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|Born||3 January, 1892|
|Died||2 September, 1973|
|Website||The Tolkien Estate|
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, (3rd January, 1892 – 2nd September, 1973) is an author best known for The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings. He worked as reader and professor in English language at the University of Leeds from 1920 to 1925; as professor of Anglo-Saxon language at Oxford from 1925 to 1945; and of English language and literature from 1945 to 1959. A strongly committed Catholic, Tolkien was a close friend of C.S. Lewis, and a member of the Inklings, a literary discussion group to which both Lewis and Owen Barfield belonged.
In addition to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's published fiction includes The Silmarillion and other posthumous books about what he called a legendarium, a fictional mythology of the remote past of Earth, called Arda, and Middle-earth in particular. Most of these posthumously published works were compiled from Tolkien's notes by his son Christopher Reuel Tolkien. The enduring popularity and influence of Tolkien's works have established him as the "father of the modern high fantasy genre". Tolkien's other published fiction includes adaptations of stories originally told to his children and not directly related to the legendarium.
The Tolkien Family
Although records are unclear, many of Tolkien's paternal ancestors were craftsmen. The Tolkien family had its roots in Saxony (present-day Germany), but had been living in England since the 18th century, becoming "quickly and intensely English (not British)" (Letters, 165). The surname Tolkien is anglicised from Tollkiehn (i.e. German: tollkühn, "foolhardy", the etymological English translation would be "dull-keen", a literal translation of "oxymoron"). The character of Professor Rashbold in The Notion Club Papers is a pun on the name.
See also: J.R.R. Tolkien's Family Tree
Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now the South-African state Free State), South Africa, to Arthur Reuel Tolkien (1857 – 1896), an English bank manager, and his wife Mabel, née Suffield (1870 – 1904). Tolkien had one sibling, his younger brother, Hilary Arthur Reuel, who was born on February 17, 1894.
While living in Africa he was bitten by a large 'baboon spider', and this echoes in his stories. However, Tolkien said that he did not develop a particular fear of spiders after this event, and, when he was older, recalled picking small spiders up and putting them outside.
When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother on what was intended to be a lengthy family visit. His father, however, died in South Africa of a severe brain haemorrhage before he could join them. This left the family without an income, so Tolkien's mother took him to live with her parents in Birmingham, England. Soon after in 1896, they moved to Sarehole (now in Hall Green), then a Worcestershire village, later annexed to Birmingham. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent Hills and Lickey Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books along with other Worcestershire towns and villages such as Bromsgrove, Alcester and Alvechurch and places such as his aunt's farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.
Mabel tutored her two sons, and Ronald, as he was known in the family, was a keen pupil. She taught him a great deal of botany, and she awoke in her son the enjoyment of the look and feel of plants.Young Tolkien liked to draw landscapes and trees. But his favourite lessons were those concerning languages, and his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early. He could read by the age of four, and could write fluently soon afterwards. He attended King Edward's School, Birmingham and, while a student there, helped "line the route" for the coronation parade of King George V, being posted just outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. He later attended St. Philip's School and Exeter College, Oxford.
His mother converted to Roman Catholicism in 1900, despite vehement protests by her Baptist family. She died of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was twelve, at Fern Cottage, Rednal, which they were then renting. For the rest of his life, Tolkien felt that she had become a martyr for her faith; this had a profound effect on his own Catholic beliefs. Tolkien's devout faith was significant in the conversion of C.S. Lewis to Anglicanism.
During his subsequent orphanhood he was brought up by Father Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. He lived there in the shadow of Perrott's Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. Another strong influence was the romantic medievalist paintings of Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a large and world-renowned collection of works and had put it on free public display from around 1908.
Tolkien met and fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt, three years his senior, at the age of sixteen. Father Francis forbade him from meeting, talking, or even corresponding with her until he was twenty-one. He obeyed this prohibition to the letter.
In 1911, while they were at King Edward's School, Birmingham, Tolkien and three friends, Robert Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society which they called "the T.C.B.S.", the initials standing for "Tea Club and Barrovian Society", alluding to their fondness of drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and, illegally, in the school library. After leaving school, the members stayed in touch, and in December 1914, they held a "Council" in London, at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.
