Archive for Biography
This brief biography of the author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is at once engrossing and accessible. Horne does a good job of interweaving details of Tolkien’s life with insights about the possible impact of his life experiences on his famous fantasy novels. I’m amazed that Horne is able to give such a complete treatment of his subject’s rich and fascinating life in a mere 130 pages. Horne takes the reader from Tolkien’s childhood and early loss of both parents, through his education, marriage, and WWI battlefield experience, through his career as an Oxford don and beloved fantasy author, and, finally, to his enduring legacy.
Through Horne’s narrative, the reader can clearly see how Tolkien’s life experiences and intellectual interests contributed to his creation of The Lord of the Rings and other works. For example, his study of the Icelandic language and love of old Norse mythology is reflected in the culture of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. His courtship and marriage of his wife, Edith, was related by Tolkien himself to a romantic story in The Simarillion of an elf who sacrifices her immortal life to marry a mortal man. Horne also shows the impact of Tolkien’s strong Roman Catholic faith on his life and his fantasy writings.
Ironically, the intensity of Tolkien’s intellectual commitments sometimes hindered his success in his academic and professional endeavors. For example, as a young Oxford student, Tolkien’s interest in Germanic languages and literature distracted him from his exams in the Classics (his supposed field of study at the time). Later, as an Oxford don, his perfectionism prompted him to constantly rewrite papers and stories rather than submit them for publication (as academics are expected to do). It was Tolkien’s close friend, C.S. Lewis, who encouraged him to stop rewriting and start publishing. As a voracious reader of fiction who unfortunately lacks a talent for writing it, I found these details of the downside to creative genius to be fascinating.
As anyone who has ever read The Lord of the Rings knows, reading Tolkien’s masterpiece requires a huge time commitment, one that is, of course, well-rewarded. Horne’s biography, on the other hand, can be zipped through in an evening or two, yet I believe it will greatly enhance the reader’s enjoyment of Tolkien’s works. I highly recommend this book.