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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

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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 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 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

    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 "...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.

  2. 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    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 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    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 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.

  5. 4 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!

  6. 4 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 5 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

  10. 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 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.

  11. 4 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.

  12. 4 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    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 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 the story of Tolkien is not only a perfect start for someone who hasn't read a biography yet and might be scared of doing so, it also gives a great insight into who this man was, how he was like and what it was that he was doing exactly. 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.

  14. 5 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 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.

  15. 4 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!!

  16. 5 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 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.

  17. 5 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.

  18. 5 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 Tolkien, an author I'd been very fond of as 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 Tolkien, an author I'd been very fond of as a child.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Wow. I learned so much about Tolkien through this book!! I always thought that Tolkien just sat down one day, and said, "I want to write a best-selling book," and then went at it. But, it has given me a lot of hope and realization that, as an aspiring author, that even the big dogs had trouble sometimes writing their books. It was so great to get a glimpse of Tolkien's life, and in how "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" was written and imagined.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    A beautiful, well-paced, informative read. With lovely prose, Carpenter does a wonderful job of highlighting the different influential threads of Tolkien's life, not making assumptions or aiming for the sensational, but giving a clear background for the Tolkien scholar. It was respectful and careful and made sure to honor Tolkien's distinct opinions. I always found it easy to pick up, and though most of Tolkien's life was far from what most of us would call eventful, Carpenter's treatment made A beautiful, well-paced, informative read. With lovely prose, Carpenter does a wonderful job of highlighting the different influential threads of Tolkien's life, not making assumptions or aiming for the sensational, but giving a clear background for the Tolkien scholar. It was respectful and careful and made sure to honor Tolkien's distinct opinions. I always found it easy to pick up, and though most of Tolkien's life was far from what most of us would call eventful, Carpenter's treatment made it feel like a treat, a relaxing and quiet pleasure-read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Carpenter's writing may leave you wanting, but this is an excellent survey of Tolkien’s life nonetheless. Though he lived a simple life as a professor and family man, he had a surprisingly complex personality. A devastating childhood seemed to perpetuate turbid relationships throughout his life. Those painful experiences also bore much fruit though, as they were the soil out of which his epics grew.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    Its a biography. Biography's are rarely all that amazing. But this one kept my interest. It was well done. You really do get a good sense of the inspirations that led to Middle Earth being written about. FAKE SPOILER ALERT: You find out that really, JRRTolkien is Gandalf, and he just wanted you all to know about the saga of Middle Earth, so he stuck around long enough to write those books. Like duh? He's always got a pipe, people! It should have been so obvious...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Griffin

    Excellent biography, it was very readable and immersive, not dry at all. I also loved the fact that it took the holistic view on his life. The author didn't shy away from his academic work and his simple (what some might call boring) life, in favor of focusing on his fictional work, as many have done. It gave you the full view of the man, thanks to the help and contribution of his family, friends and access to his personal writings and correspondence, giving readers a full and insightful look at Excellent biography, it was very readable and immersive, not dry at all. I also loved the fact that it took the holistic view on his life. The author didn't shy away from his academic work and his simple (what some might call boring) life, in favor of focusing on his fictional work, as many have done. It gave you the full view of the man, thanks to the help and contribution of his family, friends and access to his personal writings and correspondence, giving readers a full and insightful look at a man who had , to quote the author: "the antithesis between the ordinary life he led and the extraordinary imagination that created his mythology."

