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ContextJohn Ronald Reuel Tolkien—called Ronald by his family and friends—was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His father, Arthur, had moved his family to Africa from England in hopes of being promoted in his job as a manager at the Bank of Africa. Upon Arthur’s death in 1896, however, his wife, Mabel, brought the four-year-old Ronald back to the English Midlands, the region where she herself grew up. Mabel eventually settled in a suburb of Birmingham, where she raised her family with her sister’s help.The Tolkiens’ life in the Birmingham suburbs was poor. In 1900, Mabel converted to Catholicism, and in 1904 she was diagnosed with diabetes, which at that time was untreatable. Mabel died shortly thereafter; a Catholic priest who was friendly with the family cared for the orphaned boy. Ronald was placed in a variety of foster homes, ending up in the boarding house of a Mrs. Faulkner.One of the lodgers at Mrs. Faulkner’s house was a nineteen-year-old girl named Edith Bratt, with whom the sixteen-year-old Ronald struck up a friendship and then a romance. The priest forbade Ronald from seeing Edith until the age of twenty-one. In 1911, Ronald was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford, where he specialized in the classics and developed a special passion for philology, the study and comparison of languages.In addition to the typical course offerings in Greek and Latin, Tolkien studied other, more unusual ancient and modern languages, such as Gothic and Finnish. Also greatly interested in Old English, Anglo-Saxon, and Welsh poetry, Tolkien began to invent and develop entire languages of his own—languages that would form the groundwork for the world of Middle-earth in his novels.While still at Oxford, Tolkien continued seeing Edith, who converted to Catholicism for him. In 1915, he graduated with a coveted “first,” the highest honors. The next year, it became clear that Tolkien would have to embark for France to fight in World War I. He and Edith married before he left for the front. While fighting, Tolkien contracted “trench fever,” a form of typhus, and he returned home to England to recover. While recovering in 1917, Tolkien developed The Book of Lost Tales,the stories that would later form his mythology of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion.Tolkien lost all but one of his good friends in the war. In his famous 1938 essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien notes the effect of the war on his personal outlook regarding fantasy literature: “A real taste for fairy-stories was wakened by philology on the threshold of manhood, and quickened to full life by war.”After his recovery, Tolkien continued to pursue his love for philology, joining the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary. He took up his first English teaching post in 1920, later winning the prestigious Chair of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925. By 1929, he had had four children with Edith. Tolkien taught at Oxford for thirty-four years, living a rather reclusive life with his work and developing the mythology of The Silmarillionthroughout the 1920s.