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The authorized biography of the creator of Middle-earth. In the decades since his death in September 1973, millions have read THE HOBBIT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE SILMARILLION and become fascinated about the very private man behind the books. Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He s The authorized biography of the creator of Middle-earth. In the decades since his death in September 1973, millions have read THE HOBBIT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE SILMARILLION and become fascinated about the very private man behind the books. Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He served in the first World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of the closest friends he'd ever had. After the war he returned to the academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford where he was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and the other writers known as The Inklings. Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while grading essay papers he found himself writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- and worldwide renown awaited him. Humphrey Carpenter was given unrestricted access to all Tolkien's papers, and interviewed his friends and family. From these sources he follows the long and painful process of creation that produced THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION and offers a wealth of information about the life and work of the twentieth century's most cherished author.


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The authorized biography of the creator of Middle-earth. In the decades since his death in September 1973, millions have read THE HOBBIT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE SILMARILLION and become fascinated about the very private man behind the books. Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He s The authorized biography of the creator of Middle-earth. In the decades since his death in September 1973, millions have read THE HOBBIT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and THE SILMARILLION and become fascinated about the very private man behind the books. Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He served in the first World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of the closest friends he'd ever had. After the war he returned to the academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford where he was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and the other writers known as The Inklings. Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while grading essay papers he found himself writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- and worldwide renown awaited him. Humphrey Carpenter was given unrestricted access to all Tolkien's papers, and interviewed his friends and family. From these sources he follows the long and painful process of creation that produced THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE SILMARILLION and offers a wealth of information about the life and work of the twentieth century's most cherished author.

30 review for J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Swaroop

    "The body may be pacing this shabby little suburban room, but the mind is far away, roaming the plains and mountains of Middle-earth." Come sing ye light fairy things trippings so gay, Like visions, like glinting reflections of joy All fashion'd of radiance, careless of grief, O'er this green and brown carpet; nor hasten away. O! come to me! dance for me! Sprites of the wood, O! come to me! Sing to me once ere ye fade! ~ "Wood-sunshine" by John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R) Tolkien, July 1910 Humphrey Carpenter' "The body may be pacing this shabby little suburban room, but the mind is far away, roaming the plains and mountains of Middle-earth." Come sing ye light fairy things trippings so gay, Like visions, like glinting reflections of joy All fashion'd of radiance, careless of grief, O'er this green and brown carpet; nor hasten away. O! come to me! dance for me! Sprites of the wood, O! come to me! Sing to me once ere ye fade! ~ "Wood-sunshine" by John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R) Tolkien, July 1910 Humphrey Carpenter's "authorized biography" of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien is well written, thorough, engaging and interesting. First published in the year 1977, this book gives a complete picture of the man who wrote the classic tales of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Professor Tolkien spent his entire life writing and creating a new world, for generations to come. "My gentlehobbits, I give you this toast: To the Hobbits, May they outlast the Sarumans and see spring again in the trees."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melindam

    "...And if after this we may not have any better idea why he wrote his books, then at least we should know a little more about the man who did write them." "...Certainly Tolkien himself would have agreed with this. It was one of his strongest-held opinions that the investigation of an author’s life reveals very little of the workings of his mind." A few years ago I read The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter and I really enjoyed it. It wa "...And if after this we may not have any better idea why he wrote his books, then at least we should know a little more about the man who did write them." "...Certainly Tolkien himself would have agreed with this. It was one of his strongest-held opinions that the investigation of an author’s life reveals very little of the workings of his mind." A few years ago I read The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter and I really enjoyed it. It was an informative, but easy and very entertaining read as far as biographies go. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography was written in very much the same vein: it was entertaining without being didactic. Also Carpenter never acted like he was unveiling some huge mystery about a most beloved author, he simply delivers all details about his life without trying to make Tolkien out of proportions or belittle him. He shows us both the man, the scholar and the author in a pleasing balance. Much recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie Davis