In the summer of 1911, Tolkien went on holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter (Letters, no. 306), noting that Bilbo's journey across the Misty Mountains ("including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods") is directly based on his adventures as their party of twelve hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembers his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn ("the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams"). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg on to Grindelwald and across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass and through the upper Valais to Brig, and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.
On the evening of his twenty-first birthday, Tolkien wrote to Edith a declaration of his love and asked her to marry him. She replied saying that she was already engaged, but had done so because she had believed Tolkien had forgotten her. The two met up and beneath a railway viaduct renewed their love, with Edith returning her ring and choosing to marry Tolkien instead. A condition of their engagement was that she was to convert to Catholicism for him. They were engaged in Birmingham, in January 1913, and married in Warwick, England, on March 22, 1916.
With his childhood love of landscape, he visited Cornwall in 1914 and he was said to be deeply impressed by the singular Cornish coastline and sea. After graduating from the University of Oxford (Exeter College, Oxford) with a first-class degree in English language in 1915, Tolkien joined the British Army effort in World War I and served as a second lieutenant in the eleventh battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. His battalion was moved to France in 1916, where Tolkien served as a communications officer during the Battle of the Somme, until he came down with trench fever on October 27, and was moved back to England on November 8. Many of his fellow servicemen, as well as many of his closest friends, were killed in the war. During his recovery in a cottage in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, England, he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps, and was promoted to lieutenant. When he was stationed at Kingston upon Hull, one day he and Edith went walking in the woods at nearby Roos, and Edith began to dance for him in a thick grove of hemlock. This incident inspired the account of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien, and Tolkien often referred to Edith as his Lúthien.
Tolkien's first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary (among others, he initiated the entries "wasp" and "walrus"). In 1920 he took up a post as Reader in English language at the University of Leeds, and in 1924 was made a professor there, but in 1925 he returned to Oxford as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College.
Tolkien and Edith had four children: John Francis Reuel (November 16, 1917 - January 22, 2003), Michael Hilary Reuel (October 22, 1920 - February 27,1984), Christopher John Reuel (November 21, 1924) and Priscilla Anne Reuel (1929). Tolkien assisted Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the unearthing of a Roman Asclepieion at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, in 1928. During his time at Pembroke, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Of Tolkien's academic publications, the 1936 lecture "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" had a lasting influence on Beowulf research.
In 1945, he moved to Merton College, Oxford, becoming the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature, in which post he remained until his retirement in 1959. Tolkien completed The Lord of the Rings in 1948, close to a decade after the first sketches. During the 1950s, Tolkien spent many of his long academic holidays at the home of his son John Francis in Stoke-on-Trent. Tolkien had an intense dislike for the side effects of industrialization, which he considered a devouring of the English countryside. For most of his adult life he eschewed automobiles, preferring to ride a bicycle. This attitude is perceptible from some parts of his work, such as the forced industrialisation of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings.
W.H. Auden was a frequent correspondent and long-time friend of Tolkien's, initiated by Auden's fascination with The Lord of the Rings: Auden was among the most prominent early critics to praise the work. Tolkien wrote in a 1971 letter,
I am [...] very deeply in Auden's debt in recent years. His support of me and interest in my work has been one of my chief encouragements. He gave me very good reviews, notices and letters from the beginning when it was by no means a popular thing to do. He was, in fact, sneered at for it.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #327
Retirement and Old Age
During his life in retirement, from 1959 up to his death in 1973, Tolkien increasingly turned into a figure of public attention and literary fame. The sale of his books was so profitable that Tolkien regretted he had not taken early retirement. While at first he wrote enthusiastic answers to reader inquiries, he became more and more suspicious of emerging Tolkien fandom, especially among the hippy movement in the USA. Already in 1944, he made a somewhat sarcastic comment about a fan letter by a twelve-year-old American reader ("It's nice to find that little American boys do really still say 'Gee Whiz'.", Letters no. 87). In a 1972 letter he deplores having become a cult-figure, but admits that
even the nose of a very modest idol (younger than Chu-Bu and not much older than Sheemish) cannot remain entirely untickled by the sweet smell of incense!.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #336
Fan attention became so intense that Tolkien had to take his phone number out of the public directory, and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth at the south coast. Tolkien was awarded a CBE ("Commander of the British Empire") by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on March 28, 1972.
