J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  4,648 ratings  ·  155 reviews
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 s...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 6th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1977)
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The Road to Middle-Earth by Tom ShippeyThe Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by J.R.R. TolkienThe Monsters and the Critics and other essays by J.R.R. TolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien by Tom ShippeyJ.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter
5th out of 58 books — 14 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King by J.R.R. TolkienThe Two Towers by J.R.R. TolkienThe Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Middle Earth
40th out of 128 books — 47 voters

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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 witho...more
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 bygo...more
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 biographica...more
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
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Jun 12, 2013 Jøℌαᾔηα »ℑ'м α ℓїттł℮ мøяℯ тℌαη υşεℓℯşş« rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All Tolkien fans, and people who want to learn more about the life of this amazing man
I thought biographies were boring.

.I have never been so wrong in my life.

This was amazing! :) I fully expected it to be dull and tedious ... it wasn't that at all

Everyone knows I'm useless at reviewing things, so I'm just going to say I highly recommend this book to all people interested in knowing more about the life of this amazing guy.

I was hooked.

5 Stars all the way:)
This was the first time I had ever read an biography, having been rather hesitant to read what I thought would be a laundry list on the person. However, this well written biography proved me wrong, as Carpenter is able to skillfully weave letters and other information, into a readable story format. At times, Carpenter will refer to a future event that had not been covered before, or would have chapters that started at say, 1932 to 1945, and then the next chapter would return back to the 1930s....more
I found myself sad at the end of this book, for reasons I couldn't quite put my finger on but that left me knowing that this book was well worth the reading. As an avid lover of Tolkien's writing and world, it seemed natural to want to learn more about the man behind the books and what he life was like. Over time, I had picked up the bits and pieces that a person does about the basics of his life, people in his life, etc but this book showed me just how much I didn't know.

I had a bit of a hard...more
Cheryl Floyd
When I read Jack, a biography on C.S. Lewis, I also like to read this biography on Tolkien. I love the relationship Lewis and Tolkien shared.

They both had loss in childhood and both found solace and joy in myths and ancient language. Each man had his own walk and personal relationship religion. They challenged each other, encouraged each other, loved each other as men need men these men championed intellect, companionship, and good beer.

I wish I could have been part of the Inklings, or at leas...more
Having recently finally finished reading The Lord of the Rings, and plowing through The Silmarillion, I wanted to read more about Tolkien's life and inspirations. On Netflix I watched a National Geographic program about Tolkien that had been released around the time the Fellowship of the Ring movie came out, and found myself wanting more.

Humphrey Carpenter's biography (naturally) covered some of the same material as the National Geographic show, although some other details (like the Finnish Kale...more
A most surprising biography.
Surprising in its decency and subtelty. It's the best way to talk about a man who wasn't always subtle, nor always likeable (but who is?) The author gives an overview of Tolien's life. This book is in the image of Tolkien, so don't expect juicy bits or lovingly rendered scandals. Honesty and decency seam to be the two main words one can use to describe it, and it's refreshing in this day and age.

Carpented manages to convey Tolkien's character so well in only a few pag...more
I didn't actually read the whole thing straight through. I had to read some excerpts for a class but felt like giving an opinion anyway. I'm not much of a biography reader, but for someone who is, I definately would recommend it. I found it a little interesting at times but lost interest because like I said, I don't really read biographies.
Aug 29, 2008 Amanda rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all Tolkien fans
Recommended to Amanda by: my husband
The beginning of this biography is very, very interesting - especially if you are a fan of Tolkien's work. But I have to say that I found a great deal of the rest of it to be quite depressing. It is, however, very well written and very well researched which I always appreciate in biographies.
I found the content quite fascinating. The book is split into three section, Early Life - World War, Career as a professor - Oxford Days and finally finishing with a section about his writing career, up until his last days and retirement. On the whole the book was what you would expect of a Biography, detailing the life from A-B of the man himself (which is what I was most interested in) but it also drew on the evolution of Tolkien's passions, his influences and inspirations from the very beginn...more
Por lo que he leído, es la mejor biografía de J.R.R. Tolkien que se ha escrito, y es bastante interesante realmente.
Mike Hankins
Tolkien himself thought that a biographical study of a writer's life was not an effective way to gain insight into their writing. Humphrey Carpenter's biography takes this advice, and does not attempt to provide analysis of the Lord of the Rings books, but instead focuses on what Tolkien felt about them, how they were made, and what inspirations may have led to their creation. What emerges is an interesting look into the intellectual and creative life of Tolkien, a man whose somewhat mundane lif...more
Very extensive biography. Starts with Tolkiens parents and continues to tell, not only about Tolkiens life, but also his way of life. Also brings out his love for philology and makes you interested in the history and development of language yourself (at least for my part it did)
Could've been written a bit more exciting, it's very theoretic, but then again...it IS a biography.

