Interesting and Little Known Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is one of fantasy's most well-known authors, now even more so ever since New Zealand native Peter Jackson took on the deliberately faithful direction of Tolkien's famous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. We all know so much about the characters within Tolkien's beautiful and wondrous stories, and several of the movie trilogy actors' careers have boomed as a result of Jackson's shining efforts. But how much do we really know about Tolkien and his family, other than that he was an Oxford University professor of both English literature and the old Anglo-Saxon language?


Well, I did some research and discovered some things that even *I* didn't know, and I myself am a Tolkien nut! Some things I did already know, but others might not. I am sharing both kinds of info with you all.

1) Tolkien was a member of the Inklings, a group associated with Oxford University. Other famous writers have belonged to this group such as C.S. Lewis (author of the acclaimed "Narnia" series) and Tolkien's own son Christopher, who is mostly acting as the Tolkien Estate's literary executor.

2) The inspiration for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' home of Bag End came from Tolkien's aunt's farm of the same name. 

3) As a child, Tolkien was bit by a large South African tarantula called a baboon spider. (Three guesses as to where the inspiration for Shelob the gigantic spider came from!)

4) Until he went off to school, Tolkien was tutored by his mother, Mabel, and Ronald, as he was called by the family, was not only a keen student, his favorite lessons were languages, and therefore was taught the rudiments of Latin quite early.

5) Mabel died early in life at the age of 34, due to complications of Type I Diabetes. It was as long as such diabetics were expected to live as insulin was not discovered till two decades later.

6) Tolkien had one brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was two years younger.

7) He was always a writer, having been involved with the Inklings most of his career, but Tolkien truly began the larger body of his works soon after being shipped home from WW I, having come down with trench fever, and not fit for military duty. (Trench fever, by the way, was a disease carried by lice common to the area of No Man's Land--an area of land not occupied by either opposing party during a war.) 

8) The first civilian job he took after WWI was at the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked as an etymologist.

9) Tolkien counted the old English epic poem "Beowulf" as one of his most valued resources and inspirations.

10) While his "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" sagas were becoming popular with the hippie culture in the U.S., Tolkien deplored the idea of becoming something of a cult figure. However he admitted later:

"... even the nose of a very modest idol [...] cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!" 

11) After their deaths, the gravestones of both J.R. and Edith Tolkien were marked with the character names "Beren" (J.R.) and "Luthien" (Edith), taken from one of Tolkien's "pre-history" stories that, in his fantasy worlds, took place long before the War of the Ring. (Beren and Luthien were the first of many subsequent matches between mortals and Elf-kind, and their story echoes a bit like Arwen and Aragorn. Read the story of Beren and Luthien at this link.

There is much to be explored in Tolkien's world beyond "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings," especially if you read "The Silmarillion," which provides something of a lengthy background of what happened long before Gandalf, Gollum, Sam, Frodo. Bilbo, Arwen, Aragorn and everyone else came into being. There are other posthumous works being published these days by Christopher Tolkien, the appointed literary executor of the Tolkien Estate. There is even a Lord of the Rings tarot deck, which I own and enjoy using immensely, as the story of Frodo and the Ring is a consummate Hero-Journey story that reflects many of our common Jungian/Campbellian archetypes we all recognize in other stories, both in print and in film. 

And let's not forget Led Zeppelin's song "Battle of Evermore," an interesting blend of both Tolkien images and snippets of Arthurian lore. ("I am waiting for the angels of Avalon...") The band Heart has done a fantastic cover of the original song (these ladies can rock!), and there is also an ensemble that temporarily banded together in 1999 to record "Battle of Evermore" (in a slower, more solemn style of chanting called organum) and other Tolkien-inspired melodies and lyrics using instruments both ancient and modern, but no synthesizers or multitracking. This "unplugged" concept is purposefully in keeping with the idea of the natural sounds that would have come from places like the Shire. The CD they recorded was called "In Elven Lands," and the group was called "The Fellowship." The group itself consisted of:

1) Jon Anderson (yes, I do mean Jon Anderson with the sparkling cosmic voice from the band Yes), who composed two of his own works for the CD, plus provided vocals for two other compositions by Fellowship member Carvin Knowles.

2) Adam Pike (whose dark baritone provided the haunting vocals for the ensemble's rendition of "Battle of Evermore"), and 3) Caitlin Elizabeth...plus several others. 

All in all, if you're a fantasy writer searching for a way to be inspired (though I daresay there are many Tolkien wannabe's out there), or you're an Anglophile who has simply added Tolkien to their list of reasons to be enamored with the UK...or if you're like Tolkien himself and are both a writer and a linguist, this man's life, career and other doings is worth studying for a long time. 

