beowulf were legendary. ‘He would come silently into the room, fix the audience with his gaze, and suddenly begin to declaim in a resounding voice the opening lines of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon, commencing with a great cry of Hwæt! (the first word)’. Alas, though, even amongst his entranced students, his extracurricular activities were not forgotten. W.H. Auden once described to Tolkien ‘what an unforgettable experience it was for me as an undergraduate, hearing you recite Beowulf. The voice was the voice of Gandalf.’

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The Ambarkanta Map by Tolkien, exhibiting some of his invented dialects, published posthumously in 1986. Tolkien Gateway

6. He was able to invent so many languages because he was an expert philologist

One of the many strings to Tolkien’s bow as a specialist in medieval literature was his expertise in philology. Philology is the study of the history of languages, and involves years of research into the very meanings of individual words. He knew 13 existing languages, and a bewildering number of extinct dialects such as Old English, Latin, Old Norse, and Medieval Welsh. Before becoming a professor, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary, an essential reference guide for people learning the language. In fact, he was so good at languages, that he made them up for fun in his free time.

Tolkien invented his first language cipher, Nevbosh, when he was just 13, and first language, Naffarin, shortly thereafter. This hobby, which he called glossopoeia, proved to be unexpectedly useful in later life. Tolkien developed a way of writing coded letters to Edith from the muddy trenches of Belgium to stop them being censored, and when he came to write his fiction, his ability to invent languages for the characters of Middle Earth made the stories irresistibly immersive. About a dozen are included in The Lord of the Rings, two of which are complete. Tolkien also invented 9 scripts for writing.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien aged 19, photographed in 1911, probably at Oxford. The National

5. He was orphaned at a young age

Tolkien’s parents, Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield, were both dead by the time he was only 12. Arthur worked as a bank clerk and lived with his family in South Africa, but tragedy struck in 1896 while Mabel and the children were visiting family in England. Arthur died of a hemorrhage, leaving the family so poor that they had to stay where they were. Mabel was so hard-up, in fact, that she had to tutor the children herself at home. Mabel herself died in 1904, leaving Tolkien and his younger brother Hilary orphaned and near-destitute.

But these tragic and straightened circumstances proved the making of the man. For Mabel was a talented linguist, whose language lessons gave Tolkien a lifelong interest in languages, determining both his academic career and, in turn, the tales of Middle Earth. Mabel’s grief at Arthur’s death also saw her convert to Catholicism (see above), which remained a crucial part of Tolkien’s life and way of seeing the world. The boys’ appointed guardian, Francis Xavier Morgan, was a studious Catholic priest who ensured that education was paramount, and it was at his insistence that Tolkien took the entrance exam for Oxford.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The Tolkien family at Bloemfontein, including the young writer as a baby, on a Christmas Card of 1892. Wikimedia Commons

4. Tolkien was actually born in South Africa

This will no doubt come as a shock. The man with a lifelong love of all things medieval, whose set his fantasy fiction in what is clearly the chilly climate of northern Europe, spent the first few years of his life in the heat of Bloemfontein, South Africa. This fact is so little-known that even modern residents of the town are shocked when intrepid Tolkien fans ask them where the family lived. He left shortly after his fourth birthday, but the disastrous move his family made led to the straightened circumstances discussed above that determined the course of his life.

The main incident of note in Tolkien’s Bloemfontein childhood was the attack of the baboon spider (above), but another adventure saw him briefly kidnapped. A young servant at the Tolkien residence thought him such a beautiful child that he took him back to his kraal (a large farm) to show him off to his family. The servant returned Tolkien to his relieved family the next morning. Looking for Tolkien in Bloemfontein is only for the superfans, however, as Tolkien’s house was mostly destroyed by floods in the 1920s, and only a small plaque remains… in the wrong location.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
3 Vistas like this in the Swiss Alps certainly look familiar… Alpen Wild

3. As well as the landscapes of medieval literature, Tolkien was also influenced by his time in Switzerland

We’ve covered all but one of Tolkien’s key influences, and here’s the final one. In 1911, the 19-year-old Tolkien took a rare walking holiday in the Swiss Alps. In a group of 12, Tolkien hiked from Interlaken to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, enjoying the glorious scenery of snow-capped peaks, thick forest, and vast lakes which has inspired so many writers over the years. But where he left something of a breadcrumb-trail for his literary and Warwickshire influences, Tolkien actually acknowledged the importance of the Swiss Alps in a letter to his son, Michael, in 1967.

