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Although, I have been a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for years, I knew very little about the author behind these magical works. More has been written about J.R.R. Tolkien than by him. He has been studied by scholars and critics for generations. Tolkien is enigmatic and complex, as is his work. For those reasons and a myriad of others, I was so pleased to be introduced to this Tolkien biography by Colin Duriez. In the forward, Doriez writes, “Though my book is not intended for scholars but for ordinary readers wishing to explore the life of Tolkien and how it relates to the stories of Middle-earth, the wisdom from those (other authors) I’ve mentioned, and many others, is a necessary background (p. 9-10).”
With even a most tertiary look into the background of Colin Duriez, it becomes quite clear that as an academic, a professor, and a writer, he has made it his life’s work to study the works of Tolkien. He appears to have read nearly every work ever written by or about Tolkien, which made it all the more remarkable that he was able to condense his intensive years of study into a book for the ordinary reader.
In J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend, Duriez focuses on the lonely, orphaned boy who was fascinated with languages and fantasy. Though not antisocial by any means, he definitely lived an active life inside his head. In Duriez’s book, the reader also learns of the horrible losses and emotional toil that he endured as a soldier in WWI. His marriage to his first love, after years of separation, is endearing as is his love for his children. Despite his devotion to academia, he was a family man at heart. The land of Middle-Earth, as it turns out, is a land that Tolkien had invented early in his youth, and it was his love of languages and study of them (philology), that lead him to create this enchanted world. He shared the stories with his children and eventually developed a manuscript that he shared with his good friend and colleague, C.S.Lewis. Lewis said, “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do (p. 54).
Lewis quickly became one of Tolkien’s biggest fans and encouraged him to publish his work. Like generations of fans afterward, Lewis fell in love with the Hobbit of Middle Earth and the stories that followed. It may have been Tolkien’s love of languages that led him to write these epic novels, but for most readers, it is the characters, the fantasy, the heroism, the friendships and the story itself that capture the imagination.
For an introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien, a fascinating man who led an extraordinary life both inside and outside of his head, I highly recommend this book. If you are already a Tolkien scholar, you probably won’t gain much from this particular biography. For the average reader, however, it is perfect!
In compliance with FTC guidelines, please note that I received a free review copy from Kregel Blog Tours in return for an honest review.