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J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

This article is about the book by Humphrey Carpenter. For the the book by Leslie Ellen Jones, see J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Greenwood Biographies).
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
Tolkien A Biography 1977.png
AuthorHumphrey Carpenter
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released5 May 1977 (UK)
29 June 1977 (US)
FormatHardcover; paperback

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography is a biography book by Humphrey Carpenter. It is the official, authorized biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. First published in 1977, It has been reprinted many times since.

The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey writes that even though the biography came out before most of the posthumous publications edited by Christopher Tolkien, "it has worn very well", telling of Tolkien's "sad and traumatic youth", and providing good coverage of his dealings with C. S. Lewis and his publishers.[1]

The book contains a large number of previously unpublished extracts from letters, poems, and other writings by Tolkien, together with a reproduction of a page from the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings.


[edit] From the publisher

The authorized biography of the creator of Middle-earth. In the decades since his death in September 1973, millions have read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion and become fascinated about the very private man behind the books.

Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He served in the first World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of the closest friends he'd ever had. After the war he returned to the academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford where he was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and the other writers known as The Inklings.

Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while grading essay papers he found himself writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' — and worldwide renown awaited him.

Humphrey Carpenter was given unrestricted access to all Tolkien's papers, and interviewed his friends and family. From these sources he follows the long and painful process of creation that produced The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion and offers a wealth of information about the life and work of the twentieth century's most cherished author.

[edit] Contents

  • I. A visit
  • II. 1892-1916: Early years
    • Bloemfontein
    • Birmingham
    • 'Private lang.' - and Edith
    • 'T.C., B.S., etc'
    • Oxford
    • Reunion
    • War
    • The breaking of the fellowship
  • III. 1917-1925: The making of a mythology
    • Lost Tales
    • Oxford interlude
    • Northern venture
  • IV. 1925-1949 (i): 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit'
    • Oxford life
    • Photographs observed
    • 'He had been inside language'
    • Jack
    • Northmoor Road
    • The storyteller
  • V. 1925-1949 (ii): The Third Age
    • Enter Mr Baggins
    • 'The new Hobbit'
  • VI. 1949-1966: Success
    • Slamming the gates
    • A big risk
    • Cash or kudos
  • VII. 1959-1973: Last years
    • Headington
    • Bournemouth
    • Merton Street
  • VIII. The Tree
  • Appendix
    • A. Simplified genealogical table
    • B. Chronology of events
    • C. The published writings of J. R. R. Tolkien
    • D. Sources and acknowledgments

[edit] Publication history and gallery

UK Editions
1977 edition  
1978 edition  
1978 edition alternative cover  
1987 edition  
1995 edition  
1995 edition second impression  
2002 edition  
2016 edition  

[edit] Rejection of the first draft

In a BBC interview with Martin Wainwright in 2003, Carpenter confirmed that Christopher Tolkien rejected the first draft of the biography believing it to be a very boring to read. Carpenter assumed that this was due to the number of letters quoted.[2]

[edit] See also


  1. Tom Shippey's top 10 books on JRR Tolkien (accessed 12 June 2022)
  2. "BBC Radio 4, Custodians of the World ", BBC News (accessed 13 September 2014)