    I recently read Humphrey Carpenter's book, The Inklings, for a discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast and it piqued my interest in his biography of one of my favorite authors. I liked The Inklings but this book was even better, possibly because Carpenter was focusing on one person instead of a group. It gave a thorough story of Tolkien's life without sugar coating his flaws but in a way that allowed me to understand and appreciate him as both a person and author. I'm not usually very I recently read Humphrey Carpenter's book, The Inklings, for a discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast and it piqued my interest in his biography of one of my favorite authors. I liked The Inklings but this book was even better, possibly because Carpenter was focusing on one person instead of a group. It gave a thorough story of Tolkien's life without sugar coating his flaws but in a way that allowed me to understand and appreciate him as both a person and author. I'm not usually very interested in biographies but read this in record time, which is a tribute to Carpenter's skill in finding a fascinating story in the outwardly mundane life of an Oxford professor. Of course, like Dr. Who's TARDIS, we're all bigger on the inside and Tolkien's inner landscape held a vast imagination coupled with interest in so many topics that he was sometimes unable to finish a project unless prodded by deadlines or friends. It is Humphrey Carpenter's ability to reconcile Tolkien's inner and outer man, while including his popular fiction in the timeline, that make this book so riveting. We feel we truly know J.R.R. Tolkien by the end. And, this is the ultimate tribute to the author's skill ... as I read the epilogue, I cried.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cass

    Aside from required reading, it is a rare occasion when I crack open a non-fiction work (with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis's works, which I've read so often and with such enthusiasm they're essentially a separate category. Classics, Fiction, Children's Lit, nonfic, and Lewis.) But in a deliberate effort to explore new territories in my reading, recently I've set aside my Alice-in-Wonderland prejudices ("what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?") and ventured, not witho Aside from required reading, it is a rare occasion when I crack open a non-fiction work (with the notable exception of C.S. Lewis's works, which I've read so often and with such enthusiasm they're essentially a separate category. Classics, Fiction, Children's Lit, nonfic, and Lewis.) But in a deliberate effort to explore new territories in my reading, recently I've set aside my Alice-in-Wonderland prejudices ("what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?") and ventured, not without some apprehension, into the world of criticism, apologetics, biographies, and no plots or characters. And found, much to my surprise and satisfaction, that it was a world I could feel at home in. Of course, I had the best of guides. Carpenter's prose is clear and engaging, and he offers just the right blend of historical data, personal insight, quotes from Tolkien's own letters or from his friends, and fascinating albeit seemingly unimportant details (such as his childhood fascination with Welsh place-names) to create a richly colored portrait of this unassuming genius. Although he is unfailingly precise in the biographical facts, Carpenter's emphasis is on understanding how Tolkien's mind worked. Thus we are told, for instance, not only that he lived at such-and-such address for so-and-so years, but why he moved there, whether he was pleased or disappointed with the change, how his family reacted, and--perhaps most importantly--how it affected his writing habits. Particularly of interest to me were the frequent mentions of events that would, in some cases decades later, resurface in his works such as The Lord of the Rings. Because that's really why this book is of interest. Tolkien the scholar, the catholic, the father, the teacher, are sides of him that are interesting to get to know, and probably to him equally important parts of his life as the literary; but the reason I, and I suspect most readers, bothered picking up the book at all was to get to know Tolkien the author. And that is precisely what Carpenter delivers. I highly recommend it to any Tolkien fans interested in getting to know the forgetful, contrary, quirkily humorous man behind the myth so many have fallen in love with.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien is a surprisingly balanced picture of the man. He clearly admires his talent without being blind to his faults. It is neither a book-length endorsement nor a character assassination, but an attempt at portraying the man's life fairly. It's very easy to read and enjoyable, including just the right sort of facts to interest the reader -- allowing us to laugh at him a little as well as love him more. Tolkien studies can be criticised as being too biographica Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien is a surprisingly balanced picture of the man. He clearly admires his talent without being blind to his faults. It is neither a book-length endorsement nor a character assassination, but an attempt at portraying the man's life fairly. It's very easy to read and enjoyable, including just the right sort of facts to interest the reader -- allowing us to laugh at him a little as well as love him more. Tolkien studies can be criticised as being too biographical -- Tolkien himself would have disliked that preoccupation among academics a great deal -- but it's worth reading to get an idea of his background, his intentions, the 'leaf mould' from which his work grew.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anatoly

