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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography [Paperback]

Humphrey Carpenter
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book by Carpenter, Humphrey

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Standard Biography Aug. 15 2003
Format:Paperback
This is the standard biography of Tolkien, and not just because Carpenter had the cooperation of the Tolkien family. He has presented a full picture of Tolkien's life and gets his facts straight. Without a doubt this is the best starting place for discovering the man behind the myth.
On the other hand, there is a certain remoteness and lack of focus that prevents me from giving the book 5 stars. In trying to capture all facets of the man, Carpenter prevents any one from shing out brightly. The work is adequate on facts (the best I've seen) but short on insight. Not that biographies benefit from the drawing of daring conclusions from slender evidence, but after having read this one, one doesn't feel that one has gotten to know Tolkien better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many insights to what made him tick May 11 2004
Format:Paperback
If you've loved Tolkien's books all your life, and wondered what kind of person it takes to come up with works of genius like The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, this book will be just what you wanted.
Carpenter makes illuminating connections, linking Tolkien's early fascination with languages to the fact that the author first studied languages with his mother (who died while he was quite young). That nostalgic attachment to language led him to a lifetime of study of all sorts of Scandinavian and Germanic myths and epics, which ultimately inspired him to create his own mythology.
Carpenter also mentions that Leaf By Niggle, one of Tolkien's short stories, expressed his own bittersweet feelings about having spent most of his life writing the Silmarillion and Lord Of The Rings; especially given that advancing age made it increasingly unlikely that they would be finished in his lifetime. This was news to me, so I tracked down the story in a secondhand copy of The Tolkien Reader... it was really quite touching.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meet the man behind the masterpiece Jan. 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If you've loved Tolkien's books all your life, and wondered what kind of person it takes to come up with works of genius like The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, this book will be just what you wanted.
Carpenter makes illuminating connections, linking Tolkien's early fascination with languages to the fact that the author first studied languages with his mother (who died while he was quite young). That nostalgic attachment to language led him to a lifetime of study of all sorts of Scandinavian and Germanic myths and epics, which ultimately inspired him to create his own mythology.
Carpenter also mentions that Leaf By Niggle, one of Tolkien's short stories, expressed his own bittersweet feelings about having spent most of his life writing the Silmarillion and Lord Of The Rings; especially given that advancing age made it increasingly unlikely that they would be finished in his lifetime. This was news to me, so I tracked down the story in a secondhand copy of The Tolkien Reader... it was really quite touching.
I'm planning to read The Letters Of J.R.R. Tolkien by Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien next. I'm pretty sure I won't be disappointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars every chapter is Bombadilicious! Sept. 25 2001
Format:Paperback
(1) Tremendous skill as a biographer. (2) Almost unlimited access to primary source material. (3) Actually meeting the man, J.R.R. Tolkien. These three points combine to make Humphrey Carpenter's work a benchmark in the ever growing sea of books about Tolkien. The third point, (meeting Tolkien) actually makes for a very amusing first four pages... Carpenter describing exactly what it was like to find himself standing before this Ent-like genius of a man... "Again I struggle to think of an intelligent remark, and again he resumes before I can find one."
I picked up Carpenter's book directly after my second reading of The Lord Of The Rings (reading Tolkien is definitely hobbit-forming), and I was not disappointed. It spans a timeframe of around 82 years, and we learn all about Tolkien's ancestry, early years, his life-long love of languages, his lengthy courtship and marriage to Edith Bratt (both were lengthy), his service as soldier in WWI, his devoted fathering of four children,the development of his mythology and struggles with procrastination, the creation and publication of his stories and subsequent fame, the accolades, and the quiet return to Oxford after the death of his wife. Never does this book falter, and never will the thought "oh, get on with it already" enter the mind of the reader.
I've just finished the book tonight, and I am now convinced that Tolkien was a hobbit. At one point he confesses, "I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Shopper
Thank you for this illuminating Biography. The edition- both, actually- you know- share the wealth with a friend- arrived in very good time and condition. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Elizabeth Eriksson
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Biography
A wonderful book that captures the essence and life of Mr. Tolkien, Rhythmically paced read as well as extremely informative. More focused on the man rather than his works. Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2004 by C. F. Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien
The reason why I chose this book is because I respect Tolkien for all his accomplishments as an author and I wanted to know a little more about him then I already did. Read more
Published on Dec 9 2003 by "twistdisues"
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but feels like something is missing . . .
This is the only biography of Tolkien which I have read. It was good and I enjoyed it, but it feels like something was missing. Read more
Published on Dec 4 2003 by Brian G Hedges
3.0 out of 5 stars The wrong biographer for Tolkien
Sadly, Carpenter's standard biography of Tolkien is written by a man wholely unsympathetic with Tolkien's life work and beliefs. Read more
Published on Dec 27 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, delightful look at this wonderful man
I cannot recommend this book enough for fans of Tolkien. Gaining access to his inner life and the days of his childhood is utterly marvelous! Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look Into Tolkien's Mind
My favorite thing about Humphrey Carpenter's biography of J.R.R. Tolkien is the way we gain insight into the inspirations for Tolkien's writings. Read more
Published on July 22 2002 by Art Turner
3.0 out of 5 stars falls apart in the last few pages
This book could be divided into two: one documenting the story of his personal and professional lives, the othe explaining the history and development of his mythology. Read more
Published on June 3 2002 by H. D. Hairhowser
5.0 out of 5 stars A tremendous look into Tolkien's life
I bought this book many years ago but it never quite worked its way to the top of my reading list so it sat on my shelf unread all this time. Read more
Published on May 25 2002 by Joseph Boone
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