John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was an academic and professor at Oxford University and author of the now widely popular The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, works that have enormously shaped modern fantasy literature. In academic circles, Tolkien is recognized for his contributions to the study of language in literature In particular, his lecture "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics," published in 1936, is a major critical work about that important Old English poem. His other writings include poems and short stories.
Born in South Africa and a few years later taken to England for his health, Tolkien entered Exeter College, Oxford, in 1911 and in 1915 took a First in English Language and Literature. In 1916, after a period of forced separation of several years, Tolkien married Edith Bratt with whom he eventually had four children. Tolkien served with the Lancashire Fusiliers from 1915-18, fought in the Battle of the Somme, and, contracting an illness, returned to England to recover. While recovering he began what was to be his life-long literary work The Silmarillion. Tolkien became Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds in 1920, Professor of English Language at Leeds in 1924, and Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925. During these years, he worked with E.V. Gordon on a critical edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and continued work on The Silmarillion. Early in the 1930s he began writing The Hobbit, which was published in 1937. That same year, at the suggestion of his publisher, he began work on The Lord of the Rings, the first two volumes being published in 1954 and the third in 1955. In 1945, Tolkien was awarded the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, a position he held until his retirement in 1959. After his retirement, Tolkien wrote Smith of Wootton Major, Tree and Leaf, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and set about revising The Silmarillion, which was eventually completed by his son Christopher and published in 1977. Tolkien died at the age of 81 in September 1973.
Tolkien was a devout and life-long Roman Catholic whose understanding of Christ's sacrifice and divinity, and of the spiritual truth embedded within human mythology helped persuade C.S. Lewis to become a Christian. Tolkien's adherence to the Catholic view of the relationship between the physical and spiritual worlds, and his belief in the inherent truth of mythology were the foundation for many of his works.