    Since I was a boy, J.R.R Tolkien was my favorite author. So it was natural that sooner or later I will have to read about the man himself. I knew many of the details in this biography, but here was the first time I actually read a complete chronicle of his life. Fascinating work! And more than that, a fascinating man!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Hupe

    “he seems to see himself not as an author who has made a slight error that must be now corrected or explained away, but as a historian who must cast light on an obscurity in a historical document…” HUMPHREY CARPENTER J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter is an authorized biography. Carpenter had the opportunity to really get to know Tolkien towards the end of his life. This book covers the time of his birth on January 3rd, 1892 to his death on September 2nd, 1973. I think it is impossi “he seems to see himself not as an author who has made a slight error that must be now corrected or explained away, but as a historian who must cast light on an obscurity in a historical document…” HUMPHREY CARPENTER J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter is an authorized biography. Carpenter had the opportunity to really get to know Tolkien towards the end of his life. This book covers the time of his birth on January 3rd, 1892 to his death on September 2nd, 1973. I think it is impossible to completely dissect the man who created Middle-Earth. But as Carpenter makes it abundantly clear, he was so much more than just an author. His full name is John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, but his family called him Ronald. As an admirer of his work, I refer to him as “The Professor.” When Tolkien was 4 years old his father died, and when he was 12, his mother died. He didn’t have a strong connection with his father’s line but was very close to his mother’s side. It was his mother that converted them to Roman Catholics, which he became a very devout follower. As a child, his fascination with trees was evident, which we clearly see in his works. But his fascination with dragons was also evident as he composed his first dragon story at the age of 7. Many think that Tolkien’s work was inspired by his faith and his time in the war. While there is a religious morality present in his work and there is no doubt about his feelings of war, they were not the main inspiration. He was a man of language. His passion started with Old English, Middle English, and eventually Norse language. Later on, he even became fascinated with the Welsh language and Finnish language. His love for languages and words inspired him to create his own. The beginning of the Middle-Earth we know began with Tolkien creating his own language. The Elvish language, Quenya was influenced by the Finnish language. The second Elvish language, Sindarin is inspired by the Welsh language. “He did not see himself as an inventor of a story but as a discoverer of legend.” Another huge aspect of his life is Edith Bratt. In the summer of 1909, they fell in love. But they were prevented from being together but ended up marrying on March 22nd, 1916. It is no secret that their love inspired the story of Beren and Luthien. Those names are on their gravestones. I really recommend reading this biography in order to understand the man behind the legend. While I love reading about the creation of Middle-Earth mythology, I loved learning about the man behind it. There is one section where Carpenter talks about how Tolkien talked extremely fast and one had to keep up in conversations with him. But he is described as having a deep concern for others and would often make friends with taxi drivers, policemen, or anyone he struck up a conversation with… he reminds me of my youngest son, Hunter. I love how this biography discusses Tolkien as a simple man, a hobbit if you will, but also a man with faults. I felt that it did Tolkien justice. I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Very well researched, and I think Carpenter writes with a lovely tone. Perhaps the chapters could have been better organized or labelled, but the content is still great. There are certain sections that are solely about Tolkien's writings, not just Tolkien, but I'd imagine that anyone looking into the life of the man would want to hear info on his works as well. I'm lucky this is the first biography on Tolkien I picked up, as it seems to have been the first one written, back in the 1970s, shortly Very well researched, and I think Carpenter writes with a lovely tone. Perhaps the chapters could have been better organized or labelled, but the content is still great. There are certain sections that are solely about Tolkien's writings, not just Tolkien, but I'd imagine that anyone looking into the life of the man would want to hear info on his works as well. I'm lucky this is the first biography on Tolkien I picked up, as it seems to have been the first one written, back in the 1970s, shortly after his death. It was wonderful to hear from an author that was much closer to Tolkien's time than we are now.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kat - ahobbitsbooks

