“It’s the job that’s never started as takes the longest to finish.”
Through his stories, J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated the challenges his characters faced when confronting the evil that threatened to destroy their way of life. In many ways, the scenes in his books were mirrors of the triumph of good over evil that he witnessed serving in World War I and living through World War II.
With that in mind, let us provide you with a brief biography of J.R.R. Tolkien before we get into our personality analysis.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892, in present-day South Africa to parents of Prussian and East German descent. His father died when he was just three years old, which left his mother to raise her two sons alone. Without an income, she was forced to take her boys to live with family in England. The time that Tolkien spent visiting family, especially his Aunt Jane’s farm (called Bag End), served as much of Tolkien’s inspiration for his books – particularly his descriptions of the Shire.
He learned to read and write fluently by the age of four and was an avid learner. He had a keen interest in botany and languages and learned the foundations of Latin at a very young age. Art was another passion of his from a young age, and Tolkien excelled at drawing plants and maps. The skills and interests he had as a young child would serve as a strong foundation for the fantasy worlds and languages that he would eventually create.
“Many children make up, or begin to make up, imaginary languages. I have been at it since I could write.”
When Tolkien was twelve, his mother died. He and his brother were sent to live with a trusted friend, Father Francis, who raised them as Roman Catholics at his mother’s request. Tolkien remained a devout Roman Catholic throughout his lifetime, and the religious imagery that inspired him is evident in the artwork and poetry throughout his works.
Tolkien fell in love with Edith Mary Bratt as a teenager but was forbidden from contacting her until he turned 21 because Father Francis believed their romance would affect his education. They married during World War I, and he enlisted for service as a second lieutenant shortly after their wedding in 1916.
Much of his time in the military was spent in France, where he was involved in the Battle of the Somme. This conflict was especially lethal, and Tolkien himself barely escaped death. He likely would have been one of the casualties had he not fallen ill with trench fever. He spent the remainder of the war in hospitals and serving garrison duty until he was deemed medically unfit to serve.
World War I undeniably influenced Tolkien’s writings on war, his opinions on politics, and humanity in general. Though he wasn’t outspoken about his beliefs, he was decidedly anti-communist, anti-national socialist, and not in favor of the term “British Empire.” He was also opposed to the increase in industrialization that inevitably followed both wars, as he believed it was destroying the natural lands and the “simple life.”
After World War I, Tolkien became a professor, first at the University of Leeds and then at Oxford, with a fellowship at Pembroke College. It was during these years that he wrote The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy and dove deep into his passion for linguistics and literature.
In his later years, he received significant acclaim and became a widely heralded author among the “alternative” crowd during the 1960s and 1970s. While he was initially pleased with the popularity of his work, he was decidedly not impressed with his status as a cult favorite among the counterculture. Their views did not align with his, as he was more libertarian-leaning in his political beliefs.
In addition to his work as a professor, author, and artist, Tolkien was a passionate linguist and philologist. (Philology is the study of literary texts as well as their oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and original form, and the determination of their meaning.) He studied and developed his own languages, with some of his most complete creations being Quenya and Sindarin. He claimed to be “attracted to things of racial and linguistic significance” and believed that language and mythology were inseparable.
After his death in 1973, his son Christopher published a series of works, including his notes and unpublished manuscripts such as The Silmarillion. These writings provided a greater background on the worlds and characters that Tolkien created in life, ensuring that his legacy would endure.
The worlds and languages Tolkien created have inspired individuals to delve into the world of fantasy literature for decades. A penchant for languages and an active fantasy imagination are often found in individuals with the Mediator personality type. With that in mind, J.R.R. Tolkien, in our opinion, is a unique embodiment of an Assertive Mediator (INFP-A).
An inspiring professor and orator, Tolkien was nonetheless more interested in spending time in the worlds within his mind, in true Introvert fashion. Much like the character Bilbo Baggins, he not only loved to write about adventures but also to create maps and other drawings to bring his creations to life.
He was extremely loyal and was deeply affected by the loss of most of his close friends during World War I. To cope with both loss and illness he sought solace not in others but in the mental escape provided by fairy tales and intellectual pursuits.
“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”
Tolkien lived in a world of possibilities, dreams, and ideas. There were no limits to what he could imagine and create, and his writing reflected this ability. He dreamed about what the world could be if only people would come together to support one another, stand up against evil, and fight for what they believed. This idealism is a direct result of the interaction between his Intuitive and Feeling personality traits.
Additionally, Tolkien was endlessly curious about the world around him, specifically other races, cultures, languages, and the mythology surrounding them. His aptitude for languages directly translated (pun intended) into the ability to create completely new and unique languages and, ultimately, the myths and stories surrounding them.
“If you really want to know what Middle-earth is based on, it’s my wonder and delight in the earth as it is, particularly the natural earth.”
As serious and focused as he may have seemed at times, Tolkien was a true romantic and a lover of beauty and nature. Much of his inspiration for the land and characters in his stories were based on his personal experiences. The countryside where he spent much of his childhood, and the love he shared with his wife of more than 50 years, were foundational experiences that were reflected in his work.
World War I also had a profound influence on Tolkien’s work and personal life. As a second lieutenant, he gained a deeper appreciation for the “common man.” He felt a stronger kinship with men of the lower classes and began to despise the divides created by status and education. He also carried the wound of losing nearly all his close friends, and went through the rest of his life attempting to make sense of this grief through his art and writing.
“They say it is the first step that costs the effort. I do not find it so. I am sure I could write unlimited ‘first chapters.’ I have indeed written many.”
Though he certainly accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, Tolkien also had many ideas and manuscripts that were started and not finished. His son, Christopher, did complete and publish some of these works, perhaps most notably The Silmarillion. These notes and novels provide even more background and context to his already extensive Middle-earth legendarium.
Tolkien was focused and driven when necessary but was also prone to becoming distracted by love, literature, and his imagination. As is the case with many great creators (especially Prospecting personalities), Tolkien’s greatest gifts were, at times, also some of his greatest challenges.
“You have been chosen, and you must, therefore, use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”
Tolkien may have been somewhat of a romantic at heart, but this did not make him a soft or timid individual. As an Assertive personality type, he did not hesitate to speak out against the injustices he saw, especially when communicating with people he knew and trusted.
He wasn’t outspoken in public for the most part but did not let the opinions of others prevent him from following his heart. His grandson, Simon Tolkien, passed along a story about his grandfather’s frustration with the Roman Catholic Church switching their Mass from Latin to English. Instead of following the other parishioners, Tolkien continued to respond to the literature in Latin, loudly. Although embarrassed by his grandfather’s behavior, his grandson understood his conviction and stated: “He simply had to do what he believed to be right.”
As was the case with many of his characters, J.R.R. Tolkien was a complex and interesting individual. Creator of perennial favorites The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as several other novels, Tolkien has been a significant influence on generations of readers and writers alike.
His poetic style and insight into the variety of races and languages that make up the extensive worlds his characters inhabit are inspiring. He was able to portray the beautiful and terrible aspects of humanity in ways that instill both hope and caution. These traits are what influenced our decision to type Tolkien as an Assertive Mediator.
While we do our best to identify individuals’ personality types, we aren’t perfect or all-knowing. So, keep in mind that there may be others who have a different opinion on Tolkien’s personality type.
We would love to hear your opinions as well. What thoughts do you have about J.R.R. Tolkien’s personality type? Leave your comments below!