J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

From Tolkien Gateway
This article is about the book by Humphrey Carpenter. For the book by Leslie Ellen Jones, see J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (Greenwood Biographies).
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
Publication Information
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The book contains a large number of previously unpublished extracts from letters, poems, and other writings by Tolkien, along with a reproduction of a manuscript page from The Lord of the Rings.

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.


  • 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

Publication history and gallery

UK editions
1977 hardcover
1977 hardcover  
1978 paperback
1978 paperback  
1978 paperback alternative cover
1978 paperback alternative cover  
1987 paperback
1987 paperback  
1995 paperback
1995 paperback  
1995 paperback 2nd impression
1995 paperback 2nd impression  
2002 paperback
2002 paperback  
2016 paperback
2016 paperback  

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]

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)
A J.R.R. Tolkien book guide
Books by or mainly by Tolkien
On Arda Authored by
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit · The Lord of the Rings
(i.The Fellowship of the Ring · ii.The Two Towers · iii.The Return of the King) ·
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil · The Road Goes Ever On · Bilbo's Last Song
Edited by Christopher Tolkien The Silmarillion · Unfinished Tales · The History of Middle-earth series
(i.The Book of Lost Tales: Part One · ii.The Book of Lost Tales: Part Two · iii.The Lays of Beleriand · iv.The Shaping of Middle-earth · v.The Lost Road and Other Writings · vi.The Return of the Shadow · vii.The Treason of Isengard · viii.The War of the Ring · ix.Sauron Defeated · x.Morgoth's Ring · xi.The War of the Jewels · xii.The Peoples of Middle-earth · Index) ·
The Children of Húrin · Beren and Lúthien · The Fall of Gondolin
Edited by others The Annotated Hobbit · The History of The Hobbit · The Nature of Middle-earth · The Fall of Númenor
Not on Arda Short stories
and others
Leaf by Niggle · Farmer Giles of Ham · Smith of Wootton Major · Letters from Father Christmas ·
Mr. Bliss · Roverandom · Tree and Leaf (compilation) · Tales from the Perilous Realm (compilation)
Fictional works The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún · The Fall of Arthur · The Story of Kullervo · The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Translations and academic works Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo · The Old English Exodus · Finn and Hengest ·
The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays · Beowulf and the Critics · Tolkien On Fairy-stories ·
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary · A Secret Vice · The Battle of Maldon
Letters & poems The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien · The Collected Poems of J.R.R. Tolkien
academic works
A Middle English Vocabulary · Sir Gawain and the Green Knight · Ancrene Wisse
Books by other authors
Books on Arda The Complete Guide to Middle-earth · The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion ·
The Maps of Middle-earth
Tolkien biographies J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography · The Inklings · Tolkien and the Great War
Scholarly books The Road to Middle-earth · The Keys of Middle-earth · The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide ·
The Ring of Words · A Companion to J.R.R. Tolkien · Tolkien's Lost Chaucer · Tolkien's Library · Tolkien on Chaucer, 1913-1959
Scholarly journals Tolkien Studies · (The Chronology)
Other works by Tolkien
Linguistic journals Vinyar Tengwar various issues · Parma Eldalamberon issue 11-22
Collections of artwork
and manuscripts
Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien · J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend · J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator ·
The Art of The Hobbit · The Art of The Lord of the Rings · Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth ·
Tolkien: Treasures · J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript
This list is only a selection, for a fuller bibliography of Tolkien see here or here. See also a timeline and an index.