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Publisher's Summary

The original authorised biography, and the only one written by an author who actually met J. R. R. Tolkien.

In the 25 years since Tolkien’s 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 Bloemfontein in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood, brought up in near poverty and almost thwarted in adolescent romance. He served in the First World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost some of his closest friends, and returned to academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford.

Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while marking 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 20th century's most cherished author.

©2018 Humphrey Carpenter (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"One of the most interesting and readable biographies of a literary figure." (The Times

"The story is rich and beautifully told." (Sunday Times

"Absolutely fascinating." (Daily Mail

What listeners say about J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography

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The Hobbiter

This biography is far the best I have read of Tolkiens life because it is full of speculation, like the author is with you and having Tea. It does shed light on the relationship between the man and his creation. It is charming, warm and so true. I Thank the author and narrator for bringing Tolkien to life.

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  • Kl Love
  • 05-18-20

Pleasing and well-read biography of a complex man

Whether you enjoy his books or not (I do!), J. R. R. Tolkien is a literary phenomenon of the 20th century. This biography is well-researched, and well-written, with a wealth of interesting details of Tolkien's life from his early childhood in South Africa, through his nomadic life with his mother and brother, and so to Oxford. Carpenter draws an attractive picture of Tolkien as child and man, unearthing all manner of interesting anecdotes and comments made by him and about him. His relationship to the men friends, who were his closest associates for much of his life, is handled with understanding and sensitivity. What comes out most is the extraordinary and inexhaustible fecundity of his imagination, and his devotion to langue in itself, as a way of experiencing the world. A C. S. Lewis said, Tolkien was 'inside language'. Wisely, Carpenter notes but does not try to 'explain' the apparent contradiction between the life of this quiet, conventional, middle-class don and the great leaps of fantasy and imagination in his work, A thoroughly enjoyable biography, meticulously researched and thoughtfully constructed. The narration also was excellent. Roger May has a very pleasant voice, reads at a perfect pace, and always brings out the sense of what he is reading. A thoroughly satisfying book.

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  • C. D. Hough
  • 10-21-20

A fascinating insight into a great man.

This biography sheds a lot of light on the life and works of Tolkien. Well told and thoroughly engrocing.

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  • Judit Jega Szabo
  • 09-08-19

Excellent biography, horrible narration

The narrator is extremely irritating. So much so that I struggled to finish the book.

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  • Dorothy & Joe Yeomans
  • 07-29-18

An unusual character but not empathetic

The difference between his apparently narrow personality and glorious writing is very difficult to explain. I now know much more about the man than I wished, but this is not a criticism of the biography.

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  • Gabby Howse
  • 09-24-18

A Tolkien Admirer

As a Tolkien admirer, I loved listening to this Book. I'm now keen to listen to other works