Tolkien was always fascinated with languages; he went to school at Oxford, first studying Classics, and later, English Language and Literature. He came across an Old English poem by Cynewulf, which contained a couplet that fascinated him:
“Hail Earendel brightest of angels / Over Middle Earth sent to men.”
The couplet found new life in the universe of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1955, which takes place in Middle Earth and includes a half-Elven character named Earendil the Mariner, who eventually becomes a star.
In 1925, Tolkien returned to Oxford University as a professor of Anglo-Saxon and, later, English Language and Literature. One day, while grading exams, he discovered that a student had left one whole page in his examination booklet blank. Tolkien, for reasons unknown even to him, wrote on the page, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This single line turned into a bedtime story that he told his children, and from there, a book: The Hobbit in 1937.
Tolkien passed away on September 2, 1973 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom.
Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac for much of the above.