Edith Tolkien died on November 29, 1971, at the age of eighty-two, and Tolkien had the name Lúthien engraved on the stone at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. When Tolkien died 21 months later of pneumonia on September 2, 1973, at the age of 81, he was buried in the same grave, with Beren added to his name, so that the engraving now reads:
- Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889 – 1971
- John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892 – 1973
Posthumously named after Tolkien are the Tolkien Road in Eastbourne, East Sussex, and the asteroid 2675 Tolkien. Tolkien Way in Stoke-On-Trent is named after J.R.R.'s son Father John Francis Tolkien, who used to be the priest in charge at the nearby Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Angels and St. Peter in Chains.
The early images of J.R.R. Tolkien in school and university show a serious young man, average height, slender, clean-shaven, and with his hair parted in the middle. By 1916 and Tolkien had joined the army he had changed to a more conventional haircut, as well as a mustache for a short period of time. Richard Plotz, who visited Tolkien in 1966, described him as
...a medium-sized man ... [who] looks much younger than his seventy-four years. Like one of his creations, the Hobbits, he is a bit fat in the stomach ...
—"J.R.R. Tolkien Talks about the Discovery of Middle-earth, the Origins of Elvish", Seventeen, January 1967, pg. 92)
In a letter on February 8th, 1967, to interviewers Charlotte and Denis Plimmer, Tolkien stated that he was not "tall, or strongly built. I now measure 5 ft 8 1/2, and am slightly built, with notably small hands. For most of my life I have been very thin and underweight. Since my early sixties I have become 'tubby'. Not unusual in men who took their exercise in games and swimming, when opportunities for these things cease" (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pg. 373).
In "The Man Who Understands Hobbits" [Daily Telegraph Magazine, 22 March 1968) the Plimmers noted that Tolkien had 'grey eyes, firm tanned skin, silvery hair and quick decisive speech' (pg. 31).
During Tolkien's time at King Edward's School he was noted for his choice in colored socks.
Clyde S. Kilby, who spent some time with Tolkien in the summer of 1966, noted that he "was always neatly dressed from necktie to shoes. One of his favorite suits was a herringbone with which he wore a green corduroy vest [waistcoat]. Always there was a vest, and nearly always a sport coat. He did not mind wearing a very broad necktie which in those days was out of style" (Tolkien and the Silmarillion (1976), pg. 24).
Tolkien had a particular liking for decorative waistcoats: he told one correspondent that he had "one or two choice embroidered specimens, which I sometimes wear when required to make a speech, as I find they so fascinate the eyes of the audience that they do not notice if my dentures become a little loose with excitements of rhetoric" (from a letter to Nancy Smith, 25 December 1963, Special Collections and University Archives, John P. Raynor, S.J., Library, Marquette University).
Interviewers have noted that Tolkien almost clung to his smoking pipe, cradling it in his hand, or speaking with it in his mouth, sometimes making him difficult to understand. One of these, Richard Plotz, wrote that Tolkien "took out a pipe as he entered his study, and all during the interview he held it clenched in his teeth, lighting and relighting it, talking through it; he never removed it from his mouth for more than five seconds" ('J.R.R. Tolkien Talks...', pg. 92).
Beginning with The Book of Lost Tales Part One, written while recuperating from illness during World War I, Tolkien devised several themes that were reused in successive drafts of his legendarium. The two most prominent stories, the tales of Beren and Lúthien and that of Túrin, were carried forward into long narrative poems (published in The Lays of Beleriand). Tolkien wrote a brief summary of the mythology these poems were intended to represent, and that summary eventually evolved into The Silmarillion, an epic history that Tolkien started three times but never published. The story of this continuous redrafting is told in the posthumous series The History of Middle-earth. From around 1936, he began to extend this framework to include the tale of The Fall of Númenor, which was inspired by the legend of Atlantis.
