Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote the Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century by Devin Brown

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 24, 2014

J.R.R. Tolkien transformed his love for arcane linguistic studies into a fantastic world of Middle Earth, a world filled with characters that readers the world over have loved and learned from for generations. Devin Brown focuses on the story behind how Tolkien became one of the best-known writers in the history of literature, a tale as fascinating and as inspiring as any of the fictional ones he would go on to write. Weaving in the major aspects of the author's life, career, and faith, Brown shares how Tolkien's beloved works came to be written. With a third follow-up film and the book's release the same month, there's a large interest in the faith values for these works. This book addresses that deep hunger to know what fuels the world and worldview of The Hobbit's celebrated author, Tolkien.

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Picking of Devin Brown's Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote the Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century was a self-indulgent decision. I've loved Tolkien's work since I discovered it in high school and though I know a lot about him, I've never read a biography and was curious to see his life presented in a single volume.

To get straight to the point, I liked this book. It is a quick read and rather entertaining for what it is. Brown's voice comes through very distinctly and while I think the tone somewhat bias, his views don't detract from or overwhelm the material. 

Not having experienced Shippey or Carpenter's larger biographies, I can only speculate on how Brown's effort compares, but I can say this particular volume is very brief and perhaps best suited to those looking at Tolkien for the first time. I feel the information comprehensive, but cursory and can't help feeling there is room to elaborate further than Brown did here. 

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Rather than being an escape from reality, this special kind of story provided  freedom from a narrow and distorted view of existence. Through fairy-stories, Tolkien maintained, we can recover a proper wonder for the real world. By putting ideas he had  long held into a written form as he was preparing the lecture, Tolkien found justification and encouragement for the long process still to come in writing The Lord of the Rings.
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