Realy liked it, definitely will recommend it to anyone who is interested in Tolkiens life (way of life) and how he start...more
This was a very enjoyable biography. The author's insight into Tolkein's strengths and weaknesses was excellent. Tolkien led a very ordinary life yet produced extraordinary stories. His education and love of languages helped mold his stories. His relationship with CS Lewis was also highlighted.
I was also fascinated with the fact that although a very staunch Catholic he did not feel like including God in his stories as a character but as a presence. My favorite quote of the book:
"We have come fro...more
Tolkien's books are still extremely popular today, especially with the new Hobbit movies coming out, so it was a bit weird for me to read about the world he grew up in, and the fact that he was born over a century before I was. o__o I liked reading about his friendship with C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series (which Tolkien apparently didn't like).

I was especially pleased with "the evolution of the characters." I learned some pretty bizarre things about the Lord of the Rings--it started as...more
Megan Larson
A long-time fan of the Hobbit, as well as an avid watcher of the LOTR movies, married to a lover of the trilogy, I have shied away from reading the books myself. The fact is, I was nervous that the extensive bits of middle-earth history and asides into poetry would deter me from enjoying the tale. My hope in reading Tolkien's biography was that an inside look at the man would render every aspect of his tale fully appreciable.
If I have learned nothing else from reading Carpenter's presentation,...more
Kate Dutson
J. R. R. Tolkien's stories speak so beautifully for themselves, and the more one reads of Middle Earth and its place in Arda, the less necessary it feels to contextualise such as the creation of an English Professor who lived during the last century. It is enough simply that Middle Earth has been written about, and can thus be remembered and revisited with ease and with joy.

And yet, this place; these stories, were Tolkien's life work, and have served as both inspiration and refuge to me for as l...more
I had a lot of fun reading this book! :D I am a big lover of Tolkien's work, so I was quite excited to get a peek at the man behind the words.

It was really great reading about what kind of person he was, what things he experienced in his life that effected the things he would later write about. It was an emotional ride through his ups and downs. It was inspiring, to read about the intense amount of time and dedication he put into everything he worked on, although there was a lot of procrastinati...more
Jul 14, 2009 Keith rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of The Lord of the Rings and JRR Tolkien.
Shelves: biography, my-library
Carpenter started work on this book in 1967. He researched Tolkien by interviewing him, his friends and family and also puring over the volumes and volumes of letters (many of which were published years latter in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). Overall it is very well researched and written.

It starts off with a descriptive narration of Carpenter's first meeting with the professor. Of all the chapters in the book, it is this first one that really gives the reader a good understanding of Tolkien....more
Gaurav Vartak
Normally, biographies do not rank too high on my reading list. There must be barely a handful of biographies that I must have read – mostly at someone else’s urging – and I must confess that it was not a very enjoyable experience. Forgive me if I appear too snobby, but reading about other people’s life kind of bums me out. However, when I came across J.R.R Tolkien’s biography, it was hard to pass up the opportunity of reading it. For those uninitiated, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is the author of...more
I almost never read biographies. Usually, it requires a report for me to even consider picking one up. And I am slow at reading them when I do get around to it, as with most non-fiction.
But this time, I picked up the book because of its topic (and boredom, but hey, as good a reason as any). Tolkien is probably my favorite author as well as quite a bit of my inspiration. So, seeing a book that held his name, I decided that I might as well try.
It took me several days to struggle through the dull p...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography. It is well-written, covers every aspect of Tolkien's life; just very enjoyable. I am now writing this essay 10 months after finishing this book, and after beginning The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien I have decided to comment as both these books are a must read for any die-hard Tolkien fan. I loved hearing of the little things that occured in his life; his childhood, his friendships, his university study and career and most of all, witnessing the beginning of his...more
This was the only authorized biography ever written about JRR Tolkien. Carpenter was given free access to the man and his avalanche of personal papers to document an extraordinary mind who lived a fairly common life.