In the letter, Tolkien expressed delight that his son had visited a place so dear to him, and so important for Middle Earth. ‘From Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains, the journey…including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods…is based on my adventures in Switzerland in 1911′. The Silberhorn peak was also ‘the Silvertine [peak above the dwarven city of Moria] of my dreams’. Tolkien’s holiday in Switzerland was a rare treat in an impoverished, if studious, childhood, and so it is little wonder that it had such an effect on him.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
The Fall of Gondolin, which Tolkien started as he recovered from the Somme in 1917, was finally published in 2018. Big W

2. Despite dying in 1973, new Tolkien work continues to be published

Though he is still most famous for The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien wrote many other poems, short stories, and novels based in Middle Earth. Some of these were published in his lifetime, but when he died in 1973 he left behind a vast collection of unpublished work of which his son, Christopher Tolkien, was left in charge. In the intervening 45 years, Christopher has dedicated his life to the mammoth task of publishing these scribblings for the first time. Many Tolkien fans however grumble that he is like Smaug sitting jealously on a pile of treasure.

In Christopher’s defense, many of the manuscripts are in note form or incomplete, and require a lot of work to meet his father’s exacting standards. For example, Tolkien’s handwritten translation of Beowulf was completed in the 1920s, but he never made any plans to publish it, and went back to correct certain parts over the next half-century. Christopher thus had the difficult task of deciding which corrections to include, and whether his father would have wanted it to see the light of day at all. Having 10 new things published after your death isn’t bad going at all, either.

20 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien, Creator of The Lord of the Rings
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, where Tolkien lived with his family from 1930 to 1947. Oxfordshire Blue Plaques

1. Oxford is still a mecca for Tolkien fans

Given that Tolkien spent most of his life in Oxford, a city dominated by an ancient university which is not keen on change, it is unsurprising that so many sites dear to Tolkien remain. If you’re a Tolkien fan, visiting the city thus must be top of your bucket list. His undergraduate college, Exeter, is over 700 years old, and has a monument to him in its chapel. You can also visit the colleges that he taught at – Pembroke (once home to Dr Johnson, and where Tolkien wrote The Hobbit), and Merton (the oldest college at nearly 800 years old).

Tolkien’s homes at 20 Northmoor Road and 76 Sandfield Road have commemorative plaques, but can only be viewed from the street. The Bodleian Library, where he conducted his phenomenal research and formulated ideas for Middle Earth, is however open to the public. Most appealingly, The Eagle and Child pub is still open for business, and you can sit in The Rabbit Room where The Inklings used to meet and view some relics. But moreover, the city was a place so dear to Tolkien that he chose to be buried there, and his grave is frequented by Middle Earth-pilgrims.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

Duriez, Colin, and David Porter. The Inklings Handbook: The Lives, Thought and Writings of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and Their Friends. London: Azure, 2001.

“The Somme and the ‘animal horror’ that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien” The One Ring, October 5th, 2013.

MacEacheran, Mike. “In Alpine villages, Hobbits lurk”. BBC Travel.

Moynihan, Michael, and Didrik Soderlind. Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground. WA: Feral House, 1997.

Scull, Christina, and Wayne G. Hammond. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.

Tolkien, Christopher, and Humphrey Carpenter, eds. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1999.

Tolkien, Christopher. The Complete History of Middle-Earth. London: Harper Collins, 2002.

Tolkien, J.R.R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936): 245-95.

Tolkien, J.R.R. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, ed. Christopher Tolkien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again. Thorndike Press, 2003.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 3 vols. London: Harper Collins, 2003.