J.R.R. Tolkien and Adoption

Tolkien, aged 24, in military uniform, while serving in the British Army during World War I, 1916


Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to a English immigrant bank clerk and his wife. In 1895 Tolkien, his mother and younger brother moved back to England, with the intention that their father would join them when possible. But his father died less than a year later, before he could rejoin the family. The widow and her sons settled in the Midlands where the boys began their education.

In 1904 their mother died of diabetes, leaving the boys in poverty and estranged from the rest of the family because of her conversion in 1900 to the Roman Catholic church. Their guardian was the parish priest, but they actually lived with an aunt and then a Mrs. Faulkner.

After a somewhat shaky start academically, Tolkien went to Oxford and graduated with first class honors (magna cum laude) in 1915, then enlisted in the Army and married his childhood sweetheart. After the War he joined the team writing the monumental Oxford English Dictionary, and in 1920 became a teacher at the University of Leeds.

He had already begun inventing languages and writing the stories which would later make him one of the major writers of the twentieth century. In 1925 he returned to Oxford as Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and his academic publications, while few in number, were highly influential.

In 1937 The Hobbit was published and was an immediate and permanent success. He retired from teaching in 1959, but continued to write fantasy fiction, scholarly articles, translations and critical studies until his death.


Carpenter, Humphrey. Tolkien: A Biography. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977) Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1978) Doughan, David. "Who Was Tolkien?" Available at: Allen, Frank. Untitled. Available at: lovefactory/