Even if you've never read a word he's written, you know of J.R.R. Tolkien and the mightiest product of his imagination, Middle Earth. Maybe you read The Hobbit for the first time as a child (or had it read to you as a bedtime story like I did!) and have loved it ever since, or maybe you just enjoyed Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies, but in any case you've probably been exposed to the magic and complexity of Tolkien's creation. In honor of the 125th anniversary of his birth, let's take a look at the man and the effects of his beloved work.
Tolkien was born January 3, 1892 in South Africa. Did you know he was an orphan? Or that as a lieutenant he fought in the Battle of the Somme during World War I? Humphrey Carpenter has contributed two excellent titles for those curious about the author's life, J.R.R. Tolkien and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Tolkien worked for a short time for The Oxford English Dictionary, but is better associated with the University of Oxford, where he was a scholar and professor for most of his adult life. He was good friends with another Oxford man responsible for some very famous fantasy works, C.S. Lewis. You can read about the friendship and their literary group in The Fellowship.
His best-known works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, are some of the best-loved and influential books of our time, and their success is responsible for the popularity and relevance of the fantasy genre to this day. You probably don't need to be convinced of that if you've made it this far into my post, but if you'd like even more detail, read about it from authors like Harry Turtledove, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin and more in Meditations on Middle Earth.