I picked up Devin Brown’s biography Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century, as I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment to my re-read of The Lord of the Rings.
In January 1892 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born. Initially he had an idyllic childhood, playing in the fields, and around the mills and train tracks on the outskirts of Birmingham. A time that inspired The Shire. Sadly by 1904 Tolkien had lost both his parents. A loss that could perhaps explain the sheer amount of motherless and orphaned characters he would go on to create. After this education took over his life. First he attended King’s Edward’s School then Oxford University; where his passion for language, literature and mythology would flourish. On graduating and surviving WWI Tolkien’s took a professorship first at The University of Leeds(where I studied!) and then Oxford University.
It was at Oxford where he really had the time to start writing his new mythology for England; The Silmarillion. It was while he was trying to get this published that The Hobbit, initially a bedtime story for his children, was spotted. The Hobbit was almost an instant hit and over the years its popularity has only grown. The publishers wanted another hobbit tale and while trying to do this Tolkien actually created his epic The Lord of the Rings. In September 1973 Tolkien died. He lived to see the growing popularity of his work but didn’t get to see the massive phenomenon it would become. Posthumously The Silmarillion was finally published.
Brown has packed so much into this biography! I have only touched on the main points as they struck me. There is also far more information on Tolkien’s Catholic faith, his marriage and children, exams and essays, The Inklings and other clubs he formed, his passion for Norse mythology, and his long friendship with C S Lewis (another of my favourite authors). There is also the plethora of letters Tolkien wrote. For which I am so thankful as through them Brown was able to bring us closer to the real man Tolkien was.
This is the first book I have read by Devin Brown; I have a copy of Bringing Narnia Home still to read. I thought this was a clear and detailed biography, and Brown has added a lot of research and insight. I did however feel there were sometimes moments where Brown over described rather obvious things; such as shillings and Waterstones. He also discusses exams Tolkien took which are now called O Levels, however here in the UK now we take GCSEs at the end of school. Which makes me think this was written for an American or international audience. Small niggles but they really jarred with me and pulled me out of my reading; such a shame.
Tolkien is an interesting and detailed biography of the life and what went on to inspire the author J R R Tolkien to create his wonderful, fantasy novels. I recommend to those interested in biographies and history. Okay read.
Thank you to Abingdon Press for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Any biography of Tolkien you would recommend?