Daniel Grotta,
J.R.R. Tolkien:
Architect of Middle Earth

(Running Press, 1976; 1992)

J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth is a book about the man, rather than his writings. The story, as told by biographer Daniel Grotta, follows Tolkien from his early childhood and his forbidden love. His life at Oxford follows, as Tolkien created Elvish and demonstrated a surprising sense of humor in his staid academic surroundings. He became a lieutenant during World War I, joining the Lancashire Fusiliers. While recovering from trench fever in a hospital, he began to write The Silmarillion. Then, with his wife and young son, he moved back to Oxford where he received a master of arts degree and helped to revise the Oxford English Dictionary and Sir Gawain & the Green Knight.

In the spring of 1925, Tolkien became a professor of Anglo-Saxon. In an attempt to modernize myth, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. It was published in 1937 to excellent reviews but moderate sales. The biography continues, analyzing Tolkien's later life and his writing The Lord of the Rings.

The book includes many pages of reference notes and even further readings. The biography is clear and straightforward, but focuses on Tolkien's life first and his writings second. Still, there are many fascinating anecdotes and parallels between Tolkien's life and his writing. Throughout the biography, Grotta connects events in Tolkien's life with The Lord of the Rings, showing the inspiration for Tolkien's ideas.

The writing style is detailed-packed, yet well-measured and interesting. Tolkien fans will find this book a useful explanation of the great fantasy writer's life. Grotta includes few speculations or explanations, choosing to focus on the facts of Tolkien and the events that inspired his marvelous books. It's a straightforward and informative read.

- Rambles
written by Valerie Frankel
published 21 December 2002

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