The following information is taken from Tolkien’s biography on www.tolkiensociety.org.
Edith bore their last child and only daughter, Priscilla, in 1929. Tolkien got into the habit of writing the children annual illustrated letters as if from Santa Claus, and a selection of these was published in 1976 as The Father Christmas Letters.
Tolkien became one of the founding members of a loose grouping of Oxford friends known as “The Inklings”. The origins of the name were purely facetious – it had to do with writing, and sounded mildly Anglo-Saxon; there was no evidence that members of the group claimed to have an “inkling” of the Divine Nature, as is sometimes suggested. Other prominent members included the above-mentioned Messrs Coghill and Dyson, as well as Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and above all C. S. Lewis, who became one of Tolkien’s closest friends, and for whose return to Christianity Tolkien was at least partly responsible. The Inklings regularly met for conversation, drink, and frequent reading from their work-in-progress.
According to his own account, one day when Tolkien was engaged in the soul-destroying task of marking examination papers, he discovered that one candidate had left one page of an answer-book blank. On this page, moved by who knows what anarchic daemon, he wrote
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
In typical Tolkien fashion, he then decided he needed to find out what a Hobbit was, what sort of a hole it lived in, why it lived in a hole, etc. From this investigation grew a tale that he told to his younger children, and even passed round. In 1936 an incomplete typescript of it came into the hands of Susan Dagnall, an employee of the publishing firm of George Allen and Unwin (merged in 1990 with HarperCollins).
She asked Tolkien to finish it, and presented the complete story to Stanley Unwin, the then Chairman of the firm. He tried it out on his 10-year old son Rayner, who wrote an approving report, and it was published as The Hobbit in 1937. It immediately scored a success, and has not been out of children’s recommended reading lists ever since. It was so successful that Stanley Unwin asked if he had any more similar material available for publication.
Tolkien went on to write The Silmarillion next. He presented some of his “completed” tales to Unwin, who sent them to his reader. The reader’s reaction was mixed: dislike of the poetry and praise for the prose (the material was the story of Beren and Lúthien) but the overall decision at the time was that these were not commercially publishable. Unwin tactfully relayed this message to Tolkien, but asked him again if he was willing to write a sequel to The Hobbit.
The Lord of the Rings was published in three parts during 1954-1955. The Lord of the Rings rapidly came to public notice. It had mixed reviews, ranging from the ecstatic (W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis) to the damning (E. Wilson, E. Muir, P. Toynbee) and just about everything in between. By 1968 The Lord of the Rings had almost become the Bible of the “Alternative Society”.
This development produced mixed feelings in the author. On the one hand, he was extremely flattered, and to his amazement, became rather rich. On the other, he could only deplore those whose idea of a great trip was to ingest The Lord of the Rings and LSD simultaneously. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick had similar experiences with 2001- A Space Odyssey. Fans were causing increasing problems; both those who came to gawp at his house and those, especially from California who telephoned at 7 p.m. (their time – 3 a.m. his), to demand to know whether Frodo had succeeded or failed in the Quest, what was the preterite of Quenyan lanta-, or whether or not Balrogs had wings. So he changed addresses, his telephone number went ex-directory, and eventually he and Edith moved to Bournemouth, a pleasant but uninspiring South Coast resort (Hardy’s “Sandbourne”), noted for the number of its elderly well-to-do residents.
Meanwhile the cult, not just of Tolkien, but of the fantasy literature that he had revived, if not actually inspired (to his dismay), was really taking off – but that is another story, to be told in another place.
Edith died on 22 November 1971. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien died on 2 September 1973. He and Edith are buried together in a single grave in the Catholic section of Wolvercote cemetery in the northern suburbs of Oxford.
Thank you Mr. Tolkien for all of the wonderful adventures I’ve been able to go on while reading your novels. Each time I read through them I find something new. Your dedication to your craft has left your readers with an amazing legacy.