This biography recounts Tolkien's his early childhood in South Africa followed by his family's return to England after his banker father's death. The Tolkiens settled in the highly industrialised city of Birmingham in the 1890s which was still surrounded by breathtaking countryside. Thus the industrialised heart of the Empire and the sylvan idyll of the woods and hills became important extremes for much of Tolkien's thinking and writing, leading up to that most inspired moment when, as an Oxford don Tolkien was marking exam papers and noticing his student had left a blank page in the answer book. Suddenly he wrote: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.' In typical Tolkien fashion, he was intrigued by this and decided to find out more about hobbits. The rest is history.