Bloemfontein’s biggest surprise is that it’s the birthplace of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, a fact the city seems curiously reluctant to publicize. Tolkien’s father, Arthur, left his native Birmingham to work in the colonies, eventually becoming manager of the Bank of Africa in Bloemfontein. J.R.R. was born in 1892, in a house standing on the corner of West Burger and Maitland streets, a couple of blocks east of President Brand Street. When Arthur Tolkien died three years after J.R.R.’s birth, his wife returned to England with her two infant sons; their house was later torn down to make way for a furniture shop.

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