One does not simply let J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday pass by unmentioned. Many consider him to be the father of modern fantasy for his much beloved books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The acclaimed British writer was born on January 3, 1892, and would have turned 121 today. In honour of the creator of Middle-earth, here are some interesting facts about Tolkien.
- His full name is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
- He was born in South Africa to English parents.
- As a young child in South Africa, he was bitten by a big, hairy tarantula-type "baboon spider." The event didn't leave him with super powers, but it could have subconsciously inspired the arachnid monsters he would later write about in his books.
- His father died of rheumatic fever while still in South Africa, causing the family to move back to England. Tragically, his mother died a few years later of acute diabetes, leaving Tolkien an orphan at the age of 12. He and his younger brother were left in the care of a Catholic priest.
- He first met his future wife Edith at age 16. He proposed when he turned 21, and their marriage lasted 55 years until her death in 1971.
- While a student at Oxford, Tolkien once stole a city bus as a prank and went on a joyride with some friends.
- He served in the British military during the First World War. He said that by 1918, all but one of his close friends had been killed.
- While teaching English at the University of Leeds, Tolkien co-founded a "Viking Club" for students that primarily involved reading Norse mythologies and drinking beer.
- Tolkien became buddies with another member of the English faculty at Oxford, a chap named Clive Lewis. Of course, we know him better as C.S. Lewis, the novelist behind the also legendary Chronicles of Narnia series.
- In 1936, Tolkien gave publisher George Allen & Unwin the manuscript for The Hobbit. Co-founder Stanley Unwin believed that children were the best judges of children's books and paid his 10-year-old son Rayner one shilling for written book reports. He gave Rayner the manuscript and the boy gave it a positive review, so the elder Unwin decided to go ahead and publish it.
- Tolkien named Bilbo's Bag End home after his aunt Jane Neave's farm in Worcestershire.
- After their deaths, Tolkien and his wife's gravestones were marked with the names Beren and Luthien, taken from star-crossed characters the writer had invented as part of the Lord of the Rings mythology.
Let this be the hour when we raise a glass together to salute Tolkien's enduring legacy!