  24. 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 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Vishal Katariya

    Loved it because of the sneak peek it provided into the life of Tolkien. As a huge LOTR fan, I would say this is essential reading. The biography is entirely chronological and I would have appreciated it a little better perhaps if it were categorised via topic than life period. That is only a minor and aesthetic change, however. Overall very nice overview of JRR's life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Krisette Spangler

    I really enjoyed reading this Tolkien biography. I've always been a Middle Earth nut, so I was fascinated to learn about the man who created some of the most beloved fantasy characters of all time. The biography was not overly long, and it was filled with all kinds of interesting tidbits for fans of The Hobbit. I highly recommend reading it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I believe this is the authorized biography of Tolkien. It is well written and includes additional information about his works. Reading it helped me to a better understanding of both the man and his books.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ian Patrick

    I've just read an interesting and thought-provoking perspective on the various roles and responsibilities of the author in the writing of fiction. Humphrey Carpenter, in his excellent biography of Tolkien, quotes Tolkien speaking (in a lecture in 1939) about the story-maker as a 'sub-creator'. If, for Tolkien (a deeply religious man), we were to think of a divine creator who created the universe, then the author should be seen as a sub-creator who creates another universe, in its own terms just I've just read an interesting and thought-provoking perspective on the various roles and responsibilities of the author in the writing of fiction. Humphrey Carpenter, in his excellent biography of Tolkien, quotes Tolkien speaking (in a lecture in 1939) about the story-maker as a 'sub-creator'. If, for Tolkien (a deeply religious man), we were to think of a divine creator who created the universe, then the author should be seen as a sub-creator who creates another universe, in its own terms just as 'real' as the larger universe. The author, that is to say: "makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside." (pp. 254-5) Coleridge described the same thing, more succinctly, perhaps, as the 'willing suspension of disbelief' or 'poetic faith' but I find Tolkien's particular gloss on this very insightful. If the writer ruptures the fictitious world that he/she has created - perhaps through a moment of inauthentic or un-'realistic' or intrusive authorial intervention - then the 'real' magical world that he/she has created becomes no more than a 'little abortive Secondary World'. From the same reference, Tolkien went on to say that: "Every writer making a secondary world wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality, or are flowing into it." How authentic need fiction be? Does crime fiction, for example, necessarily have to be accurate in all of its details? I have become perhaps a little too research-obsessed with the details of the fictitious worlds I create in my own writing. Who cares, for example, whether modern-day cops in a particular police station drink their coffee out of polystyrene cups or real coffee-mugs? Who cares whether or not there is a security fence around the real bushes in the actual location where I describe an action scene? Who cares if it takes two minutes or four minutes for a cop in an emergency to drive at speed from point A to point B? Only me, perhaps. I derive pleasure from satisfying myself that I have properly interviewed, or researched a scene, or actually test-driven a vehicle at speed between two points that are described in my fiction, or changed a draft to accommodate the fact that a new security fence has just been erected around the real location where I had already set my action. Or maybe I do it for the satisfaction of only one reader, somewhere, who might just happen to know the scene or location that I have used in my fictive world. For me, that is sufficient: if only one reader knows my setting to be inauthentic, then for that reader the 'realism' of the fictitious secondary world I have created is disrupted and the setting becomes to him/her no more than a 'little abortive Secondary World'. Carpenter shows us a Tolkien who was the ultimate perfectionist, taking not only years but decades to pursue his art and to ensure veracity, plausibility, and authenticity in a world that was in every respect a 'secondary' world and not the real world. For Tolkien, this secondary world had just as much claim on truth as the real world. And in a world where we currently talk about the 'post-truth' of much of our experience, who is to say that truth in that 'secondary' world is any less truthful than what we find in our 'real' world? Carpenter's biography is littered with gems throughout. One that I, as an Oxford resident, particularly enjoyed was this (p.314): "...the habit (and it is not an uncommon Oxford habit) of making dogmatic assertions about things of which he knew very little..." But the real gem is this (p. 171), where Tolkien describes the thought processes and the deep roots underlying his 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." The specialist scholar might quibble about the absence of specific references in the text, or about the shape and structure of the biography, but Carpenter has expertly achieved the most important task of the biographer: he has opened up to the reader not only the historical life of his subject but also the deep and intricate workings and re-workings of his subject's creative imagination. That is to say, he has turned over the compost in his subject's life in a way that makes manifest the rich sources of nourishment that fertilised Tolkien's writing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    LCL Summer Reading program challenge "Read a biography"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    4.5 This is well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great insights to Tolkien, and I will appreciate his writings all the more!

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