Tolkien was strongly influenced by Anglo-Saxon literature, Germanic and Norse mythologies, Finnish mythology, the Bible, and Greek mythology. The works most often cited as sources for Tolkien's stories include Beowulf, the Kalevala, the Poetic Edda, the Volsunga saga and the Hervarar saga1. Tolkien himself acknowledged Homer, Oedipus, and the Kalevala as influences or sources for some of his stories and ideas. His borrowings also came from numerous Middle English works and poems. A major philosophical influence on his writing is King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy known as the Lays of Boethius. Characters in The Lord of the Rings, such as Frodo, Treebeard and Elrond make noticeably Boethian remarks.
In addition to his mythological compositions, Tolkien enjoyed inventing fantasy stories to entertain his children. He wrote annual Christmas letters from Father Christmas for them, building up a series of short stories (later compiled and published as The Father Christmas Letters). Other stories included Mr. Bliss, Roverandom, Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham and Leaf by Niggle. Roverandom and Smith of Wootton Major, like The Hobbit, borrowed ideas from his legendarium. Leaf by Niggle appears to be an autobiographical work, where a "very small man", Niggle, keeps painting leaves until finally he ends up with a tree.
Tolkien never expected his fictional stories to become popular, but he was persuaded by a former student to publish a book he had written for his own children called The Hobbit in 1937. However, the book attracted adult readers as well, and it became popular enough for the publisher, George Allen & Unwin, to ask Tolkien to work on a sequel.
Even though he felt uninspired on the topic, this request prompted Tolkien to begin what would become his most famous work: the epic three-volume novel The Lord of the Rings (published 1954–55). Tolkien spent more than ten years writing the primary narrative and appendices for The Lord of the Rings, during which time he received the constant support of the Inklings, in particular his closest friend C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set against the background of The Silmarillion, but in a time long after it.
Tolkien at first intended The Lord of the Rings as a children's tale like The Hobbit, but it quickly grew darker and more serious in the writing. Though a direct sequel to The Hobbit, it addressed an older audience, drawing on the immense back story of Beleriand that Tolkien had constructed in previous years, and which eventually saw posthumous publication in The Silmarillion and other volumes. Tolkien's influence weighs heavily on the fantasy genre that grew up after the success of The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien continued to work on the history of Middle-earth until his death. His son Christopher, with some assistance from fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay, organised some of this material into one volume, published as The Silmarillion in 1977. In 1980 Christopher Tolkien followed this with a collection of more fragmentary material under the title Unfinished Tales, and in subsequent years he published a massive amount of background material on the creation of Middle-earth in the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth. All these posthumous works contain unfinished, abandoned, alternative and outright contradictory accounts, since they were always a work in progress, and Tolkien only rarely settled on a definitive version for any of the stories. There is not even complete consistency to be found between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the two most closely related works, because Tolkien was never able to fully integrate all their traditions into each other. He commented in 1965, while editing The Hobbit for a third edition, that he would have preferred to completely rewrite the entire book.
The John P. Raynor, S.J., Library at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, preserves many of Tolkien's original manuscripts, notes and letters; other original material survives at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Marquette has the manuscripts and proofs of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and other manuscripts, including Farmer Giles of Ham, while the Bodleian holds the Silmarillion papers and Tolkien's academic work.
The Lord of the Rings became immensely popular in the 1960s and has remained so ever since, ranking as one of the most popular works of fiction of the twentieth century, judged by both sales and reader surveys. In the 2003 "Big Read" survey conducted by the BBC, The Lord of the Rings was found to be the "Nation's Best-loved Book". Australians voted The Lord of the Rings "My Favourite Book" in a 2004 survey conducted by the Australian ABC. In a 1999 poll of Amazon.com customers, The Lord of the Rings was judged to be their favourite "book of the millennium". In 2002 Tolkien was voted the ninety-second "greatest Briton" in a poll conducted by the BBC, and in 2004 he was voted thirty-fifth in the SABC3's Great South Africans, the only person to appear in both lists. His popularity is not limited just to the English-speaking world: in a 2004 poll inspired by the UK’s "Big Read" survey, about 250,000 Germans found The Lord of the Rings (Der Herr der Ringe) to be their favourite work of literature.
