Read this marvelous 1967 profile of J.R.R. Tolkien by Philip Norman, in The New York Times. The piece focuses on Tolkien’s impact in America, particularly in the universities and the counterculture. From the piece—
Tolkien wasn’t a hearty child. At the age of 3 he was brought home from Bloemfontein, South Africa, his birthplace, and brought up at Sarehole, near Birmingham. Until he won a scholarship to grammar school his mother taught him. He is particularly attached to the powder horn; it reminds him of being “borrowed” by an African named Isaac, who wanted to show a white baby off in his kraal. “It was typical native psychology but it upset everyone very much, of course. I know he called his son Isaac after himself, Mister Tolkien after my father and Victor-ha! ha!-after Queen Victoria.
“I was nearly bitten by a snake and I was stung by a tarantula, I believe. In my garden. All I can remember is a very hot day, long, dead grass and running. I don’t even remember screaming. I remember being rather horrified at seeing the Archdeacon eat mealies [Indian corn] in the proper fashion.” …Tolkien stuck his fingers in his mouth.
“Quite by accident, I have a very vivid child’s view, which was the result of being taken away from one country and put in another hemisphere-the place where I belonged but which was totally novel and strange. After the barren, arid heat a Christmas tree. But no, it was not an unhappy childhood. It was full of tragedies but it didn’t tot up to an unhappy childhood.”