J.R.R. Tolkien and Religion


J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, professor of Middle English at Oxford University, friend of C.S. Lewis, and popular author. He is best known for his children's story The Hobbit and the epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings.

Life of J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien was born in South Africa, but emigrated to Birmingham, England, at age four after the death of his bank manager father. Tolkien's mother converted to Catholicism in 1900, and her elder son would be a devout Catholic his entire life. When Mrs. Tolkien died in 1904, her sons became wards of a Catholic priest. Tolkien was fascinated by languages from an early age, and had already mastered Latin and Greek, was learning Gothic and Finnish, and inventing new languages of his own.

At the age of 16, Tolkien fell in love with a fellow orphan named Edith Bratt, who would become the inspiration for his fictional character Luthien Tinuviel and his wife. His guardian, however, did not allow Tolkien to ask Ms. Bratt for her hand in marriage until he turned 21. The couple finally married in March 1916 and had four children together.

In 1911, at age 19, Tolkien entered Exeter College, Oxford. He studied the Classics, Old English, Gothic, Welsh and Finnish. He earned his B.A. in 1915. It was in his study of Old English that he came across the inspiration for Middle Earth:

Eala Earendel engla beorhtast Ofer middangeard monnum sended

Hail Earendel brightest of angels, Over Middle Earth sent to men.

In 1916, the same year he married, Tolkien enlisted in the army as a second lieutenant and was sent to the trenches in World War I. After four months, he was sent home ill; it was two years before he had fully recovered. During this time he began to write, working on The Book of Lost Tales and Silmarillion. The latter introduces the world of Middle Earth, and was completed and published posthumously by Tolkien's son in 1979 as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

By the time the Armistice was signed in 1918, Tolkien had a son and a job as Assistant Lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. In 1919, he received his M.A. from Exeter.

From 1920 to 1959, Tolkien enjoyed a successful career as professor and scholar of English language and literature. He was an associate professor English at the University of Leeds from 1920 to 1925, during which time he co-edited an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925) and his wife gave birth to two more sons.

In 1925, Tolkien joined the faculty of Oxford University, where he would remain until his retirement in 1959. He held the title of Professor of Old English until he was made Professor of English Language and Literature in 1945. In addition to regular teaching and examination duties, Tolkien published an important lecture entitled "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (1936) and an edition of the Ancrene Wisse (1962). Also well received by their intended audience were his fully illustrated annual letters from Santa Claus to his children, which were published as The Father Christmas Letters in 1976.

While at Oxford, Tolkien became a member of the Inklings, an informal group of like-minded writers that met at least weekly at an Oxford pub. Tolkien was instrumental in the conversion of former atheist C.S. Lewis, a fellow member of the Inklings and close friend.

The idea for The Hobbit came in the summer of 1928, when correcting exams:

One of the candidates mercifully left one of the pages with no writing on it-which is possibly the best thing that can happen to an examiner-and I wrote on it 'In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.' Names always generate a story in my mind and eventually I thought I should find out what hobbits were like.

Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien began writing The Hobbit in 1930, a children's book about a young hobbit (a diminutive relative of man) who joins a quest for a dragon's treasure. The final version, with illustrations by Tolkien himself, was published in 1936 after it won the approval of a publisher's 10-year-old son. It became very popular, and the publisher asked for a sequel.

Seventeen years later, in 1954, this sequel was published as The Lord of the Rings, which incorporated elements of both The Hobbit and the unfinished Silmarillion. It was not written as a trilogy, but was divided into three books to protect the publisher from heavy losses if it did not sell well. Of course, the publisher needn't have worried: it became an enormous success. Upon its publication in paperback America in 1965, it attained cult status on college campuses. By the turn of the 21st century, The Lord of the Rings had sold more than 50 million copies in 30 languages.

In addition to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien authored the following shorter works:

  • Farmer Giles of Ham (1949), a mock-medieval story.
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962), poetry related to The Lord of the Rings;
  • Tree and Leaf (1964), which includes the lecture "On Fairy-Stories" and the tale "Leaf by Niggle"
  • Smith of Wootton Major (1967), a fantasy work
  • The Silmarillion (1977), the "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings, edited and published by Tolkien's son
  • The Father Christmas Letters (1976), written to Tolkien's children on behalf of St. Nick
  • Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (1980)
  • The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981)
  • Mr. Bliss (1982)
  • Roverandom (1998)
  • The History of Middle-earth (1983-96) traces the writing of the "legendarium," including The Lord of the Rings, through its various stages.


  1. [J.R.R. Tolkien Author Profile[( -

  2. Wayne G. Hammond, "Tolkien, J.R.R." in Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).


Article Info

Title J.R.R. Tolkien and Religion
Last UpdatedJanuary 31, 2021
MLA Citation “J.R.R. Tolkien and Religion.” 31 Jan. 2021. Web. Accessed 31 Jul. 2021. <>