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


I have long been a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy but knew very little about the man behind them so a huge thank you to Abingdon Press for sending me a copy of this novella to read in exchange for an honest review.

What the blurb says:

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.

This is an absolute gem of a book for any Tolkien fans out there. It is an easy read – by that I mean it isn’t in the least dry and boring, as books about ‘great’ people often can be. It is paced well, with interesting insights into the past as well as fascinating facts and figures.

For example, I knew these books were popular, but I had no idea just how popular: ‘Current estimates put sales of The Lord of the Rings at well over 150 million copies and sales of The Hobbit at well over 100 million’. I mean WOW!

Did you know that hobbit and orc have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary? No, neither did I! A particularly poignant fact when you consider that Tolkien himself spent some time working as a lexicographer for the OED.

We learn that had it not been for a ten year old boy Rayner, whose father founded the firm Allen and Unwin, The Hobbit may never have been published (and by extension, neither would The Lord of the Rings). Rayner was asked to report on the manuscript by his father, and was paid a shilling for his trouble. Thank goodness he liked it!

Devin Brown takes us back in time, all the way to when John Ronald Reuel Tolkien came into the world on January 3rd 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State, the former colony we now know as South Africa. We learn about his parents, his siblings, his faith, his schooling, his one great love, Edith Bratt, his own children, his career path and his friends, especially that of another famous writer Lewis Carroll, without whose encouragement there is unlikely to have been The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien would write of the “unpayable debt” he owed to him for his encouragement: ‘”He was for long my only audience,” Tolkien explained. “Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby”’.

We learn about the tragic death of his father very early on his life and of how ‘fatherless characters and foster fathers would appear in key roles’ in his fiction. His early life in Sarehole is explored and compared to The Shire: ‘”I could draw you a map of every inch of it”, he added. “It was a kind of paradise”’.

His great love of languages and his inspiration for creating his own is touched on, as his experience of the First World War: ‘”One didn’t expect to survive, you know,” Tolkien would tell an interviewer… “Parting from my wife then – we were only just married – it was life a death”’.

This book takes a fascinating look into every aspect of the life of this great man. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

‘Tolkien set out to demonstrate that rather than being frivolous and suited only for children, fairy tales were, and always had been, worthy of serious attention… Rather than being an escape from reality, this special kind of story provided freedom from a narrow and distorted view of existence’.

The book is available on kindle now: Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century

And as a ‘proper book!’ Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote the Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century

If for any reason you haven’t read these amazing books, why not? The Hobbit is only £3.32 on kindle at the moment: The Hobbit

And the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy is only £12.92: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King


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