    I picked up this biography in preparation for the new Tolkien movie and while I still haven't seen the film, I have read this book and let me tell you: everything you ever wanted to know about JRR Tolkien is in here! Look no further for you have found your eternal source of facts and anecdotes on the man himself. This biography explores Tolkien's life from his birth (and beyond, as you will also get to know about his parents) to his death and everything in between and it manages to do so in a fun I picked up this biography in preparation for the new Tolkien movie and while I still haven't seen the film, I have read this book and let me tell you: everything you ever wanted to know about JRR Tolkien is in here! Look no further for you have found your eternal source of facts and anecdotes on the man himself. This biography explores Tolkien's life from his birth (and beyond, as you will also get to know about his parents) to his death and everything in between and it manages to do so in a fun, interesting way, never letting you fall asleep, never boring you with too many numbers or dates or facts. Carpenter's account of Tolkien's life is not only a perfect start for someone who hasn't read a biography yet and might be scared of doing so but it also gives a great insight into who this man was, how he was like and what it was that he was doing. Do I remember when Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit was published? No, and although the book provides its readers with the correct dates, that's not what is important to me. What's important to me is the small things that I took from it. That Tolkien spoke fluent Greek in his debate club in secondary school because he found Latin to be too easy. That he was a notorious perfectionist. That he liked hanging out with his boys' club. That he calculated the phases of the moon and how long the fellowship would take from place A to B and which phase of the moon they would then experience when looking up into the sky. Those are some of the information I took from this moving and gripping biography of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Do yourself a favour and pick this one up. Be like Legolas. Trust me on this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Union Theological Seminary in New York had a long winter "Intercession" during which time they offered intensive courses to keep students on campus. I didn't stay around, but returned for my annual visit to friends and family in the Chicago area. Although I did read serious books during the break, I also devoured the fun books which the school terms did not allow time for. One of them during the winter break of 1977/8 was Carpenter's biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, an author I'd been very fond of a Union Theological Seminary in New York had a long winter "Intercession" during which time they offered intensive courses to keep students on campus. I didn't stay around, but returned for my annual visit to friends and family in the Chicago area. Although I did read serious books during the break, I also devoured the fun books which the school terms did not allow time for. One of them during the winter break of 1977/8 was Carpenter's biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, an author I'd been very fond of as a child.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mai

    Always good to learn about the character of JRRT, but having already read a collection of his letters, I had already heard most of this information and without the patronising asides about his religion. I have to admit, I had a good laugh when Carpenter lamented Tolkien’s “rigid and medieval insistence on frequent confession”. Would love to see what he’d make of me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dominik

    As a Tolkien fan, this was great! I got a new insight into the life of this history-changing author! After reading, I picked up the Hobbit again and fell into Middle-earth again. A must-read for fans of JRR Tolkien's works! As a Tolkien fan, this was great! I got a new insight into the life of this history-changing author! After reading, I picked up the Hobbit again and fell into Middle-earth again. A must-read for fans of JRR Tolkien's works!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Humphrey perfectly lays out the foundations of Tolkien's mythopoeia and his love for philology in this entertaining biography. Whether the reader is researching to write a Tolkienian paper, or to amuse himself with the origins of his fantastical work, then this biography certainly fulfills its purpose. Humphrey perfectly lays out the foundations of Tolkien's mythopoeia and his love for philology in this entertaining biography. Whether the reader is researching to write a Tolkienian paper, or to amuse himself with the origins of his fantastical work, then this biography certainly fulfills its purpose.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jack Schuffenhauer

    It was wonderful book about a wonderful wonderful man! A true literary genius. I wanted the book to be much longer and even more detailed. I would like reread his books. Thank you, Drew!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Domien

    Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for professor Tolkien's works. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion have helped shape me not only in my tastes and my own attempts at creativity, but as a person. This official biography takes a look at the man behind those books and it does that while being fully aware of Tolkien's own dislike of biography as an attempt to understand the works themselves better (one of the professor's many strongly held opinions). Indeed, this book makes Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for professor Tolkien's works. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion have helped shape me not only in my tastes and my own attempts at creativity, but as a person. This official biography takes a look at the man behind those books and it does that while being fully aware of Tolkien's own dislike of biography as an attempt to understand the works themselves better (one of the professor's many strongly held opinions). Indeed, this book makes no claims whatsoever about the "true" meanings behind anything in Tolkien's fiction. It doesn't try to explain the struggles in The Lord of the Rings by pointing to his experiences in World War I, for example. Instead, this biography simply tells the story of Tolkien's life and paints a portrait of the man's personality and for a devoted fan, that in itself is interesting enough. After a hard childhood as an orphan, a difficult challenge in his love life and the horrors of war, Tolkien settled down with his wife and children in Oxford and lived a remarkably ordinary suburban life for a professor at an elite university. The theme running throughout the book is the peculiar contrast between the man's boundless imaginary vision and the perfectly routine everyday life that he led. Strangely enough, it is this part of the book that I found most fascinating. In it, Tolkien's personality is fully on display. He was a decent but flawed man. In fact I recognise an awful lot of his character traits in myself: his outward cheerfulness that masked a tendency towards melancholy and pessimism, his lack of concentration and discipline, his religious faith, his generally conservative mindset mixed with an abiding sense of wonder, his passionate but very narrow tastes, his love of small pleasures and natural places, his distaste for the modern world, his easy, friendly manner that often belied his stubborn and sometimes frustrating character and finally, his strong belief in his own capabilities that was often undermined by moments when he felt worthless and shameful. I really liked the man I got to know in these pages. There were times when he frustrated me, for sure, especially when he did stupid things that I myself would do (and have done). But when all is said and done, the mystery remains. How could a man this ordinary be the mind behind such an extraordinary world? If there is answer to be found in this book, it would seem to be that Tolkien simply tuned into some signal only he could receive, and became a historian for a world only he had heard about.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    I read this book in my freshmen year of high school and found it both enjoyable and fascinating in the way that most biographies are. If you enjoy hearing the history of ones doings, which in this case are both full of Love, Learning, Literature, Fun times, Old Friends, Family Life, Grief,Loss, and much much more: then I am sure you will enjoy this book as much as I did, and even more if you are one of those people who knows Tolkien so well that you have learned elvish. Debra Taron

