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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 9 January 2012
One of the features of Tolkien's life which makes a biography of him so engaging is that he only became famous towards the very end of his life (although at that point he became very famous indeed). As a result, the story of his life is the story of a normal middle-class, 20th-century academic, who suffered the sorts of trials and tribulations that any normal person would suffer. Ergo: there is plenty in his personal story one can relate to.

In addition to that, Professor Tolkien was a very easy person to like: talented, dedicated, plenty of amusing eccentricities, a first-class poet and philologist, a family man and clearly a charasmatic and interesting fellow. Mr Carpenter's biography does him great justice. An eminently readable book about a fascinating and well-lived life, that had a deep and lasting influence on Western culture.

Peter Baker
The Jolly Pilgrim
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on 19 September 2013
A simply fascinating read for a Tolkien devotee,especially for those who are familiar with his Birmingham roots. A delight which helps in the understanding of some of the influences on his work. This took me back so many years to my first reading of The Hobbit, and my shared sadness at the changes in the old English countryside.
Read it with joy.
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on 28 July 2010
If I was interesting enough to have my own Biography, Humphrey Carpenter would be my choice to write it.

This is very much a warts 'n' all book, portraying JRRT as a man of great contradictions. Extra-Ordinary in many ways, ordinary in many others. A creative genius yet disorganised, constantly missing deadlines, finishing only a small percentage of his work, losing letters, stories and notes sometimes to find them years later and continue them at that point.

He also kept 2 copies of many stories for security but would invariably make different amendments to both copies making it even harder to reconcile works for publishing.

The ultimate perfectionist I am relieved we actually got any completed work from him yet the LOTR and the Silmarillion on their own are more than enough to show for a lifes work and if JRRT had not been so pedantic they would not have been the great works they are.

Very much a man's man, his complex relationship with C S Lewis is interesting as it develops over the years.

If you are after a window into the man behind the books then I would opt for this biography over any other.

An engaging read from start to finish, highly recommended!
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on 9 August 2012
This is a marvellous account of Tolkien's life, starting with his mother's departure to South Africa and his early years in Bloemfontein. The first half is more narrative in style, telling the reader about Tolkien's upbringing. The saga over his love affair with Edith is particularly affecting. We learn about Tolkien's early discovery of a love for languages and his later enjoyment of clubs, culminating in The Inklings during his adult life. The second half deals with Tolkien's major works - from literary and linguistic influences to worries over publication - but also sheds light on less famous tales such as "Leaf by Niggle" and "Smith of Wootton Major".

Carpenter makes clear from the beginning that a biography is not the way to understand an author's work (echoing Tolkien's own sentiments), and this is one of the major themes throughout the book. The sections in which Carpenter explores the relationship between Tolkien's vivid imagination and his (to the outward observer) rather quotidian existence are fascinating.

More than anything, this book is highly readable. You are not assailed by too much extraneous information - sections on, for instance, Tolkien's eccentric university professors are married neatly to the main ideas. At times you find yourself in relatively complex territory (for example, the squabble between Language and Literature departments at Oxbridge Colleges) without ever losing your way. Once I started, I could not stop reading this book.
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on 9 May 2013
For starter I will explain why 4 stars not 5. Honestly, I expected a bit more details from Tolkien's life. His books are my lifelong love and they surely played an important role in shaping my personality so I simply would like to know as much as possible about their author. The book is not simply not detailed enough as for my liking.
I do not see any reason why would anyone else but Tolkien's fan read this biography? So Tolkien's lovers! Go for it :) I bought it used for ONE PENNY ;) (no, I'm not going to sell it ;) )
Mr Carpenter is a good writer, I don't know whether he wrote anything more but this book is really written in an easy to read and interesting manner, reading is enjoyable and you'll find yourself deep in the book before you notice. Sadly it finishes too early.
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on 27 August 2001
Fantastic insight detailing the highs and lows of the life of one of the greatest writers of all time.
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on 1 August 1999
A very interesting book, a must for all those you want to know more about Tolkien and his life.
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on 24 December 2000
This was the first biography I have ever read and if they are all this good I will be reading more. I am a bit biased because Tolkien is the greatest writer ever, but it is extremely good and very readable.
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on 14 November 2014
I have to confess, other than his essay on fairy stories, I have never been able to warm to Tolkien's writings. Nor those of C.S. Lewis. I have not been able to get past about page three of 'The Hobbit' - although I have learned to live with a framed poster for a 1987 exhibition at Oxford on my sitting-room wall for the past fourteen years. My wife is a fan.
To rewind: I first heard the opening paragraph of 'The Hobbit' read out loud by a trendy little drama teacher at school ("Call me Diane"), and I thought: "Hello, I'm not going to like this". Ian Fleming was more my thing at the time, you understand (1972?) Fast forward: college in the mid-80s and I am being taught English by Michael Tolkien's first wife (not Tolkien's son, his grandson), and we get an awful lot about the old chap. Before that, I'm afraid, I'd become aware that he was the favourite reading of hippies, druggies, tree-huggers, bunny-huggers; that spineless rabble.
Yet, I've become fascinated by the man; hence, wanting to read a decent biography. This is decent enough, but ultimately disappointing. Tolkien - aside from The Somme - appears to have lived in a kind of academic bubble. We find out that he didn't much like communists (hardly surprising) or Adolf Hitler (no surprises there, either) - but did he ever bother voting in a British General Election? What did he think of hunger marches, of the Spanish Civil War, of the atomic bomb? You'll have to guess, because you won't find the answers here.
He was not - thank heaven - one of those 30s Oxbridge lefties, like Auden - nor yet a homosexual like Isherwood (Orwell's 'pansy poets'?), but a quiet conservative who didn't even approve of railways much less motor vehicles. How he would have loathed the world of today, with its mindless consumption of TV and electronic entertainment! Perhaps - for those who are enchanted by the stuff - we need him more than ever. Oh, yes, I did catch a few moments of one of the films, before dropping off to sleep. Is C.S. Lewis worse? The films, I mean. At least it's not 'Harry Potter'.
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on 25 April 2003
I have finished reading this book yesterday at night. Today I am going to begin reading all Tolkien book in my library once again!
This is the Real Biography written in the True biographical form. This work is the incarnation of Love - to JRRT's life and works, to author's work, to the Legacy of JRRT which gives inspiration to millions of people all around the world.
If JRRT would be able to read this book he would give the author his gentle smile, would squeeze him and say: "This is it".
Fantastic research in the World Of JRRT! A real MUST-HAVE item.
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