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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 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.
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on
ISBN: 9780547524429
List price: $15.95
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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.more
I read his books in junior high and liked them well enough but have never felt any desire to re-read, nor do I have any interest in the movies. However, I was curious about him. This biography doesn't attempt any literary criticism or link events in his life with his writing except where he had made the link himself. It was pretty interesting. I didn't know he grew up in poverty and lost his parents early, though I had known he was a devout Catholic. I didn't know much about his scholarly life, either, and that was interesting.It spurred an interesting discussion with my mom - she's read his books too but is totally dismissive of them, feels everything he wrote was just derivative and unoriginal. I've got no dog in that fight.more
I have been a fan of Tolkien since early childhood. So naturally, I have consumed much material by and about him. This biography was a pleasant blend of Tolkien’s life events and his literary influences. For any who wonder how or why Tolkien wrote the stories he is now famous for, this is an excellent resource. This is no dry biography but rather a story of how a man, who had quirks and flaws, produced a masterful work that continues to impact readers of all ages. Humphrey Carpenter draws on all the pertinent influences of Tolkien’s life to give you a portrait of one of the twentieth centuries most enigmatic and influential writers. If you only want facts about Tolkien’s life, search him on wikipedia. But if you want to gain an understanding of the man and his myth, read Humphrey Carpenter’s book and gain a deeper appreciation for the creator of middle-earth.more
Tolkien hated biography, at least as a method of literary criticism. As such, you would be best to avoid this volume if your goal is to better understand Tolkien's Legendarium. While a recorded history of the author's life is bound to shed some light on things that are to be found in his work, to view his work through the glass of his life is like viewing the world through tinted, smudged glasses.While this book won't make LotR any more understandable, it will shed some light on the person of Tolkien, and his particularly unremarkable yet fascinating life.Carpenter has made every effort to portray Tolkien from cradle to grave, showing each hurdle he had to overcome to get what he wanted, and how a simple fascination with languages at a young age led to one of the most memorable and quintessential fantasy works ever written. It's definitely a must for those who can't get enough Tolkien.The passage I was most struck by was the description involving the unauthorized Ace publication of The Lord of the Rings in the United States. While a US audience was awaiting the procrastinating Tolkien's revision of his books for publication here, Ace went ahead and published their own copy with arguably better cover art and a cheaper cover price than the eventual Ballantine first edition. Tolkien did not sue them, though it apparently angered him. It led, however, to a sort of crazed fandom in the US of Tolkien's work. Tolkien remedied this unauthorized snafu by telling all of his fans (via a blurb on the cover of the Ballantine edition and through responses to fan mail) that the Ballantine edition was the only one published in the US with his consent. This led to various groups in the US pressuring Ace to cease distribution (including the SFWA), and in turn, Ace offered to make reparations with Tolkien and ceased publication of their edition. But by then, the damage was done: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings had sold millions of copies (with the Ballantine edition soon outpacing the Ace), and pretty much all of America was ready to buy anything else with his name on it.Oh wait, that's not damage. That's good. It's my humble opinion, that in the light of recent books and other works featuring Tolkien or Tolkienian subjects, that the estate of Tolkien should instead embrace the value that its adds to its collective intellectual property, and not try to kill it for whatever stretches of IP law they wish to try to leverage on severely confused courts.As a biography, though, well written, and quite interesting!more
Tolkien taught philology, and wrote books. Not exactly the stuff of great biorgraphies, and Carpenter does not really take you "behind" his thinking, but overall this is an entertaining book. For hobbitophiles, it is a neccessity.more
Read all 5 reviews

Reviews

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.more
I read his books in junior high and liked them well enough but have never felt any desire to re-read, nor do I have any interest in the movies. However, I was curious about him. This biography doesn't attempt any literary criticism or link events in his life with his writing except where he had made the link himself. It was pretty interesting. I didn't know he grew up in poverty and lost his parents early, though I had known he was a devout Catholic. I didn't know much about his scholarly life, either, and that was interesting.It spurred an interesting discussion with my mom - she's read his books too but is totally dismissive of them, feels everything he wrote was just derivative and unoriginal. I've got no dog in that fight.more
I have been a fan of Tolkien since early childhood. So naturally, I have consumed much material by and about him. This biography was a pleasant blend of Tolkien’s life events and his literary influences. For any who wonder how or why Tolkien wrote the stories he is now famous for, this is an excellent resource. This is no dry biography but rather a story of how a man, who had quirks and flaws, produced a masterful work that continues to impact readers of all ages. Humphrey Carpenter draws on all the pertinent influences of Tolkien’s life to give you a portrait of one of the twentieth centuries most enigmatic and influential writers. If you only want facts about Tolkien’s life, search him on wikipedia. But if you want to gain an understanding of the man and his myth, read Humphrey Carpenter’s book and gain a deeper appreciation for the creator of middle-earth.more
Tolkien hated biography, at least as a method of literary criticism. As such, you would be best to avoid this volume if your goal is to better understand Tolkien's Legendarium. While a recorded history of the author's life is bound to shed some light on things that are to be found in his work, to view his work through the glass of his life is like viewing the world through tinted, smudged glasses.While this book won't make LotR any more understandable, it will shed some light on the person of Tolkien, and his particularly unremarkable yet fascinating life.Carpenter has made every effort to portray Tolkien from cradle to grave, showing each hurdle he had to overcome to get what he wanted, and how a simple fascination with languages at a young age led to one of the most memorable and quintessential fantasy works ever written. It's definitely a must for those who can't get enough Tolkien.The passage I was most struck by was the description involving the unauthorized Ace publication of The Lord of the Rings in the United States. While a US audience was awaiting the procrastinating Tolkien's revision of his books for publication here, Ace went ahead and published their own copy with arguably better cover art and a cheaper cover price than the eventual Ballantine first edition. Tolkien did not sue them, though it apparently angered him. It led, however, to a sort of crazed fandom in the US of Tolkien's work. Tolkien remedied this unauthorized snafu by telling all of his fans (via a blurb on the cover of the Ballantine edition and through responses to fan mail) that the Ballantine edition was the only one published in the US with his consent. This led to various groups in the US pressuring Ace to cease distribution (including the SFWA), and in turn, Ace offered to make reparations with Tolkien and ceased publication of their edition. But by then, the damage was done: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings had sold millions of copies (with the Ballantine edition soon outpacing the Ace), and pretty much all of America was ready to buy anything else with his name on it.Oh wait, that's not damage. That's good. It's my humble opinion, that in the light of recent books and other works featuring Tolkien or Tolkienian subjects, that the estate of Tolkien should instead embrace the value that its adds to its collective intellectual property, and not try to kill it for whatever stretches of IP law they wish to try to leverage on severely confused courts.As a biography, though, well written, and quite interesting!more
Tolkien taught philology, and wrote books. Not exactly the stuff of great biorgraphies, and Carpenter does not really take you "behind" his thinking, but overall this is an entertaining book. For hobbitophiles, it is a neccessity.more
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