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Expertise needed: best Tolkien bio?


Jan 3 2013, 3:51am

Post #1 of 7 (216 views)
Expertise needed: best Tolkien bio? Can't Post

Which do those of you in the know consider definitive? Or are there different books for different reasons?

N.E. Brigand

Jan 3 2013, 4:44am

Post #2 of 7 (187 views)
Scull & Hammond, Carpenter, Garth. [In reply to] Can't Post

The most accurate and thorough biography is Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond's The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (2006), with two volumes: a Chronology listing of every known important moment in Tolkien's life, and an encyclopedic Reader's Guide. Do not confuse this with The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (2005) by the same authors (but listed in the opposite order), which is superb but is specifically about LOTR.

Humphrey Carpenter's Tolkien: A Biography (1977) (also known as J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography) is a more straightforward biography which is very readable and quite accurate, as far as it goes. Probably the best place to start.

John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshhold of Middle-earth (2003) is excellent but with a narrower focus.

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Jan 3 2013, 4:56am

Post #3 of 7 (148 views)
Thanks! [In reply to] Can't Post

Starting my bibliography now...

Tol Eressea

Jan 3 2013, 7:23am

Post #4 of 7 (151 views)
Don't forget Tolkien's 'Letters' [In reply to] Can't Post

- that is, 'The Letters of JRR Tolkien', ed. Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. These are a very useful complement to the excellent biographies recommended by N.E.B.


(This post was edited by geordie on Jan 3 2013, 7:23am)


Jan 3 2013, 7:40am

Post #5 of 7 (162 views)
"5 February 1937: Tolkien attends an English Faculty Board meeting" - but did he expect to be tapped for the resulting committee? [In reply to] Can't Post

If you are looking for a "biography", that is a narrative of a life, then I advise you to stick to Carpenter's Tolkien: A Biography. Scull and Hammond's amazing Chronology in their Companion and Guide is not a biography, but a time-card, a diary, a rap sheet: in short, the invaluable material for a biography that you might write for yourself. As N. E. Brigand points out, it is thorough and it is accurate. But it is not a biography.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Tol Eressea

Jan 3 2013, 2:22pm

Post #6 of 7 (140 views)
Not a biography as such - [In reply to] Can't Post

- but as you know, Vol. II, the Reader's Companion (as opposed to the Chronology) is composed of many 'essays' on various aspects of Tolkien's life. But I agree - for a biography, ie a life-story, Carpenter is the best place to start.

A little bit of history, for those who may not know - Smile - after JRR died, back in '73, there was great interest in his 'Silmarillion', and also in his life story. Christopher inherited all his father's writings, including his diaries and other family papers, and the family asked Humphrey Carpenter to write JRR's biography. Christopher assembled Tolkien's 'elvish' stories into a book called 'The Silmarillion' - which I suppose may be thought of as a sort of compendium of those writings.

Both the biography and 'The Silmarillion' were published in 1977. Christopher was not happy with Silm as it was; and later brought out more material in Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. Humphrey Carpenter was not entirely happy with the biography as it stood, but I think it's a good, workmanlike job.

And to my mind, the works of Scull and Hammond equate to Carpenter in the same way as HoMe equates to Silm.

There have been other books with biographical elements, by folk I'd happily describe as amateur researchers - Andrew H. Morton and Phil Mathison come to mind. These are slight volumes, each dealing with a very narrow field, but what distinguishes them (in my mind) from the works of other authors of similar works is that these authors - Morton and Mathison - ran their works by Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond, and they say that their books are the better for it. John Garth did the same (mind you, John also ran an earlier version of 'Tolkien's War past me; but that's another story).


(This post was edited by geordie on Jan 3 2013, 2:23pm)


Jan 10 2013, 12:03am

Post #7 of 7 (144 views)
I also recommend [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth

More as an addition to a more conventional biography than on its own, it gives a gripping account of WWI on his life and work.

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Diurez

A nicely balanced account of their famous friendship, it's sort of a double biography.


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