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Can anyone give me a list of the best Tolkien biographies available? I want to buy one, but I don't know which one is the best buy. Thanks already! Chicken Smilie
Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce

DON'T GET ANYTHING BY HUMPHREY CARPENTER!!!!!

Believe me, Joseph Pearce rox as a biographical author. I did my Wide REading REsponse for 3 credits on his book.
Is there any particular reason why you dislike Carpenter's books, Loni?
Humphrey Carpenter has written the only "authorized" biography and since he was one of the few people to be granted an interview with Tolkien, I feel he gives us a better insight into the professor's life without a lot of speculation. The Letters of JRR Tolkien are my favorite Tolkien resource.
Another book by I like is The Inklings by Carpenter. This book tells about the relationship between Tolkien and his friends C S Lewis and Charles Williams.
A more recent book which is fabulous is JRR Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. It is full of Tolkien's artwork, albeit, more of a critique than a biography.
I also read and enjoyed Tom Shippey's book JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century.
I have not read Pearce's book but I just ordered it, as well as, Tolkien : a celebration : collected writings on a literary legacy (edited by Pearce) from the university library and look forward to reading them. I will let you know what I think.
Fantastic! Thanks a lot already, both of you! I will put all your suggestions on a list, and next time I get to a bookstore, I'll see what I can find and make a nice selection. Big Smile Smilie
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Is there any particular reason why you dislike Carpenter's books, Loni?


Of course. You think there woudln't be?

Because Humphrey Carpenter said that he found it highly suspicious when Tolkien won Writer of the Century in a nationwide poll and also Book of the Century and also Best Fantasy Book. He said it was highly suspicious. He said that he bet Tolkien fans were pressuring people to vote for Tolkien. SO THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Loni, please be less confrontational. Your writing makes it appear you have a chip on your shoulder and are daring someone to knock it off, to take you down a peg or two. I, not believing this to be the case, would rather spare you the embarasement.
If that's how it look slike, I didn't mean it to be that way, and I don't see it like that after eading my post again myself.
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If that's how it looks like, I didn't mean it to be that way, and I don't see it like that after reading my post again myself.
Using all capital letters and many exclamation points on bulletin boards is synonymous to shouting. Please speak softer and more kindly. Thanks. Happy Elf Smilie
I just finished reading Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce and while interesting, it is not a biography. The book is really a commentary /interpretation of Tolkien's works based on Tolkien's spiritual beliefs. Pearce also includes a great deal of "criticizing the critics" due to the controversial results of the Waterstone Poll. I agree with much of what he has to say about those who criticized Tolkien's works. I did find, however, that he took Carpenter's comments out of context, rarely quoting more than a part of a statement.
What biographical information is included in the book is taken from Humphrey Carpenter's books, which he acknowledges.
I do have a couple of more Tolkien biographies on order so I will let you know what I find out. In the meantime, I still believe that Carpenter's book is a very good biography about Tolkien, his family, friends and the events in his life.
I am currently reading Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. It is a fantastic look at Tolkien's life leading up to and including his service in France durring WWI. It provide in-depth looks at his relationships with his three best friends (member of the TCBS). I am up to the part where John Ronald and Edith have just married and he is about to depart for the front lines.

I will provide a much more in-depth review when I finish it (hopefully this week sometime).

I, too, have read Carpenter's and Pierce's books and agree with Rednell. Just because Carpenter has "suspicions" that is no reason to discredit his biography. that book was written in the early 70s and was the first real biography or the Professor. It is only in the last 5 years that there has been a renewed interest in Prof. Tolkien and his work, and the increasing number of books. And Pierce's really is not a bio. It is more of a critique of Tolkien's work, but thoroughly enjoyable, just the same.

I have not read either of Shippey's books yet, but do intend to in the near future. I would like to try out UT soon also (since I have never read it).
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I just finished reading Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce and while interesting, it is not a biography.


Then I guess this is not the book I am looking for. I am looking for a biography, not a commentary. Thanks for the tips, Nell! Big Smile Smilie

Thank you too, Bain_Diamondhands. Look forward to reading your commentary!
Carpenter's biography is the best one out there by far - though that's not the highest of praise. I think he and Garth are the only two to have been allowed access to Tolkien's letters, diaries, etc - most every other book I've seen relies on Carpenter for information - credited or otherwise.

