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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography Paperback – June 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company (June 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618057021
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618057023
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There may be a corner of the world where the name J.R.R. Tolkien is unknown, but you would be hard-pressed to find it. Since their publication, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have been published in every major language of the world. And though he single-handedly gave a mythology to the English and was beloved by millions, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien remained refreshingly unchanged by his fame and fortune, living out his days simply and modestly among the familiar surroundings of Oxford College. Humphrey Carpenter, who was given unrestricted access to Tolkien's papers, brilliantly puts meat to the bones of the Tolkien legend in J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, offering a well-rounded portrayal of this quiet, bookish man who always saw himself first and foremost as a philologist, uncovering rather than creating the peoples, languages, and adventures of Middle-Earth.

Carpenter chronicles Tolkien's early life with a special sensitivity; after losing both parents, Tolkien and his brother Hilary were taken from their idyllic life in the English countryside to a poverty-ridden existence in dark and sooty Birmingham. There were bright points, however. A social and cheerful lad, Tolkien enjoyed rugby and was proud of his gift for languages. It was also at this time that he met Edith Bratt, who would later become his wife. Academic life--both as a student and professor--is where this biography shines. Friendship with other men played a huge part in Tolkien's life, and Carpenter deftly reveals the importance these relationships--his complex friendship with C.S. Lewis, membership in the Inklings and the T.C.B.S.--had on the development of his writing.

The only criticism one can make about this book is that Carpenter tends to gloss over Tolkien's contributions to comparative philology. True, there is a chapter devoted to Tolkien's academic pursuits, but it tends to skim too lightly over the surface for this reviewer's tastes. Philology is a terribly methodical science, and the author clearly did not want to alienate readers who were primarily interested in Tolkien as a storyteller. Still, it would be nice to understand why Tolkien was held in such high esteem by his fellow academics. As it stands, Tolkien comes off as a slightly eccentric etymologist.

Fans who want to delve even deeper into Tolkien's life should pick up a copy of Carpenter's The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. --P.M. Atterberry

From Library Journal

Carpenter's 1977 biography offers a broad look at the Oxford don, who lived a relatively quiet life. This also details his close friendship with C.S Lewis.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

This is a well written and detailed book and a must read for any Tolkien fan.
Charles Pinney
Perhaps the most prominent trait of Carpenter's work is the insight into the effects of various events in Tolkiens life on his literary and scholarly development.
Matthew K. Minerd
I first read this one over twenty years ago, enjoyed it then and recently enjoyed it again.
D. Blankenship

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By bixodoido on January 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
Considering the fact that Tolkien abhorred the idea of someone writing a biography on him, considering the fact he thought it ridiculous that someone should read a biography on a writer, and considering his sentiment that the best biography on an author is his works of fiction, calling this book the `authorized' account is pretty presumptuous.
Still, Carpenter manages the subject very well, chronicling Tolkien's life from his early years throughout his life, with a special amount of attention given to the period in which he was creating his `hobbit' stories. This is as much a look inside Tolkien's literary mind as a look at his life, and one of the most fascinating aspects of this work is that the reader is able to follow the development of Tolkien's creative genius and see the very elements that inspired him to write his masterpieces "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Silmarillion."
For his biography, Carpenter was able to meet personally with Tolkien before his death. He also had full access to all of Tolkien's papers and letters at Oxford. He was able to talk with many of Tolkien's friends and family. Because of this, Carpenter is able to present a very accurate, extremely reliable, and very personal biography. He is very fair with his subject, and treats Tolkien neither as a deity nor an eccentric old man. The man who created Middle Earth was human, and Carpenter captures this brilliantly.
This work on Tolkien is very highly recommended to any fan of his work who wants a peek inside the life of this remarkable man.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth L. Miner on July 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
REVIEW OF HUMPHREY CARPENTER, J. R. R. TOLKIEN, A BIOGRAPHY (Geo. Allen & Unwin, 1977)
This is a biography that is hard to fault. Especially for a Tolkien fan, it is a page-turner, and enormously helpful in understanding Tolkien. It is written with great sympathy and empathy. Appendices provide a genealogical chart (how right for Tolkien!), a chronology, a complete list of published writings up to 1998 (at least in the Houghton Mifflin edition of 2000), and a list of Carpenter's sources.
The central issue in the Tolkien story, as in so many literary biographies, is the strange and mysterious manner in which books like _The Lord of the Rings_ can come out of what to all appearances are humdrum lives. Tolkien didn't even like to travel! In Tolkien's case we have also the additional question of how the human imagination can flower in a modern academic setting. Perhaps these are the two central questions to keep in mind while reading Carpenter, who is clearly often at pains to make Tolkien's life interesting enough to support his image. C. S. Lewis, a close friend of Tolkien, may have partially answered these questions when he wrote that "there are no ordinary people."
The issue of the Lewis-Tolkien friendship provides the quibble I have with Carpenter; it concerns the manner in which the devout Catholicism of Tolkien played a role in the eventual cooling of the friendship between the two men. C. S. Lewis, who was led to convert to Christianity in large part by Tolkien himself, decided to remain Protestant after his conversion, and returned to the Church of England. Carpenter notes especially Tolkien's dislike of Lewis's _Pilgrim's Regress_, which appeared in 1933 and was, I believe, his first book after his conversion.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Zampino VINE VOICE on December 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is the definitive biography of one of the 20th century's most beloved authors, JRR Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien's official biographer was given unprecendeted access to Tolkien family members and family papers, and this clearly shows. Tolkien's early life, his love of Edith Bratt, his devout faith and his war-time experiences are all chronicled, giving new understanding to his life as not only the premier fantasy-genre author of his day (and of all time, for that matter), but also his academic career as a noted philologist, and his relationship with "The Inklings", especially CS Lewis.
No fan of Tolkien will want to be without this book.
Tolkien fans will also want to read "Letters of JRR Tolkien" also edited by Carpenter, and fans of the Inklings as a literary group will want to read Carpenter's "The Inklings".
5 solid stars for this biography.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Michael Martinez on December 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Tolkien readers who want to know more about the man behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings need look no further than Humphrey Carpenter's thorough biography. Carpenter dispells many myths concerning Tolkien's early life and values, but more importantly shows that the famous author lived a full life even though enduring loss and hardship through two world wars.
Some of Tolkien's private correspondence, shared by his family, is published only in this book, and it reveals how profoundly the man was affected by the people with whom he became close. He was literally robbed of an entire generation of friends by the first world war, and the experience resonated throughout the remainder of his life.
The most poignant moments in Tolkien's life bear a strong resemblance to the moments in his heroes' lives when they turned dark days around and moved out into the full sunlight. One almost gets the feeling that Tolkien's achievements overshadowed those of his characters. He was a magical man in many ways, and must have eaten a piece of cake with a star embedded in it when he was a child.
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