To be honest, I’m not entirely certain how I feel about this book. I liked parts of it, but other sections seemed to drag along. Tolkien lost his father at a young age and his mother as well a number of years later. After that, his guardian was a catholic priest who told the boy that he needed to stop seeing the girl he was growing fond of when it became known that she wasn’t Catholic. Tolkien did seek her out again years later and they were able to resume their relationship once she agreed to join the Catholic church.
The book seems to skip around somewhat, often focusing on particular themes rather than following a straight timeline. Not much time is spent talking about Tolkien’s relationship with his wife or children. I would have liked to know more about all of them. At the end of the book, it talks about how no one ever doubted that Tolkien and his wife were in love, though I would have preferred to have been given examples of the two of them together rather than just being told how they felt about each other.
There also wasn’t much information about his relationship with his children. It was mentioned that one of them joined the priesthood, and that he had a daughter, but not much else was shared about those two. More was said of his son Christopher, who took over his father’s unfinished writing projects to see them through to completion after his father’s death. I really would have liked to know more about Tolkien’s family life.
A good deal of time was spent talking about the time J.R.R. Tolkien spent in the military during WW1. After finishing his studies, he trained as a signaler. This meant being able to use flags, pidgeons, or whatever else was necessary to ensure communications didn’t fail. Often that meant the use of runners to carry messages. Tolkien’s training as a signaler also allowed him to become familiar with mapmaking, a skill that would be useful when creating his middle-earth stories and the lands the people existed in.
The majority of this book revolved around the time Tolkien spent as a professor at Oxford, his association with the students and other writers, his work with languages, and the creation of the middle-earth mythos and tales. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this biography. Admittedly, Tolkien wanted people to focus on his writing rather than himself, but I feel like more could have been said. While it did contain a lot of information about his life, I still wanted to know more about those things that were not really talked about within these pages.