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Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

Tolkien: A Biography (1977)

by Humphrey Carpenter

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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. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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. ( )
  piemouth | Feb 5, 2013 |
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. ( )
  irishdutchman | Dec 17, 2011 |
Uskomatonta, miten paljon Tarun sormusten herrasta - kirjan kirjoittajan elämä saattoikaan koskettaa minua. Paljon oli uuttakin asiaa, jota en aikaisemmin ollut tiennyt, jotka osaltaa valottivat Sormusten herran taustoja jollain tavalla.

Carpenterin tyyli kirjoittaa on miellyttävä ja lämmin, mutta keskivaiheilla kirjaa hän tuntuu hukkaavan ajatuksen hetkeksi ja tuntuu yrittävän keksiä kirjoitettavaa. Alkuvaihe kirjasta keskittyy kuvaamaan Tolkienin elämän ulkoisia puitteita. Tolkien - suuressa tylsyydessäänkin - oli hyvin mielenkiintoinen ja ristiriitainenkin persoona. Vaikka elämän ulkoiset puutteet eivät kauheasti viitteitä antaneetkaan mielikuvituksen voimasta, oli niidenkin lukemisessa oma viehätyksensä. Loppupuolella kuvataan hänen kirjojen kirjoitusprosessiaan. Ottaen huomioon Tolkienin pikkutarkan luonteen, on suorastaan ihme, että hän on saanut mitään julkaistua.

Todellakin kirja, jota en olisi voinut jättää lukematta. Nyt tekisi mieli lukea uudestaan Hobitti, Taru sormusten herrasta, Silmarillion ja etenkin tutustua Christopher Tolkienin editoimaan Tolkienin kuoleman jälkeen julkaistuun materiaaliin. ( )
  Dei_Diamanda | Apr 15, 2011 |
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! ( )
  aethercowboy | Mar 2, 2011 |
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Dedicated to the memory of 'The T.C.B.S.'
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It is mid-morning on a spring day in 1967.
Tolkien had not really wanted to write any more stories like The Hobbit; he had wanted to get on with the serious business of his mythology.
[regarding The Lord of the Rings:] Tolkien himself did not think it was flawless. But he told Stanley Unwin: 'It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin, and I can no other.'
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618057021, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:01 -0400)

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The authorized biography of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the epic "The Lord of the Rings."

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