From his birth in South Africa to middle-class English parents, Tolkien was orphaned young (before his teen years), this biography walks us through the development of the brilliant mind who crafted the mythical world of Middle Earth to give England it's own mythology. A university pr...more
Niesamowita książka. Chociaż nie jest to pierwsza biografia Tolkiena, to sądzę, że jednak najlepsza. Carpenter przytacza wiele naprawdę ciekawych faktów z życia Tolkiena i wskazuje na powiązania jest najwcześniejszych literackich prób z późniejszymi dziełami, zwłaszcza "Silmallirionem". Nie brakuje też takich perełek jak list małego Tolkiena do ojca, wspomnień o obrazkach, które dały początek wyglądowi niektórych postaci, cytatów z osobistego dziennika pisarza czy fragmentów (teraz już wydanego)...more
I thought Humphrey Carpenter did a fantastic job of using the right combination of discussing Tolkien's life with his works Tolkien himself disapproved of any biography, because he thought it was used as a tool for literary appreciation.

Well, what appreciation I gained regarded Tolkien's perfectionism and painstaking research and detail. For example, he himself created the maps of Middle-earth and he went back many times during writing "The Lord of the Rings" to rewrite whole chapters.

The best p...more
Absolutely stunning. This was the foundation of my study of Tokien's influences, and it gave me so much more than I thought it would. There's a fluidity in Carpenter's writing that makes this a pleasure to read, and an evident admiration that gives this biography the feel of being an epitaph to Tolkien's work, mind and imagination. By reading this I came to fully appreciate the multitudes of his genius, and I strongly recommend this if you're interested in being an author, in Tolkien himself or...more
Sep 15, 2010 Isil rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Tolkien's fans
Shelves: angleterre, document, xxe
J.R.R. Tolkien, une biographie est la première biographie que je lis. Comme Tolkien, je n’ai jamais pensé que la vie d’un écrivain permet de comprendre vraiment son œuvre. C’est sans doute encore plus vrai pour Tolkien, homme à priori peu palpitant s’il en est. Petit bourgeois professeur à Oxford, dont le seul signe particulier (pas tant que ça pour l’époque d’ailleurs) a été sa participation à la Première Guerre Mondiale, on s’attend un peu trop à lire la vie d’un Bilbo qui aurait refusé de su...more
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The Shire-folk: Tolkien Biography 1 7 Aug 03, 2013 11:46PM  
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century
  • Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World
  • Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator
  • The Monsters and the Critics and other essays
  • Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary
  • The History of the Hobbit, Part Two: Return to Bag-End
  • The Complete Tolkien Companion
  • The Maps of Tolkien's Middle-earth
  • Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of a Friendship
  • Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism
  • Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia
  • A Gateway to Sindarin: A Grammar of an Elvish Language from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
  • J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth
  • The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth
Humphrey William Bouverie Carpenter was an English biographer, writer, and radio broadcaster.
More about Humphrey Carpenter...
The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends Mr. Majeika Spike Milligan Benjamin Britten: A Biography W. H. Auden: A Biography

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“But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.

No, said Tolkien, they are not.

...just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.

We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.”
“You call a star a star, and say it is just a ball of matter moving on a mathematical course. But that is merely how you see it. By so naming things and describing them you are only inventing your own terms about them. And just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.” 7 likes
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