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam Whitehead

    In 1892, a young British couple working for an English bank in South Africa had a son, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. By the time he was twelve years old, Tolkien had lost both his family and was brought up by a family friend. He developed a love of languages and mythology, fell in love, married, went to Oxford University, fought in the First World War, went into academic, became a respected expert in his (albeit narrow) field and died peacefully at the age of 81. But along the way he created nothin In 1892, a young British couple working for an English bank in South Africa had a son, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. By the time he was twelve years old, Tolkien had lost both his family and was brought up by a family friend. He developed a love of languages and mythology, fell in love, married, went to Oxford University, fought in the First World War, went into academic, became a respected expert in his (albeit narrow) field and died peacefully at the age of 81. But along the way he created nothing less than an entire mythology, a long and stirring epic of mighty battles between good and evil, of angelic hosts descending from on high, a mighty kingdom drowned beneath the waves and, at the last, a small hobbit being the only thing standing against the shadow. This is the story of J.R.R. Tolkien and his life. Originally published in 1976, Humphrey Carpenter's painstaking biography remains the definitive account of his life. Other biographies have followed, but they either draw so much on Carpenter that you might as well just read the original, or they are more interested in stirring up controversy which doesn't really exist. Carpenter divides his book into sections, focusing on Tolkien's traumatic childhood and the development of his early interesting in languages, then his even more traumatic life as a young man, fighting in the trenches of the Somme and trying to win the heart of a (slightly) older woman, and then his life as an academic and teacher, during which time he began writing The Silmarillion and, later The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Carpenter has an interesting task here because, although Tolkien's life was certainly not free of tragedy and incident, it was also arguably not wall-to-wall action. Tolkien, by his own admission, was a conservative figure. He did not travel widely, apart from the war he avoided from getting involved in any major political or national events, and he was at his happiest in a pub or friend's drawing room, drawn into an engrossing conversation about religion, myth, art or literature. A fascinating biography this does not necessarily make. But Carpenter does make it work, by tying incidents in Tolkien's life into his mythology, noting how a 1911 trip to Switzerland inspired Tolkien's fascination with mountains, and encounters with Norse, Icelandic, Welsh and Finnish mythology gave him the names "Middle-earth" and "Earendel." This constant circling back to Tolkien's literary works is clever - it's of course why people are interested in Tolkien's life - and gives the book a strong thematic spine. This approach also means we get a good view of Tolkien the individual and Tolkien the writer and academic and how these two sides developed. Those looking for drama and controversy will find relatively little, apart from Tolkien's dislike of his friend C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories and the occasional tension between Tolkien and his wife over religion (Edith was a Protestant who had converted to Catholicism on marriage, something she always resented). The truth is that Tolkien's wasn't that controversial a character, so the biography instead is able to delve deeply into his stories and the events in his life that shaped them. Carpenter writes with an easy, flowing style, mixing academic musings with more relaxed accounts of home life. The book never becomes bogged down in detail, but some elements are explored in greater depth where necessary. I suspect that when he wrote this book, Carpenter had an idea to publish Tolkien's own letters in a companion volume (Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1981), whilst he certainly knew that Christopher Tolkien was planning the publication of The Silmarillion (1977) and possibly companion volumes, so that people who wanted more detail and depth on the mythology could find it elsewhere. There's also a hint of poetry in the book, particularly the way Carpenter stakes out important touchstones in Tolkien's life - his love for his wife, his appreciation of trees - and uses these to anchor several key moments in the book: his early childhood in the countryside near Birmingham, a key moment when he was utterly stuck on Lord of the Rings and a neighbour's tree crisis sparked in him a revelation that helped him to complete the book, and his last few years in retirement. The result is that rarest of beasts: a biography of a literary figure that is fast-moving, rich in anecdote and detail, and simply enjoyable to read. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (*****) remains the definitive Tolkien biography, a well-written, well-researched and fascinating account of the most important figure in the history of fantasy literature. If you are at all interesting in how The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion came about, this is essential reading.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Thoroughly enjoyed peeking into John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary life. He was known as Ronald by his parents/relatives/wife, John Ronald to school friends, Tollers by adult friends, and J.R.R.T. in his later years. He was fluent in 35 different languages both ancient and modern — everything from Old Norse to Lithuanian. He taught himself Finnish for fun. He created his first constructed language as a teenager and many more throughout his lifetime. ••••• “Philo Thoroughly enjoyed peeking into John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary life. He was known as Ronald by his parents/relatives/wife, John Ronald to school friends, Tollers by adult friends, and J.R.R.T. in his later years. He was fluent in 35 different languages both ancient and modern — everything from Old Norse to Lithuanian. He taught himself Finnish for fun. He created his first constructed language as a teenager and many more throughout his lifetime. ••••• “Philology: the love of words. That was what motivated him. It was not an arid interest in the scientific principles of language, it was a deep love for the look and sound of words, springing from the days when his mother had given him his first Latin lessons. And as a result of this love of words, he had started to invent his own languages.” “During breakfast, Tolkien glances at the newspaper, but only in the most cursory fashion. He, like his friend C. S. Lewis, regards ‘news’ as on the whole trivial and fit to be ignored, and they both argue (to the annoyance of many of their friends) that the only ‘truth’ is to be found in literature. However, both men enjoy the crossword.” “The tales…cannot be explained as the mere product of literary influences and personal experience. When Tolkien began to write he drew upon some deeper, richer seam of his imagination than he had yet explored, and it was a seam that would continue to yield for the rest of his life.” “It was one of his strongest held opinions that the investigation of an author‘s life reveals very little of the workings of his mind.” Tolkien describing the creation of The Lord of the Rings: “One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost heap; and my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.” He “believed that the prime function of a linguist is to interpret literature, and that the prime function of literature is to be enjoyed.” “The unpayable debt that I owe to him (C.S. Lewis) was not “influence” as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my “stuff” could be more than a private hobby.” He modeled Treebeard’s way of speaking, ‘Hrum, Hroom’, on the booming voice of C.S. Lewis. Tolkien once told an interviewer: “The hobbits are just rustic English people, made small in size because it reflects the generally small reach of their imagination—not the small reachof their courage or latent power.” To put it another way the hobbits represent a combination of small imagination with great courage which (as Tolkien had seen in the trenches during the First World War) often led to survival against all chances. “I’ve always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of some quite small people against impossible odds.” “The Lord of the Rings had acquired its champions and its enemies, and as W. A. Auden wrote: ‘Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion; either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre, or they cannot abide it.’ And this was how it was to remain for the rest of Tolkien’s life: extreme praise from one faction, total contempt from the other. On the whole Tolkien himself did not mind this very much; indeed it amused him. He wrote of it: The Lord of the Rings Is one of those things: If you like you do: If you don’t, then you boo!”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Courtney (courtney & books)

