A Chronology of the Life of Tolkien

 & the Genesis of Middle-earth


>1892, January 3 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien born in Bloemfontein, South Africa to Mabel & Arthur Tolkien. Arthur is a branch manager for the Bank of Africa.


>1894 Tolkien’s brother Hilary born.


>1895 Tolkien’s mother takes him & his brother to live in Birmingham, England where his parents had lived before going to Africa.


>1896, February 15 Tolkien’s father dies of rheumatic fever, his mother moves the family outside Birmingham to Sarehole & begins to concentrate on her sons’ educations.


>1900 Tolkien’s mother converts to Roman Catholicism. Tolkien enters King Edward VI School, winning a scholarship 3 years later.


>1904, November 14 Tolkien’s mother dies from diabetes related problems. Fr. Francis Morgan becomes the boy’s guardian. They go to live with their Aunt Beatrice.


>1908 The boys go to live at a Mrs. Faulkner’s Boarding House, where Tolkien meets another orphan, Edith Bratt, who he will later marry. 


>1911 Tolkien begins study at Exeter College, Oxford, choosing comparative philology over classics.


While studying at Oxford, as his interest in languages grew, Tolkien begins working on 2 languages of elves; the one is called Quenya, or high-elven (influenced by Finnish) & Sindarin (influenced by Welsh). Both were supposedly based on a common antecedent called Eldarin. Both are fairly well developed by 1915. A number of other languages were also worked on.


From an interest in the Atlantis story, Tolkien begins to write about an island continent called Numenor. Although the intent was for it to be a long independent work, it was set aside and the basic story ideas were later incorporated into the history of the second age of Middle-earth.


After Numenor was set aside Tolkien began on some material that was to become part of  The Silmarillion. Writes the poem “ The Voyage of Earendel, the Evening Star”.


[World War I begins 1914]


>1915, July 7  Tolkien commissioned as a temporary 2nd lieutenant in the 13th Reserve Batallion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.


>1916, March 22  Tolkien marries Edith Bratt.


>1916, June 4 Tolkien leaves for France.


>1916, Nov. 9 Tolkien arrives back in Birmingham to recover from trench fever.


1916 He takes up writing again material for The Silmarillion, writing through the 1920’s [Book of Lost Tales I & II (History of ME ; 1-2)] when he starts on long poems.


>1917 Tolkien’s first child John is born.


[World War I ends, 1918]


>1918  Tolkien returns to Oxford as part of the junior staff of the Oxford English Dictionary.


>1920  Tolkien becomes a reader of English language at Leeds University. His second child Michael is born.


1920-25  Writes The Lay of the Children of Hurin and then the first version of The Lay of Luthien which was worked on until September of 1931, a portion of which from 1929 was commented on by C. S. Lewis. [The Lays of Beleriand (History of ME ; 3)]


            Publications: A Middle English Vocabulary. Oxford: Clarendon, 1922.


>1924  Tolkien is promoted to professor of English language at Leeds University. His third child Christopher is born.


>1925  Tolkien appointed Rawlinson & Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. Retains position until 1945 (when he becomes Merton professor of English Language & Literature).


            Publications: Sir Gawain & the Green Knight (edited with E. V. Gordon) Oxford:     

                                Clarendon, 1925.


1926 Writes a prose sketch of the mythology that provides a summary and background for the longer poems written earlier. [The Earliest Silmarillion in The Shaping of Middle-earth (History of ME ; 4)]


>1926 C. S. Lewis joins the faculty at Oxford, becomes friends with Tolkien and joins a reading club started by Tolkien in which the members read together Icelandic saga literature (the Kolbitar or Coalbiters).


>1929  Tolkien’s fourth child Pricilla is born.


1930 Begins writing The Hobbit in earnest. Started by idly writing down the phrase “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” while grading exam papers.


>1932, September C. S. Lewis becomes a Christian, one of the major influences at the time being Tolkien.


1932 The text of The Hobbit is in existence (at least up until the death of Smaug) since it was read to C.S. Lewis.


>1933 When an undergraduate literary club breaks up (having formed in 1931) Lewis takes over the name “The Inklings” for his group of friends that meet together in his rooms at Oxford on Thursday nights, and somewhat for a larger group that meets on Tuesday mornings in town.


