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Monday, August 1, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne



A nifty little biography

Mark Horne's J.R.R. Tolkien is an enjoyable biography of the famed writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is not a large biography (130 pages) but, if you are like me and knew the a little about Tolkien and wanted to know a bit more, this biography fits the bill perfectly.

Horne begins with quite a bit of detail about Tolkien's early life, especially the difficulties caus
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
ed by the loss of his father when he was very young and the death of his mother when he was 12 years old. His mother's faith and the difficulties she endured when she converted to Catholicism are very important foundations of Tolkien's young life.

Tolkien's relationship with his wife Edith (both before and after they were married) are covered quite well. Horne skimps a bit on his children and we almost completely lose track of Tolkien's brother, who endured the same difficulties but chose a different path through life.

Tolkien had no inheritance or lofty standing in society to help him prosper in pre-World War I England. But, he did have a first class mind and despite the distraction of his budding romance with Edith, he was able to procure an academic scholarship to Oxford. Tolkien and academia were a great fit and he continued to teach throughout most of his life. He seems to have been an excellent teachers as his academic programs grew even though he was very much an advocate of letting students have more choices and less rigid programming in their education (this is in line with the general freedoms he promoted throughout his works).

Academic male companionship was important to Tolkien and he almost always had a group of students and/or professors that he met with regularly. They discussed the news of the day, literature, various academic disciplines and they served as willing foils for each one another's new projects. This seems to have been the great joy of Tolkien's life. C.S. Lewis was one of these companions, being a fellow member of group that called themselves the Inklings.

This little biography's strength is how it tells the tale of the creation of Tolkien's beloved books and their enormous influence on literature and culture even today and how truly surprised Tolkien was at his success. Tolkien was prone to multiple re-writes, self-doubt and what might be referred to as attention deficit disorder when it came to finishing projects - he was constantly adding this or that and re-working sections of books, even while the presses were waiting, as was the case for The Return of the King. Thrown in is Tolkien's omnipresent and ultimately quixotic desire to publish the never-quite-done The Silmarillion, his background source for the world of Middle Earth (it was published after his death after careful editing by his son, Christopher).

I received my copy of this book without charge from Thomas Nelson Publisher's BookSneeze program. There was no expectation of a positive review in exchange for the book, nor would I simply "give" a positive review since that would be unethical.

I rate this biography 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne.

Reviewed on August 1, 2011.

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