    This is the official biography of Tolkien, which means it was approved by the Tolkien estate. While it was a very informative and interesting read, it is also biased. The book glosses over many details to create a comprehensive narrative. I’m not a big bio person, but this was quite easy to read and I found it engaging. Fun to get more understanding on an author I have enjoyed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Bedard

    J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favourite authors. This biography is a wonderful account of his life and influence, as well as his joy and pain. It helps to put Tolkien's writings in context. I thoroughly enjoyed it. J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favourite authors. This biography is a wonderful account of his life and influence, as well as his joy and pain. It helps to put Tolkien's writings in context. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anubha (BooksFullOfLife, LifeFullOfBooks)

    This book literally inspired me to read more. It was a great experience to know about Tolkien and his college days. I could totally see how he got his inspiration.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    Words cannot describe the beauty of this book ❤️

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bjørk Rúnadóttir

    I honestly really enjoyed reading a book about my favorite author. He was a very simple man with an enormous imagination. I really want to reread The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, but gosh darn my TBR-pile got big again after easter break.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Easy to read, covers his entire life. Tolkien is definitely very hobbit-y!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stefan

    A well rounded book that manages to convey Tolkien's life and work using interesting quotes, good narrative style, and plenty of details to provide a greater context for the subject without getting bogged down in quotations, narrative, or details. Humphrey Carpenter has the ability to write a biography that is not literary criticism, an objective that is harder then it may seem. I found Tolkien to be a fascinating individual, one of a certain breed of English men which were the product of a bygo A well rounded book that manages to convey Tolkien's life and work using interesting quotes, good narrative style, and plenty of details to provide a greater context for the subject without getting bogged down in quotations, narrative, or details. Humphrey Carpenter has the ability to write a biography that is not literary criticism, an objective that is harder then it may seem. I found Tolkien to be a fascinating individual, one of a certain breed of English men which were the product of a bygone era, but the greatest single thing I took away from this book is how a ordinary man with a ordinary (even somewhat dull) life, was able to use his extraordinary mind to mentally explore extraordinary places. His life shows how being restrained physically does not mean one has to let their imaginative and mental faculties rot, but instead, let's one exercise them vigorously and use the power of the mind to journey where the body cannot. On another note, I found the relationship between C. S. Lewis and Tolkien to very interesting, yet just as interesting, was the extreme difference in their writing styles: C. S. Lewis was able to write a large number of books because he did not extensively edit or revise every piece of writing whereas Tolkien's literary output was far lower because of his perfectionism and because of his habit of taking revision and editing to the extreme (to Tolkien revision meant almost completely rewriting the whole work until was a completely different piece of writing.) This excellent biography has gotten me wanting to read The Inklings, also by Humphrey Carpenter.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Willian Molinari