I don't know but looking at Carpenter's book, for a biography of a major writer it's pretty slight - I figure that the Tolkien estate had a lot of control over what he could or couldn't write, so you get almost no insight into Tolkien's emotional life, etc. There's a much better bio out there waiting to be written when the estate lighten up a bit. I think Carpenter has said as much himself.

You do get the idea though that it was just a bit of a job for Carpenter and that he doesn't have much taste or sympathy for Tolkien's actual work.

Shippey's books are both excellent - the best on Tolkien I've read - BUT with one big caveat. Author of the Century is essentially a rewrite of The Road to Middle Earth. An awful lot of the material in them is the same. Author is a bit less academic - with more context on Tolkien as a 20th century "war" writer. Road has more stuff on Tolkien's professional interests and how they fed into the creation of Middle EArth - which is a lot. I preferred Road - and they're both worth reading - you just might feel a bit cheated if you buy both at the same time, like I did.

I've posted elsewhere on this, but There and BAck Again: in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien is also worth a read. Gives good sense of Tolkien's profound love for England.
Hey, thought I'd post this here too...

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Well, I probably found this far too late to help Ntothes, but I too am doing some research on Tolkien and was wondering if anyone knew of some good sources....? Online or book, doesn't matter.

So... anyone?
Another opinion, not very divergent.

The best resource with the best insights to Tolkien is The Letters of JRR Tolkien. I think that's the title, maybe not precisely.

Humphrey Carpenter's biography. It's done professionally and seriously; is informative and, I think, accurate; but it isn't a labour of love.

Tolkien, Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce is a very good adjunct to Carpenter's bio. It takes more seriously and centrally Tolkien's religious faith. Whatever it is to you, it was central to Tolkien and the book illuminates where Carpenter does not. But Pearce is not a great writer or a great mind.

Another very good addition is Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. It expands on and details his experiences before and his losses to "the war to end all wars." I think it's an important focus.

Far and away the best writer about Tolkien is Tom Shippey. The Road to Middle Earth is great. The same could be said of JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century, except that about two thirds of it is a restated Road to Middle Earth. My ideal solution is that I bought Road to Middle Earth and got Author of the Century from the library. He really expanded my appreciation and understanding and enjoyment of Tolkien, even though I had already read LOTR dozens of times.
I've only read Joseph Pearce's work. I quite liked it - but I guess I"m not a good judge as I've never read any others. I think I'd better. It's just that reading what Tolkien thought about biographies - having nothing to do with understanding an author's work. Nothing much, anyway, because a writer's mind is just to complex to find anything out that way.
I have just finished reading Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien and I find it quite good, not that I have anything to compare it to, really. But it's very informational, and it's clear that he had lots of reliable sources for info on Tolkien's life.

I found it rather surprising that Tolkien's domestic life was not too happy during his Oxford years. It does shatter my illusion of Tolkien and Edith being the fairy tale lovers in real-life. It does not surprise me at all that Tolkien didn't like TS Eliot.

I believe personally that the Letters already referred to are a perfect source of finding out just who this great man was and those he loved, worked with, published under , etc.

Cloveress, he was just a man Smile Smilie and subject to the ups and downs of it. The times he lived in were so tumultuous and full of fear and hardship and not knowing really that you could count on anything anymore. And just as the tide comes and goes, so too does passionate love;relationships tend to be so fluid for the most part.

If all those two did romantically-wise was to fall in love in the house they met at, keep having their trysts and clandestine relationship and then to be separated against their wills , finally for him to find out she was marrying some one else so that he had to fight for her, well that alone would stand out as marvellous.
They did not really know one another much during the war and baby making years, he was constantly involved in his work and his fellowship with the 'boys'.
Edith, pretty, intelligent and gifted on piano seems to have just sunk more and more into the background and pain with her arthritus.
And in his letters he condemns himself as being a not very good father. So.........
It is depressing, but his heart was always toward his God, his wife, his children. That is noble and not all that common anymore.