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The life of J.R.R. Tolkien

By Philip Carter

Published in 1937 The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first published work of fiction, though he had been writing on legends since at least 1915. His creation — a mythological race of ‘hobbits’, in which Bilbo Baggins takes the lead — had originally been intended for children. But from the outset Tolkien’s saga also proved popular with adults, perhaps appreciative of the hobbits’ curiously English blend of resourcefulness and respectability. The book was published by Stanley Unwin, following the recommendation of his 10-year old son, Rayner, who received a one shilling reader’s fee. Its success prompted Unwin to press for a sequel, and Tolkien now began work on The Lord of the Rings — a story that ‘grew in the telling’ at readings for the famous Inklings circle in Oxford.


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Philip Carter is Publication Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Read more about J.R.R. Tolkien on the Oxford DNB website. The Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to log-on to the complete dictionary, for free, from home (or any other computer) twenty-four hours a day. In addition to 58,000 life stories, the ODNB offers a free, twice monthly biography podcast with over 130 life stories now available. You can also sign up for Life of the Day, a topical biography delivered to your inbox, or follow @ODNB on Twitter for people in the news.

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