The best thing that can be said about Brown’s biography of Tolkien is also the worst: it is very short. 192 pages (in paperback) isn’t much room to tell the story of anyone’s life, let alone Tolkien’s. Brown’s biography was the first book on Tolkien—other than Tom Shippey’s masterful Author of the Century—I had picked up in many years, but Brown doesn’t seem to cover any new ground.
If you are looking for a quick read, especially as an introduction, Brown’s book may be worth picking up. But it is exceeded by Shippey’s Author of the Century; Loconte’s A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War; and the Zaleskis’ The Fellowship and doesn’t add anything new that those books don’t cover.
As is to be expected of a book from a Christian publisher, Brown gives ample attention to Tolkien’s faith, but attention to Tolkien’s faith is hardly novel. I did find the discussion of the trouble his mother’s conversion (and his along with her) to Catholicism interesting; it’s the sort of thing it’s easy for a modern American to discount. His friendship with C.S. Lewis is another expected focus, but despite the relative attention it gets the length of the book demands that it come off as cursory nonetheless. Tolkien’s crooked road to academia—he was initially a poor student because he spent all his time on Germanic languages rather than the Classics he originally majored in—is another highlight; his actual career in academia is barely mentioned. All in all, I enjoyed it and I’m glad I read it, but if you’re a hardcore Tolkien fan don’t expect much, if anything, new.
3 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary e-copy of Tolkien via NetGalley.
You can find all of my Tolkien 101 posts here.