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J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography Paperback – 28 Apr 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (28 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0261102451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0261102453
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 356,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

‘One of the most interesting and readable biographies of a literary figure.’ The Times

‘The story is rich and beautifully told.’ Sunday Times

‘Absolutely fascinating.’ Daily Mail

‘A painstaking and often moving account.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Humphrey Carpenter’s plain, unvarnished tale is absolutely gripping.’ Times Literary Supplement

From the Back Cover

In the 25 years since Tolkien's 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 Bloemfontein in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood, brought up in near-poverty and almost thwarted in adolescent romance. He served in the First World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost some of his closest friends, and returned to academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford.

Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while marking 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.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you've loved Tolkien's books all your life, and wondered what kind of person it takes to come up with works of genius like The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, this book will be just what you wanted.
Carpenter makes illuminating connections, linking Tolkien's early fascination with languages to the fact that the author first studied languages with his mother (who died while he was quite young). That nostalgic attachment to language led him to a lifetime of study of all sorts of Scandinavian and Germanic myths and epics, which ultimately inspired him to create his own mythology.
Carpenter also mentions that Leaf By Niggle, one of Tolkien's short stories, expressed his own bittersweet feelings about having spent most of his life writing the Silmarillion and Lord Of The Rings; especially given that advancing age made it increasingly unlikely that they would be finished in his lifetime. This was news to me, so I tracked down the story in a secondhand copy of The Tolkien Reader... it was really quite touching.
I'm planning to read The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien by Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien next. I'm pretty sure I won't be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
I haven't read all Tolkien byographies out there, but I have read some, and I think this is the best by far. Not only is it precise and somewhat more 'unbiased' than others (it's clear that the author deeply appreciates Tolkien and his works, but unlike others, he didn't turn the biography into a giant praise to JRRT's genius), but it's also entertaining and easy to read, something which can't be said of many biographies. If you want to know more about JRRT as a person and a scholar, and not just as the LotR author, you really should read this.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This biography was the first to appear after Tolkien's death. While it isn't (thankfully) a cut and paste rush job - Carpenter was given a great deal of help by the Tolkien family, who also co-operated with him on an edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's letters - it isn't the most thoughtful or analytical reflection on Tolkien's like and work, either. The author seems hesitant to praise, let alone fully analyse, Tolkien's work, and also reluctant (perhaps because of his closeness to the family) to give a warts and all portrait of Tolkien's family life. There are hints at marital discord and personal unhappiness, but basically the door marked family life is kept shut. So those keen to connect the writing with the man will have to look elsewhere - to John Garth's book on Tolkien and the Great War, for example; those wanting to examine more closely Tolkien's part in the literary and academic traditions he worked in should turn to Tom Shippey's book Author of the Century.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you're into Tolkien, or any of his works and want to know a little more about the man, his life, and how he worked then this is the book to buy. It was written by someone who met Tolkien and spent a great deal of time with his family - so its not an account written by someone years after the events. There are insights into Tolkien's daily life, his inspirations, his professional life, in fact Humphrey Carpenter reveals snippets from every aspect of Tolkiens life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have any doubts about buying this book forget them - this book is perfect. It is a biography written in as moving a style as a novel without even trying to be moving. The writer is superb, I have read his other book on the Inklings and it too is brilliant and a great companion to this. I have loved Tolkien's work since being a little boy. The author has written a graceful book worthy of his subject. As I read about Tolkien's death at the end: tears rolled down my cheeks as if I was reading about a friend. To write a biography that so immerses you is an outstanding achievement. Humphrey Carpenter is a great author in his own right. One of my favourite books - in a way it reminded me of Laurie Lee's beautiful Cider with Rosie, both are documents about the end of an Age.
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By A Customer on 18 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one heck of a good read. The perfect formula-
this book + a comfy chair/sofa + the LOTR movie soundtrack + an hour or so to yourself= a very enjoyable hour!
I can't believe how well this book is written; my addiction to it almost mirrors that of my addiction to the classic trilogy. What I found incredibly refreshing, however, was how the author does not restrain from giving us the truth. So, for example, it doesn't give Tolkien a major ego boost (if one could do that to a person 31 years dead) but instead it gives him praise when it's due, and criticism when it's due, e.g. when it comes to his grades in his early education.
A great read, anyone who wants a deeper insight into the life of my favourite author should buy this immediately. Plus, Amazon did a great service of delivering this. Buy it from here, now!
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Format: Hardcover
My, what a life dear old Tolkien lived! I'm strongly tempted to outline some of the episodes that made it so dramatic, but I wouldn't want to spoil the story for people who're not yet familiar with it. Suffice it to say that it must have been in part Tolkien's own experiences that enabled him to write fiction of such enormous emotional power.

The late Humphrey Carpenter's gracefully written 1977 biography is still, I think, probably the best that there is. Humphrey himself knew Tolkien only slightly, but he wrote with the cooperation of Tolkien's family, and so he had access to Tolkien's diaries and correspondence as well as to the recollections of Tolkien's children. Obviously this was immensely helpful.

Of course, authorised status isn't enough by itself to guarantee that a biography will be good, but Humphrey, even at the beginning of his literary career, was a biographer of genius. I have to confess that I bought this book determined to love it - Tolkien is my favourite author - but I can't remember any other literary biography that has been more richly enjoyable. What makes the book so rewarding is, I think, the ingenuity of its form. The backbone of it is a traditional, cradle-to-the-grave linear narrative, but Humphrey interrupts the story with many discursions exploring different facets of Tolkien's life and character, and these sidebars enrich the story tremendously. Thus the chapter Oxford Life describes the minutiae of a typical Tolkien day in the early 1930s, Photographs Observed examines what can be gleaned from the family albums, another chapter focuses on Tolkien's scholarship and teaching, another tells us what it was like to visit the great man in his old age...We learn about his religion, his friendships with C. S.
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