Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near poverty. He served in World War 1, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of the closest friends he'd ever had. After the war he returned to academic life, achieving great repute as a scholar and university teacher and eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford, where he was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and the other writers known as 'The Inklings.' Then, suddenly, his life changed dramatically. One day while grading essay papers he found himself writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit', and world-wide renown awaited him.