Both Tolkien's academic career and his literary production are inseparable from his love of language and philology. He specialised in Greek philology in college, and in 1915 graduated with Old Icelandic as special subject. He worked for the Oxford English Dictionary from 1918. In 1920, he went to Leeds as Reader in English Language, where he claimed credit for raising the number of students of linguistics from five to twenty. He gave courses in Old English heroic verse, history of English, various Old English and Middle English texts, Old and Middle English philology, introductory Germanic philology, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and Medieval Welsh. When in 1925, aged 33, Tolkien applied for the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship of Anglo-Saxon, he boasted that his students of Germanic philology in Leeds had even formed a "Viking Club".
Privately, Tolkien was attracted to "things of racial and linguistic significance", and he entertained notions of an inherited taste of language, which he termed the "native tongue" as opposed to "cradle tongue" in his 1955 lecture English and Welsh, which is crucial to his understanding of race and language. He considered west-midland Middle English his own "native tongue", and, as he wrote to W.H. Auden in 1955 (Letters, no. 163), "I am a West-midlander by blood (and took to early west-midland Middle English as a known tongue as soon as I set eyes on it)".
Parallel to Tolkien's professional work as a philologist, and sometimes overshadowing this work, to the effect that his academic output remained rather thin, was his affection for the construction of artificial languages. The best developed of these are Quenya and Sindarin, the etymological connection between which are at the core of much of Tolkien's legendarium. Language and grammar for Tolkien was a matter of aesthetics and euphony, and Quenya in particular was designed from "phonæsthetic" considerations. It was intended as an "Elvenlatin", and was phonologically based on Latin, with ingredients from Finnish and Greek (Letters, no. 144). A notable addition came in late 1945 with Adûnaic, a language of a "faintly Semitic flavour", connected with Tolkien's Atlantis myth, which by The Notion Club Papers ties directly into his ideas about inheritability of language, and via the "Second Age" and the Eärendil myth was grounded in the legendarium, thereby providing a link of Tolkien's 20th-century "real primary world" with the mythical past of his Middle-earth.
Tolkien considered languages inseparable from the mythology associated with them, and he consequently took a dim view of auxiliary languages. In 1930 a congress of Esperantists were told as much by him, in his lecture A Secret Vice, "Your language construction will breed a mythology", but by 1956 he concluded that "Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, Novial, &c &c are dead, far deader than ancient unused languages, because their authors never invented any Esperanto legends" (Letters, no. 180).
The popularity of Tolkien's books has had a small but lasting effect on the use of language in fantasy literature in particular, and even on mainstream dictionaries, which today commonly accept Tolkien's revival of the spellings dwarves and elvish (instead of dwarfs and elfish), which had not been in use since the mid-1800s and earlier. Other terms he has coined, like legendarium and eucatastrophe, are mainly used in connection with Tolkien's work.
Works inspired by Tolkien
In a 1951 letter to Milton Waldman, Tolkien writes about his intentions to create a "body of more or less connected legend", of which:
The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #131
The hands and minds of many artists have indeed been inspired by Tolkien's legends. Personally known to him were Pauline Baynes (Tolkien's favourite illustrator of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham) and Donald Swann (who set the music to The Road Goes Ever On). Queen Margrethe II of Denmark created illustrations to The Lord of the Rings in the early 1970s. She sent them to Tolkien, who was struck by the similarity to the style of his own drawings.
But Tolkien was not fond of all the artistic representation of his works that were produced in his lifetime, and was sometimes harshly disapproving.
In 1946, he rejects suggestions for illustrations by Horus Engels for the German edition of the Hobbit as "too Disnified",
Bilbo with a dribbling nose, and Gandalf as a figure of vulgar fun rather than the Odinic wanderer that I think of.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #107
He was sceptical of the emerging fandom in the United States, and in 1954 he returned proposals for the dust jackets of the American edition of The Lord of the Rings:
Thank you for sending me the projected 'blurbs', which I return. The Americans are not as a rule at all amenable to criticism or correction; but I think their effort is so poor that I feel constrained to make some effort to improve it.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #144
And in 1958, in an irritated reaction to a proposed movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings by Morton Grady Zimmerman:
I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #207
He went on to criticise the script scene by scene ("yet one more scene of screams and rather meaningless slashings"). But Tolkien was in principle open to the idea of a movie adaptation. He sold the film, stage and merchandise rights of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1968, while, guided by scepticism towards future productions, he forbade Disney should ever be involved:
It might be advisable [...] to let the Americans do what seems good to them — as long as it was possible [...] to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).
