A long time ago, in a shire far, far away before Harry Potter rode a broomstick, before Luke Skywalker lifted a light saber, Frodo Baggins inherited a ring.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on 3 January 1892 at Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, but at the age of four, his mother, Mary Suffield, took him together with his younger brother, Hilary, back to England for 'home leave'. After his father's death from rheumatic fever, the family made their home at Sarehole, on the southeastern edge of Birmingham. Ronald spent a happy childhood in the Sarehole countryside, and his sensibility to the rural landscape can clearly be seen both in his writings and in his pictures.
After his mother's death, when Ronald was twelve, he and Hilary became wards of a kindly priest at the Birmingham Oratory. They both attended King Edward's School, Birmingham, where Ronald achieved distinction in Classics, and encountered Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. At this time also, he began to develop his linguistics abilities by inventing languages, which he related to 'fairy' or 'elvish' people.
After taking a First in English Language and Literature at Exeter College, Oxford, Tolkien married Edith Bratt, with whom he had formed an attachment when they both lived in the same lodging-house in Birmingham. He was also commissioned in the Lancashire Fusiliers and served in the battle of Somme, where two of his three closest friends were killed.
After the war, he obtained a post on the New English Dictionary, and began to write the mythological and legendary cycle which he originally called The Book of Lost Tales but which eventually became known as The Silmarillion.
In 1920 Tolkien, now with two children, was appointed as Reader in the English Language at the University of Leeds, a post that was converted to a Professorship four years later. He distinguished himself by his lively and imaginative teaching, and in 1925 was elected Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, where he worked with great skill and enthusiasm for many years.