How tall was J.R.R. Tolkien?
This is one of the more mundane questions about the author who brought us “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” and it is one rather easily answered. He gave an interview in early 1967 to Charlotte and Dennis Plimmer which was finally published on March 22nd, 1968, in the Daily Telegraph Magazine. However, before that he received their draft to the article and offered some emendations to their text and those are published as letter 294 in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien:
Tolkien, tall and strongly built
I am not in fact tall, or strongly built. I now measure 5 ft 8 1/2, and am very slightly built, with notably small hands. For most of my life I have been very thin and underweight. Since my early sixties I have become ‘tubby’. Not unusual in men who took their exercise in games and swimming, when the opportunities for these things cease.
For those of us with a metric persuasion that is 174 cm. And that is the pretty much the exact average height of a man in the United Kingdom today if you look at the trend tables of the 2010 health survey. However, it should be noted that Tolkien was well over 70 when he wrote this letter and the average height of a man of 75+ years in the UK today is supposed to be 169 cm – so either the Professor had kept himself in very good shape or he used to be much taller in youth.
To give you a better idea of how he fared in comparison with his contemporaries do have a look at this video from the Bodleian Library where Tolkien is shown among his fellow students from the Exeter College Rugby XV and Rowing XV; the still in question is to be found at about 9:00 mins into the video. And do keep in mind those chaps were rather burly!