J. R. R. Tolkien | Mark Horne

J. R. R. Tolkien’s fame seems strangely limitless. His limited published output of only one children’s book, one three-part adult book, and a few scholarly works during his lifetime only add to the curiosity of his world-wide appeal. That is, at least, until you sit down and read The Lord of the Rings. Then it all makes sense.

Mark Horne has written a slender little book on Tolkien for Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series of biographies. This isn’t a book of original research on the man; it’s more a summary and overview of the work of other biographers such as Humphrey Carpenter and Leslie Ellen Jones. That’s not a criticism. If you’re looking to get a bit of a handle on this legend in a short amount of time, this is an excellent biography.

Horne explains what made Tolkien the man he was with clarity and incisiveness. Tolkien’s early love for languages, his forbidden relationship with his future wife, and his struggle with losing friends in the great war mark his early years. As life moved along, his struggle to support his family coincided with his perfectionism and his inability to ever consider his work finished (this explains why The Silmarillion was never published in his own lifetime). His friendship with C. S. Lewis which degenerated over time is also telling.

I was most pleased by Horne’s account of Tolkien’s Christianity. Christianity was a way of life for Tolkien—it was more the substructure of his life than a passion. Horne doesn’t try (in a “Christian Encounters” book) to turn Tolkien into someone he’s not, or read Christianity into his works. He simply reveals Tolken for the man he was: a brilliant perfectionist who lived and loved like the rest of us.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free as a member of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program.

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