J. R. R. Tolkien

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973) was an Oxford University professor of language and literature. His main area of expertise was Anglo-Saxon and the other ancient Nordic and Germanic languages. A linguistic genius, he began the work that was to become The Lord of the Rings (and many other stories) as an exercise in creating new languages. Quenya, the language of the High Elves of the West, was inspired by Finnish, while Sindarin, the language of the sylvan elves, was inspired by Welsh. Neither of these languages is easy to learn. Even the one small fragment of the Black Speech that Tolkien provided (the Ring-inscription) includes meaningful verb forms. Many of the names of his characters, especially the dwarves, are borrowed directly from the Icelandic sagas.

Eventually Tolkien created a legendary history for the imaginary peoples who spoke these languages, which became The Silmarillion. He could not persuade anyone to publish The Silmarillion, however, and wrote The Hobbit as a children's story set in the same universe. Following requests for more stories about hobbits, he then wrote The Lord of the Rings. This work began as a light tale of adventure along the lines of The Hobbit, but gradually grew and grew until it became the epic that we know -- which accounts for the change in tone as the story goes along. By the end of The Lord of the Rings the language is almost Biblical.

Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but he hated religious allegory. While his underlying themes of good and evil, self-sacrifice and fellowship echo many ideas in western Christianity, he intentionally avoided any explicit mention of religion in The Lord of the Rings. The theology and cosmology of The Silmarillion is quite different from that of the Christian Bible.

Professor Tolkien was also one of the first editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, the most comprehensive dictionary of English words in the world.

In British usage, the title "Professor" does not merely signify any university instructor, as it does in the USA. Professor is the highest rank obtainable, and a university department will probably only have one Professor. Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University from 1925 to 1945 and Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959.