Noting the 50th Anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Death

Noting the 50th Anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Death September 2, 2023

J. R. R. Tolkien




















John Ronald Reuel Tolkien died on this day, the 2nd of September, 1973. He was 81.

Today at the Birmingham Oratory, the church where he recieved his first communion and confirmation in 1903, celebrated a requiem mass. Others are also marking his life. Including me, here…

Tolkien was born on the 3rd of January, in 1892, into a middle class English family of German descent in Bloemfontein in what was then the Orange Free State and today South Africa. His father represented an English bank.

At the age of three he, his younger brother and mother returned to England. His father had planned to join them shortly, but unexpectedly, died. While the poor relations, the three were supported by the family. Tolkien was a prodigy, reading at four and beginning the study of languages soon after.

A few years later his mother converted to Catholicism a problem in the Protestant family. The boys followed her into Catholicism. Not many years later she died from the complications of still untreatable diabetes. Tolkien was twelve.

He and his brother were entrusted to the care of a Catholic priest, Father Francis Xavier Morgan, who became a beloved mentor. He would win a series of scholarships, concluding with attending Exeter College in Oxford. Tolkien graduated with first class honors in 1915 in the midst of the First World War. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and soon after married Edith Bratt.

Tolkien endured combat including the horror of the infamous battle of the Somme. But, fortunately for all, he survived the carnage. After the war Tolkien first found employment with the Oxford English Dictionary, working mostly on the letter “W.” He then accepted a professorship at the University of Leeds, and later was appointed the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College in Oxford.

After the Second World War, where he worked primarily as a codebreaker he joined Merton College, Oxford, as the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature. This was a position he would hold until his retirement.

Tolkien had a speech impediment and could be hard to understand, but was nonetheless quite popular with his students throughout his career. He and Edith had four children. By all accounts the marriage was happy. The couple had four children. Edith died in 1971. He died two years later. He was 82.

A quiet and largely happy life.

And. For us there’s that other thing…

According to Tolkien himself in a letter to W. H. Auden, he was grading some papers when a line appeared in his head. He scribbled it down on a scrap of paper.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

He finished the story sometime before the end of the year in 1932. He passed the manuscript around among friends. One them, actually one of his students, Elaine Griffiths recommended it to Susan Dagnall at the publisher George Allen & Unwin. Dagnall passed it on to Stanley Unwin. Unwin gave it to his ten year old son, Rayner. Rayner loved it.

And so in 1937, J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit was published to critical acclaim. It was a Carnegie Medal nominee (although The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett won).

It has never been out of print since that time.

And. Sequels would follow.

Me. I read the Hobbit when I was sixteen. Those sequels, what we know as the Lord of the Rings trilogy followed quickly after.

And, I find that imaginal world has entered and enshrined itself in my heart.

In conclusion a quote. Most of us know it. And some of us are haunted by it.
Frodo’s lament “I wish it need not have happened in my time…” And Gandalf’s response, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I will always be grateful…
Speaking of religion, here’s a clip from EWTN’s “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings:’ A Catholic Worldview,” portraying a debate between fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on whether or not myths are lies…”

And then, this…

And, at no extra charge…

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