—The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, #13
United Artists never made a film, though at least John Boorman was planning a film in the early seventies. It would have been a live-action film, which apparently would have been much more to Tolkien's liking than an animated film. In 1976 the rights were sold to Tolkien Enterprises, now Middle-earth Enterprises, a Saul Zaentz company, and the first movie adaptation (an animated rotoscoping film) of The Lord of the Rings appeared only after Tolkien's death (in 1978, directed by Ralph Bakshi). The screenplay was written by the fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle. This first adaptation, however, only contained the first half of the story that is The Lord of the Rings. In 1977 an animated TV production of The Hobbit was made by Rankin/Bass, and in 1980 they produced an animated film titled The Return of the King, which covered some of the portion of The Lord of the Rings that Bakshi was unable to complete. In 2001-3 The Lord of the Rings was filmed in full and as a live-action film as a trilogy of films by Peter Jackson.
- For a complete list of all of Tolkien's published writings, see Writings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fiction and poetry
- 1936 Songs for the Philologists, with E.V. Gordon et al.
- 1937 The Hobbit or There and Back Again, ISBN 0-618-00221-9 (HM).
- 1945 Leaf by Niggle (short story)
- 1945 The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, published in Welsh Review
- 1949 Farmer Giles of Ham (medieval fable)
- 1953 The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son published with the essay Ofermod
- The Lord of the Rings
- 1962 The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book
- 1967 The Road Goes Ever On, with Donald Swann
- 1964 Tree and Leaf (On Fairy-Stories and Leaf by Niggle in book form)
- 1966 The Tolkien Reader (The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorthelm's Son, On Fairy-Stories, Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham' and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil)
- 1967 Smith of Wootton Major
- 1922 A Middle English Vocabulary
- 1924 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (with E.V. Gordon)
- 1925 Some Contributions to Middle-English Lexicography
- 1925 The Devil's Coach-Horses
- 1929 Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad
- 1932 The Name 'Nodens' (in: Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman, and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire.)
- 1932/1935 Sigelwara Land parts I and II
- 1934 The Reeve's Tale (rediscovery of dialect humour, introducing the Hengwrt manuscript into textual criticism of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales)
- 1936 Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (lecture on Beowulf criticism)
- 1939 On Fairy-Stories (Tolkien's philosophy on fantasy, given as the 1939 Andrew Lang lecture)
- 1944 Sir Orfeo (an edition of the medieval poem)
- 1947 On Fairy-Stories (essay, very central for understanding Tolkien's views on fastasy)
- 1953 Ofermod, published with the poem The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son
- 1953 Middle English "Losenger"
- 1962 Ancrene Wisse: The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle
- 1963 English and Welsh
- 1966 The Jerusalem Bible (contributing translator and lexicographer)
- 1975 Translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo
- 1976 The Father Christmas Letters
- 1977 The Silmarillion
- 1979 Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien
- 1980 Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
- 1980 Poems and Stories (a compilation of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son, On Fairy-Stories, Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major)
- 1981 The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (eds. Christopher Tolkien and Humphrey Carpenter)
- 1981 (1982) The Old English Exodus Text
- 1982 Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode
- 1982 Mr. Bliss
- 1983 The Monsters and the Critics (an essay collection)
- 1983–1996 The History of Middle-earth:
- The Book of Lost Tales Part One (1983)
- The Book of Lost Tales Part Two (1984)
- The Lays of Beleriand (1985)
- The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986)
- The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987)
- The Return of the Shadow (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 1) (1988)
- The Treason of Isengard (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 2) (1989)
- The War of the Ring (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 3) (1990)
- Sauron Defeated (The History of The Lord of the Rings vol. 4, including The Notion Club Papers) (1992)
- Morgoth's Ring (The Later Silmarillion vol. 1) (1993)
- The War of the Jewels (The Later Silmarillion vol. 2) (1994)
- The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996)
- Index (2002)
- 1995 J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (a compilation of Tolkien's art)
- 1998 Roverandom
- 2002 Beowulf and the Critics ed. Michael D.C. Drout ("Beowulf: the monsters and the critics" together with editions of two drafts of the longer essay from which it was condensed.
