British scholar and author, whose novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy became international best-sellers.
Tolkien was educated at King Edward VI School, Birmingham, and Exeter College, Oxford. From 1915 to 1918 he served with the Lancashire Fusiliers and in 1920 became reader in English Language at Leeds University, where he later held the chair (1924–25). In 1925 he returned to Oxford where he spent the rest of his life, first as Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of English Language and Literature (1945–59). For many years he was one of the group of friends known as ‘the Inklings’ which gathered around C. S. Lewis.
Tolkien made his reputation as a Middle English scholar in the 1920s with A Middle-English Vocabulary (1922) and the standard text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925), the latter edited with E. V. Gordon. Among his critical works was the 1936 lecture Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics. In 1962 he published an important edition of the Middle English manual for nuns, the Ancrene Wisse.
As far back as 1917 Tolkien was engaged in creating the mythology, geography, inhabitants, and languages of an imaginary world that had its roots in his study of ancient Germanic cultures. The first published fruit of this extraordinary feat of the imagination was The Hobbit (1937), but it received its full expression in The Lord of the Rings trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955). The Silmarillion (1977), edited by Tolkien's son Christopher, is a compilation of myths and legends making up the ‘prehistory’ of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings narratives. Tolkien also wrote stories and verse for children.