    I'm migrating all my reviews to my blog. If you want to read the full review with my raw notes, check it here: https://pothix.com/tolkienbio It's not a secret to anyone that I'm a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have 3 versions of this book. A translated version (pt-BR), the original version in English, and the audiobook. It's no news that it would be a 5-star book to me. I just listened to the Inklings book by Humphrey Carpenter, so it was the best time to also listen to this one (yes, I went for th I'm migrating all my reviews to my blog. If you want to read the full review with my raw notes, check it here: https://pothix.com/tolkienbio It's not a secret to anyone that I'm a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I have 3 versions of this book. A translated version (pt-BR), the original version in English, and the audiobook. It's no news that it would be a 5-star book to me. I just listened to the Inklings book by Humphrey Carpenter, so it was the best time to also listen to this one (yes, I went for the Audiobook). Tolkien was a genius and a real nerd IMO. Reading this biography is also finding the human part of Tolkien. He had his own flaws and lived a simple life as a professor in Oxford. When he started making real money from his creations, he was already 60+ years old. It was great to see that The Silmarillion was Tolkien's life work. Everything else he did was creating more content on top of the Silmarillion. The attention to details Tolkien had is out of this world. Thinking about where the moon should be in the story to make things coherent is something that very few authors take into account. It took more than a decade to write the LotR. Well, if you like the man and/or his work, I definitely recommend you read/listen to this one. Humphrey Carpenter did a great job capturing who Tolkien was and what he did.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    3.5/5stars I really enjoyed this! This is basically exactly what it is described as - a Biography about J. R. R. Tolkien. This one is a bit more credible then most because the author sat down and actually spoke to Tolkien, but anyways, I think he did a wonderful job of telling Tolkien's tale! This book goes through Tolkien's life, his works, his friendships, his relationships, all the way up to his death. I loved discovering new things I didn't actually know about him or his works, and the author 3.5/5stars I really enjoyed this! This is basically exactly what it is described as - a Biography about J. R. R. Tolkien. This one is a bit more credible then most because the author sat down and actually spoke to Tolkien, but anyways, I think he did a wonderful job of telling Tolkien's tale! This book goes through Tolkien's life, his works, his friendships, his relationships, all the way up to his death. I loved discovering new things I didn't actually know about him or his works, and the author did a great job of telling it like a narrative rather than how you normally think of a nonfiction work. Highly recommend for Tolkien fans!!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Vergara

    If one more person tells me "Tolkien's writings are an allegory for the wars he fought in" I'm going to slap them with this book. He didn't care for it. Letting life experiences slip into your fictional writing is called "writing good fiction", not allegory. From his birth in south Africa through his writings and later life, this book shows the events, people and interests that eventually inspired his work. The first thing he wrote were the elven languages. The man loved language. And smoking pi If one more person tells me "Tolkien's writings are an allegory for the wars he fought in" I'm going to slap them with this book. He didn't care for it. Letting life experiences slip into your fictional writing is called "writing good fiction", not allegory. From his birth in south Africa through his writings and later life, this book shows the events, people and interests that eventually inspired his work. The first thing he wrote were the elven languages. The man loved language. And smoking pipes while wearing tweed. Guy was nuts about that.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Carpenter writes, "Tolkien himself did not entirely approve of biography. Or, rather, he disliked its use as a form of literary criticism." Tolkien didn't like biography for the purpose of better understanding an author's work. Carpenter pays his respects to this judgment within a biography, where, though he refrains from criticism, he greatly helps one to understand the man and thus, his works. Because I am so thankful for Tolkien's work, I'm thankful for Carpenter's. An excellent biography. Carpenter writes, "Tolkien himself did not entirely approve of biography. Or, rather, he disliked its use as a form of literary criticism." Tolkien didn't like biography for the purpose of better understanding an author's work. Carpenter pays his respects to this judgment within a biography, where, though he refrains from criticism, he greatly helps one to understand the man and thus, his works. Because I am so thankful for Tolkien's work, I'm thankful for Carpenter's. An excellent biography.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lydia

    Alright, so I was expecting to like reading about Tolkien but at the same time was worried the book might be a difficult read for me. Thankfully I was wrong about that. It was a fantastic reading experience. I was hooked from the first chapter. The writing flowed beautifully presenting the man behind Middle Earth in all aspects of life. I learned so much about Tolkien’s background, intellectual pursuits and motivation. Hard for me to say more at this point, it is a complex work and if you are in Alright, so I was expecting to like reading about Tolkien but at the same time was worried the book might be a difficult read for me. Thankfully I was wrong about that. It was a fantastic reading experience. I was hooked from the first chapter. The writing flowed beautifully presenting the man behind Middle Earth in all aspects of life. I learned so much about Tolkien’s background, intellectual pursuits and motivation. Hard for me to say more at this point, it is a complex work and if you are interested in Tolkien, I highly recommend you pick this book up.

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