- 2007 The Children of Húrin ed. Christopher Tolkien
- 2009 The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún ed. Christopher Tolkien
Note: for a detailed listing of all recordings of Tolkien, see Audio recordings of J.R.R. Tolkien
- 1967 Poems and Songs of Middle Earth, Caedmon TC 1231
- 1975 J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings his The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings, Caedmon TC 1477, TC 1478 (based on an August, 1952 recording by George Sayer)
This list contains awards or recognitions given to J.R.R. Tolkien, it does not include awards given to his individual publications.
- D. Lit., in University College, Dublin (1954)
- Commander of Order of the British Empire (1972)
- Doctorate of Letters by Oxford University (1972)
- 6th "best postwar British writer" (The Times, 2008) 
J, John, Ronald, Tollers, JRsquared, Ruginwaldus Dwalakôneis, Arcastar, "Eisphorides Acribus Polyglotteus, orator Graecorum", N.N, Fisiologvs, Kingston Bagpuize, Oxymore, Raegnold Hraedmoding
|Mabel Suffield||Arthur Reuel Tolkien|
|Edith Bratt||J.R.R. Tolkien||Hilary Tolkien||Magdalen Matthews|
|John Tolkien||Michael Tolkien||Christopher Tolkien||Priscilla Tolkien|
- Biography: Carpenter, Humphrey (1977). J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-04-928037-6
- Letters: Carpenter, Humphrey and Tolkien, Christopher (eds.) (1981). The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. ISBN 0-618-05699-8
- HoME: Tolkien, Christopher (ed.) (12 volumes, 1996-2002), The History of Middle-earth
A small selection of books about Tolkien and his works:
- Anderson, Douglas A., Michael D. C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger (eds.) (2004). ‘’Tolkien Studies’’, Vol 1
- Chance, Jane (ed.) (2003). Tolkien the Medievalist, London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28944-0
- Chance, Jane (ed.) (2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, a Reader, Louisville: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-813-12301-1
- Flieger, Verlyn and Carl F. Hostetter (eds.) (2000). Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle Earth, Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30530-7. DDC 823.912. LC PR6039.
- O'Neill, Timothy R. (1979). The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-28208-X
- Pearce, Joseph (1998). Tolkien: Man and Myth, London: HarperCollinsPublishers. ISBN 000-274018-4
- Shippey, T. A. (2000). J.R.R. Tolkien — Author of the Century, Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-12764-X, ISBN 0-618-25759-4 (pbk)
- Strachey, Barbara (1981). Journeys of Frodo: an Atlas of The Lord of the Rings, London, Boston: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-049-12016-6
- Tolkien, John & Priscilla (1992). The Tolkien Family Album, London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-26-110239-7
- White, Michael (2003). Tolkien: A Biography, New American Library. ISBN 0451212428
- The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends. Humphrey Carpenter (1979), ISBN 0395276284
- The Inklings Handbook: The Lives, Thought and Writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and Their Friends. Colin Duriez and David Porter (2001), ISBN 1902694139
- Finding God in the Lord of the Rings'. Kurt D. Bruner and Jim Ware (2003), ISBN 084238555X
- Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Colin Duriez (2003), ISBN 1587680262
|J.R.R. Tolkien · J.A.W. Bennett · Lord David Cecil · Nevill Coghill · James Dundas-Grant · Hugo Dyson · Adam Fox · Colin Hardie · Robert Havard · C.S. Lewis · Warren Lewis · Gervase Mathew · R.B. McCallum · C.E. Stevens · Christopher Tolkien · John Wain · Charles Williams · Charles Leslie Wrenn|