Thursday, 29 January 2015

Review: 'Tolkien' by Devin Brown

It is no secret that I am a massive Tolkien fan. He has inspired thousands of people and his work is one that connects generations. A lot has been written about this man and his life, at varying academic levels. Devin Brown now adds his own, pleasant work to the mix.
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.
What Devin Brown has done in Tolkien is create a story about Tolkien rather than a biography. His book reads a little bit like a fairy tale, rather than a year by year account of Tolkien's whereabouts. What this means is that rather than go into masses of detail and thereby crowding the reader, Brown focuses on those moments in Tolkien's life which were crucial and formative.  I found the chapters on Tolkien's time especially interesting because Brown found a way to make this philological genius sounds like every other student I know, myself included. Whereas many biographies idolize Tolkien (as he admittedly deserves to be) and thereby distance him, Brown brings him close and humanizes him.

For someone like myself who already knows quite a lot about J.R.R. Tolkien (because I'm a nerd), Tolkien doesn't hold a lot of surprises. He touches upon everything without claiming to in any way be the ultimate source on Tolkien. But Brown's style means that even the familiar information is fascinating to read. There were tidbits and facts as well which were completely new and added to my knowledge of who Tolkien was. I now feel like I know more about Tolkien as a person rather than him as a professor or author. However, there were times in the book at which I would have liked Brown to have been a bit more detailed. Some people just seem to disappear from Tolkien's life, most notably his wife, until she becomes "relevant" again. Although I understand why, for the sake of style and simplicity, the detail didn't become enormous, some extra depth here and there would have been great.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I did enjoy Tolkien, mainly because of the style in which Brown wrote. It is, in some ways, a great introductory biography of Tolkien. However, for those looking for an in-depth account on Tolkien and his work, I'd recommend looking towards good old Shippey. 


  1. I'm yet to read a Tolkien biography, so this might be a good starter book! Thanks for the review, you got me interested :)

    1. This will definitely be a good starter! :) Thanks for the kind comment!

  2. It's tough to find great things to read when you already know a lot about a person. I'm glad this writer gave the biography a new spin, though!