Tolkien-Inspired Videos

Heart's version of "Battle of Evermore"--these ladies can ROCK!

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Comments 17 comments

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Tolkien and his family holidayed at a little in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa called The Hog'sback, where there is still a place there called Hobbitton.

Hogsback is a beautiful place where my first wife and I honeymooned and spent time later.

Thanks for the interesting Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


BardScribe profile image

BardScribe 7 years ago from Iowa Author

Hi Tony...Thank you for that little extra shout-out about Tolkien and an actual place called Hobbitton. Tres cool!

And you are more than welcome about the hub...I really got into his work when I first saw the movies. I went back and read the trilogy, and realized just how faithful Peter Jackson was to the books, considering how much detail Tolkien put into his stories. Totally blew my mind how he came up with the Elven language...

And now so many fantasy authors are trying their damndest to catch up to his level of genius. I think so far only Anne McCaffrey and the author of the popular fantasy series "Eragon" have truly matched up. Oh, and Terry Brooks is in there, too.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

I would have to put Brooks ahead of McCaffery, but that is personal taste :)...I have read and reread Tolkien since I was 13, and was thrilled when Jackson took on his own epic journey with the making of the films. The movies did follow the books closely, and it was a fantasy reader/writer's dream come true to see the characters we laughed and cried with portrayed so vividly on the big screen.

I was glad to see the movies spawned a revival for his books. He truly was the father of epic fantasy writers.

If you haven't already done so, you might like to check out David Eddings' books as well. His blend of humour, politics and intrigue is well worth the read.

Thank you for such a well written and intersting hub!


BardScribe profile image

BardScribe 7 years ago from Iowa Author

Well, to be honest, I've not read much of either Brooks or McCaffrey. But I think if I had to pick I'd honestly be drawn more towards Brooks. I can't quite get into the dragon thing (though I thought the "Eragon" movie was good)...but I did like McCaffrey's "Crystal Singer" series just because I am a singer and I love crystals and gems.

Brooks is a bit closer to Tolkien. so I think that's why I prefer him.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

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C. C. Riter 7 years ago

Good hub and great subject. thanks is all the more I can say.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I also heard that some of The Hobbit's scenery was inspired by The Knysna Forest in the Garden Route in South Africa. Hey, why did Peter Jackson make it in New Zealand? South Africa would have been a far better setting as that's what inspired Tolkien, not New Zealand. Oh well, guess he wanted to give his home country some publicity.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I also heard that some of The Hobbit's scenery was inspired by The Knysna Forest in the Garden Route in South Africa. Hey, why did Peter Jackson make it in New Zealand? South Africa would have been a far better setting as that's what inspired Tolkien, not New Zealand. Oh well, guess he wanted to give his home country some publicity.


k@ri profile image

k@ri 7 years ago from Sunny Southern California

I've been a Tolkien fan for many years. I started when I was about 13. These are very interesting facts. Congratulations on making HubNuggets!


Samamander 7 years ago

This was an interesting read. I have always been a fantasy nerd, and I consider Tolkien to be one of the greatest writers of all time. I am, though, offended by your comparison of Christopher Paolini (the author of Eragon) to Tolkien. Eragon is one of the most generic fantasy works I have ever read. Paolini wrote it when he was fifteen years old. I'm sorry, but to me Paolini comes off as a kid who thinks that a combination of every fantasy archetype and cliché he can think will make a good book.


brandyBachmann profile image

brandyBachmann 6 years ago

I'm a fan of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit and it's nice to know about the background of J.R.R. Tolkien. great hub!


Jarrod1240 profile image

Jarrod1240 6 years ago

Tolkien's books are among the finest novels ever written and overshadow and he overshadows all other authors of the twentieth century. Tolkien has inspired me throughout my own life: religiously, literarily, and in overall life experience! The Lord of the Rings was written with more precision, depth, and contemplation than work of fantasy ever written. J.R.R. Tolkien will forever be remembered as the Father of modern fantasy and an incredible linguistic scholar.


Law 5 years ago

That was really good I knew a lot of that from the extended edesons


nobody pal 5 years ago

ohmagawd i just sat for my english paper today and there's this essay question that asked us to choose 1 artist, 1 band/singer or 1 author who has influenced us. I can't help but to put Tolkien! Hes been my fav author since when i was around 9-10 years old!


Hailey Blaire (Fake Name) 4 years ago

Great facts! Where did you find all of them?


bubble 3 years ago

hi people


Hey 2 years ago

Yo face how did he die

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