Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review for J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne is the second delightful book I've read in the Christian Encounters series published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Horne gives a highly readable and interesting account of one of the most important authors of the twentieth century: J.R.R. Tolkien.

Combining a chronology of the events of Tolkien's life with his writing endeavors plus his relationships with friends, Horne weaves a colorful tapestry of an author whose books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have impacted many readers, not only fantasy readers but those of us who love folk lore and fairy tales.

Horne describes Tolkien's impeccable attention to detail; how he not only wrote these epic fantasy sagas but also spent years writing chronologies, family trees and whole generations of sagas to give a legend to each of the characters in his Rings books.

Tolkien was fascinated with Norse and Icelandic mythology and his own world of Rings, Elves and Hobbits were inspired by these ancient sagas. While at school and later as professor of literary languages at Oxford, he formed literary groups such as the Kolbitars (coal biters) and later, the Inklings (whose membership also included C.S. Lewis) where the members learned Old Norse and other medieval Germanic languages and read folk lore and mythologies from Norway and Iceland out loud to each other in the original languages.

His relationship with his wife is an interesting and romantic one. They fell in love as teenagers and were devoted to each other for their entire lives, which were long. His own upbringing was hard in that his parents died while he was still a child. His conversion to Catholicism is largely due to his extended family rejecting him and being raised and cared for by a Catholic priest.

Horne includes an interesting caveat by listing the high percentage of famous creative people in the area of fine arts who lost one or more parents due to death or abandonment while they were still young.

Another interesting aspect is Tolkien's relationship with C.S. Lewis. Lewis was an atheist when they first met and Horne relates details of their friendship that I was not aware of that was instrumental in leading Lewis to Christianity as well as additional information that reveals how human their friendship was.

Like other friendships there were conflicts. For instance Tolkien seemed to get promoted in the University at each opportunity that arose while C.S. Lewis was repeatedly passed over for professorships (which finally led him to taking an appointment at Cambridge).  On the other hand, Lewis wrote far more rapidly and his works were received and published with greater enthusiasm and alacrity than Tolkien's originally were.

Another interesting note is that while Lewis was a devoted and enthusiastic supporter of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and did what he could to promote the books, Tolkien did not care for Lewis' use of Greek mythological characters in his Narnia Chronicles.

These conflicts led to a gradual falling apart of their friendship that Tolkien later came to regret at Lewis' untimely death.

Tolkien ended his years devoted to caring for his wife, so much so that he never finished his book of chronological backgrounds and sagas of his Ring characters. This book, The Simarillian was later edited and put into book form by his son, Christopher.

Tolkien finally succumbed to a bleeding ulcer a couple of years after his wife's death. On their tombstones, according to his instructions, the names “Beren” (on his) and “Luthien” (on hers) are engraved.
In short, I highly recommend this book (and all the biographies in this book series).

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson book publishers in exchange for my honest review.   
If you buy these books please do so through the links provided so I may receive a percentage.  Thanks!!


  1. That last part made me sad. What a waste and a shame. However fantastic review!

  2. Travelwade: I suppose you mean about Tolkien's friendship with Lewis. Well, they're together again, now. There's really a lot more to the book but you can only write so much. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Sounds like a fantastic book! Unfortunately, I have only read the Hobbit by Tolkein; call me crazy, but I have yet to read LOTR! So after I do read those books, I would give this one a try too :)

  4. Priya: I actually took a while to read LOTR because I didn't think they would be my cup of tea. When I finally read them it was a "How long have these books been around and I didn't know about them?" response. Hope one day you'll get to read them too!

  5. Hi Shannon... thanks for visiting my blog, and i hope you don't think i was being rude in any way to the authors in my review, i stated that... About the writing stuff, i think that ship sailed a long time ago, i don't think Tabitha Swoonk is ever going to write. but if someone decides to compile my blogposts and publish, then no problem. now following you, thanks again for stopping by.

  6. AWN: I didn't think you were being rude. I thought you were being honest. You should read some of my blog posts reviews. I can be pretty blunt myself.
    You should compile your blog posts into book form.
    Thanks for visiting and following back.

  7. Hi Sharon-
    Stopping by your blog! Signed up to follow. What an interesting review. Like Priya, I have read The Hobbit, but no tthe LOTR series- I started it, but could not get into it. Maybe I will try it again in the future. I read all the Narnia books though- so I learned a lot from your review.

    Jess (

  8. Jess: Thanks for visiting. I think different books have their season. There are books that enthralled me in one decade of my life that I can't get in to now and others I didn't care for before that I just love.
    It may be at a different time in your life the LOTR books will resonate with you.
    Have a great weekend!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.