Since Tolkien’s fantasies are a big part of our home and homeschool, I was excited to read what a recognized expert had to say about him. In J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend, Colin Duriez has given us a thorough and upbeat biography of the man and his ideas. Tracing his life from the very beginning, the author shows how a poor orphan became a man who changed the world with his mythology of Middle-earth.
Tolkien had a difficult life in many respects: orphaned and very poor at a young age, separated from his beloved Edith by his guardian, scarred by World War 1, ill for many years afterwards…. However, rather than focusing on the trauma of these circumstances, Duriez treats them matter-of-factly and concentrates on the effects that Tolkien’s life, surroundings, studies, and colleagues had on his writing.
Both Tolkien’s life experiences and his intense, focused studies influenced the mythology of Middle-earth. Duriez shows how his childhood in South Africa, the woman he married, the places he lived, and the horrors of World War 1 all appeared in his writing—a house here, an event there, a way of seeing throughout. Of course, Tolkien’s deep knowledge of the structure of language, fine-tuned by working on the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as his knowledge of various languages and his love of northern history had an even deeper impact. Weaving together these various threads of his experience, Tolkien took great pains to ensure that Middle-earth and its history was in harmony with his Christian beliefs and described The Lord of the Rings as a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work”.
I had never before realized how much impact Tolkien’s colleagues had on his writing, both by influencing his thought and by direct encouragement. In his youth, fellow-students with whom he enjoyed deep discussions of life and literature enormously affected the way he saw the world. Later on, the influence of colleagues such as C.S. Lewis was much more than merely intellectual. In fact, their encouragement was vital for his writing and he read many chapters of the Lord of the Rings out loud to them. Although he was a very private man, such companionship and support seemed to have been essential for Tolkien both as an individual and as a writer.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend is full of personal details, references to his work, and discussions of his ideas. We highly recommend it. However, I am no expert on Tolkien and can only give my personal impressions. For more information, you might want to read this enthusiastic review by a knowledgeable Tolkien fan. This biography should be of special interest to classical homeschoolers since Tolkein spent most of his life involved in classical education, both as a student and a teacher.
Disclosure: This book has been provided by Kregel for the purpose of this review; the review represents my own honest opinions.