There is a story that is often overly told and misinterpreted, and that is that youth is the place where all success stems from and the young are its champions. Whether it is our grades, or accomplishments through sports, or awards received in early artistic recognition, there is a large onus put onto the youth to achieve early so that the rest of life is laid true. Today the Western World puts such primacy on the idea that success only really happens for those who find it when they are young, from the teenage years to late 20s and early 30s, that it is hard to remind oneself in later years that there is always time for incredible acts, important contributions, and renown inventions. There are plenty of wonderful persons that reveal their greatness at older ages and a brief look into JRR Tolkien’s life gives a beautiful depiction how one is always capable of adding to the world and being a bright new vision and voice.
What is fascinating about looking into Tolkien’s early life is that there is no real significance of any great successes. He did endure much difficulty in losing one and then the other parent at a young age, and later having to postpone the marriage to his one true-love, Edith, until after the age of 21 as per the behest of his guardian. One pattern throughout his story that seems to come up again and again is both his curiosity in the world and the language to speak about it, and the patience he approached all his decisions with. It wouldn’t be until he was in his early 30s, working at his first professorship, where he would write an essay on Beowulf that would forever influence the study of that great and earliest written work of the English language.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are probably some of the most well-known books on earth. It is odd to think that Tolkien didn’t begin publishing these until he was in his late 30s and that the fame of these works didn’t really start exploding until he was in his late 50s. Throughout his entire career both as a professor and an author there is a calm, thoughtful, longevity to his increasing global recognition that occurred later and later. In many ways, if the Fantasy World that Tolkien created was not attached to him, his life might appear rather ordinary, besides the outstanding husband and father he was. There is something deeply interesting in this humbleness of person and accomplishments that goes against many expectations to that assertive, persistent, ambitious, and sometimes arrogant energy that is considered necessary for success nowadays and which is often found in confident youthfulness.
JRR Tolkien shows us that one can live a great life, full of joy and connection, with romance and family, and a lifelong career in a profession that is separate from what we will be remembered for, and still produce works of creativity that change the world. There is no need to rush. Through the slow and curious accumulation of stories and tales, Tolkien was able to weave together a mythology that is so profound that in the 20th century his work is known for being the second most widely read book, after the Bible. Beyond the endless reprinting and repackaging of LOTR, Tolkien also did things like, create an entire language (Elvish) that is fully functional and that people actually learn and use. His influences are far-reaching and have been an inspiration to untold numbers of people and in this way he remains a unique figure of success, because it is something he slowly built and received recognition for slowly but surely, much later in life.