How J. R. R. Tolkien’s Cause of Death Was Related to His Life and Work

J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of the famous fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, died on September 2, 1973 at the age of 81. The cause of his death was a bleeding ulcer and chest infection, according to Wikipedia. But what was the connection between his health condition and his life and work? In this article, we will explore some of the possible factors that may have contributed to Tolkien’s death.

Tolkien’s Early Life and Trauma

Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where his father worked as a bank manager. When he was three years old, he and his mother and younger brother moved back to England, leaving his father behind. His father died of rheumatic fever in 1896, leaving the family in financial hardship. Tolkien’s mother converted to Catholicism in 1900, which caused a rift with her family and led to more poverty. She died of diabetes in 1904, when Tolkien was 12 years old. He and his brother were then taken under the guardianship of a Catholic priest, Father Francis Morgan.

Tolkien’s early life was marked by loss and trauma, which may have affected his physical and mental health later in life. He also developed a strong attachment to his faith, which influenced his worldview and his writing.

Tolkien’s War Experience and Illness

Tolkien served in the British Army during World War I as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He fought in the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in history, where he witnessed the horrors of trench warfare and lost many of his friends. He was also wounded by a trench mortar shell and suffered from trench fever, a typhus-like infection caused by lice. He was sent back to England in November 1916 and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and convalescent homes.

Tolkien’s war experience had a profound impact on his psyche and his imagination. He later said that The Lord of the Rings was not an allegory of the war, but that it was influenced by his personal experience of war. He also said that he had a recurrent nightmare of a huge wave engulfing him, which he attributed to his fear of being sent back to France. He also suffered from chronic respiratory problems, which may have been related to his exposure to gas and smoke on the battlefield.

Tolkien’s Academic Career and Stress

Tolkien was a brilliant scholar and linguist, who had a passion for languages and literature. He studied at Exeter College, Oxford, where he graduated with first-class honours in 1915. He then became a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University in 1925, and later a professor of English language and literature in 1945. He also worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary and as a translator for the Jerusalem Bible.

Tolkien’s academic career was demanding and stressful, as he had to balance his teaching duties, research projects, publications, and family life. He also faced criticism and opposition from some of his colleagues, who did not appreciate his interest in fantasy and mythology. He often worked late at night, writing his stories and poems in his spare time. He also smoked heavily, which worsened his respiratory condition.

Tolkien’s Literary Legacy and Fame

Tolkien’s literary works were not widely known or appreciated during his lifetime, except by a few admirers and friends. He published The Hobbit in 1937, which was well received by children and adults alike. He then worked on The Lord of the Rings for over a decade, which was published in three volumes between 1954 and 1955. The book was initially met with mixed reviews, but gradually gained popularity and acclaim over the years. It became a cult phenomenon in the 1960s, especially among the counterculture movement in America. It also inspired many other fantasy writers and artists, such as C.S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R.R. Martin, Peter Jackson, and J.K. Rowling.

Tolkien’s fame brought him both joy and sorrow. He was happy to see his work appreciated by millions of readers around the world, but he also felt overwhelmed by the attention and pressure. He received thousands of letters from fans, some of whom asked him for advice or clarification on his stories and characters. He also faced legal issues with publishers and filmmakers who wanted to adapt his works without his consent or approval. He became more reclusive and protective of his privacy in his later years.


J.R.R.Tolkien’s cause of death was officially a bleeding ulcer and chest infection1, but it may have been influenced by various factors throughout his life: trauma1, war1, illness1, stress1, and fame. He was a remarkable man who created a remarkable world, which continues to fascinate and inspire generations of readers and writers. He once wrote: “I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”

He may have been a Hobbit at heart, but he was also a hero in his own right. He faced many challenges and hardships in his life, but he never gave up on his dreams and visions. He left behind a legacy that will endure for ages to come. He was, as his friend C.S. Lewis said, “a man who knew something about everything”.

Doms Desk

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