            Publications: “Chaucer as a Philologist: the Reeve’s Tale” Transactions of the

                                Philological Society (1934) 1-70.


1936 Begins writing The Lord of the Rings (“the new hobbit”).


            Publications: “Beowulf and the Critics” Proceedings of the British Academy 22 

                                (1936) 245-295 [delivered as the 1st Gollancz Memorial Lecture on 

                                 November 25, 1936]


1937 Begins readings sections of “the new hobbit” to the Inklings.


1937, September Publication of The Hobbit (London: George Allen & Unwin). 1st edition reprinted 1937, 1942, 1946. 2nd edition 1951, with many reprintings. 3rd edition 1956, with many reprintings.


1938 American edition of The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 2nd edition 1958. 3rd edition 1965.


1938, March 8 “On Fairy-stories” delivered as the Andrew Lang Lecture at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Not published until 1947.


[1939 (September 3) Britain & France declare war on Germany]


1939 Charles Williams takes up residence in Oxford when the offices of the Oxford Press move there because of the start of the war. Tolkien-Lewis friendship begins to cool.


1939 [end] Book I of LOTR almost complete. Continues on to Book II, chapters 4 & possibly 5.


1941 After a hiatus, begins again, writing Book II, chapter 6.


1942 Writes Book III & Book IV, chapters 1 & 3. Stops again for a short time.


            Publications: “Leaf by Niggle” Dublin Review 432 (January 1945) 46-61.


[1945 (May 7) Germany surrenders]


>1945, May 15 Charles Williams dies.


>1945 Tolkien appointed Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, lasting until his retirement in 1959.


            Publications: “On Fairy-stories” Essays Presented to Charles Williams / ed. C.S.  

                                Lewis. London: Oxford University Press, 1947. 38-89.


1948 First draft of LOTR finished. Begins a process of revision of the whole.

(this first draft is what Christopher Tolkien edited as part of the series The History of Middle-earth vols. 6-9)


1949 With revisions made, the writing of The Lord of the Rings is complete.


>1949, October Last recorded Thursday evening meeting of the Inklings.


            Publications: Farmer Giles of Ham. London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.


1950 LOTR submitted to Allen & Unwin (while Raynor Unwin is away) & is rejected.


1951 Collins publishing house shows interest in LOTR, but does not move on it. Tolkien writes a letter to Milton Waldman of the firm to make an appeal for the publication of The Silmarillion first, arguing for the interdependence of the two works.


1954, July 29 Publication of The Fellowship of the Ring (London: George Allen & Unwin). Reprinted 14 times before the 2nd edition in 1965.


1954, October American edition of The Fellowship of the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 2nd edition 1966.


1954, November 11 Publication of The Two Towers (London: George Allen & Unwin). Reprinted 11 times before the 2nd edition in 1965.


1955, April 21 American edition of The Two Towers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 2nd edition 1966.


1955, October 20 Publication of The Return of the King (London: George Allen & Unwin). Reprinted 10 times before the 2nd edition in 1965.


1955, January 5 American edition of The Return of the King (Boston: Houghton Mifflin). 2nd edition 1966.


>1959 Tolkien retires from the Merton Professorship and the University.


            Publications: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and other verses from theRed 

                                Book. London: Allen & Unwin, 1962.


            Publications: Ancrene Wisse; The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle. London: 

                                Oxford University Press, 1962.


>1963, November 22 C. S. Lewis dies.


            Publications: Tree and Leaf. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964.


1965 Unauthorized Ace Books paperback publication of LOTR. Balantine Books issues authorized paperback edition; it sells 3 million copies in 3 years.


            Publications: The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966.


            Publications: Smith of Wooten Major. London: Allen & Unwin, 1967.


>1968 Tolkien moves from Oxford to Bournemouth to escape the growing numbers of fans due to the popularity of LOTR


>1971, November 29 Tolkien’s wife Edith dies.


>1972, March Tolkien is made a resident honorary fellow at Merton College, Oxford; is given and honorary doctor of letters & is made Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E.)


>1973, September 2 Tolkien dies.


            Publications: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo translated

              into modern English / ed. Christopher Tolkien. London: Allen & Unwin, 1975.


1977 Publication of The Silmarillion (4 years after Tolkien’s death)


PJS [rev. 7/06]

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