By: Colin Duriez
Lion Publishing, 2012
Guest Review by: Alyssa Luff
Today there are more books written about J.R.R. Tolkien than by him. Yet, 76 years after the first publication of The Hobbit and 59 years after the print debut of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s audience grows, as does a curiosity about the author himself.
To the existing body of work on the famous author, Colin Duriez contributes J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of A Legend, a refreshing new biography for a burgeoning generation of Tolkien fans. Well-timed to answer a fresh wave of public interest in Tolkien, stimulated by the recent release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Duriez offers an accessible background sketch of the mastermind who created Middle Earth.
Duriez has written and spoken extensively on J.R.R. Tolkien. He has authored works such as Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, The Inklings Handbook, and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among numerous other books. Duriez has also addressed many literary and academic groups, and appeared as a commentator on the extended film versions of The Lord of the Rings.
In this biography, Duriez insightfully pieces together the invented world of Middle Earth as it probably coalesced in Tolkien’s imagination, inspired by life experiences. Examples range from a childhood spider bite that might have led to the invention of Shelob, to a family trek through the snow-capped Swiss Alps, the photos of which strangely resemble a Fellowship hiking party. The biographer traces events and details of Tolkien’s life, which the author likely wove into his masterpieces. As he guides the reader through the chronological events of Tolkien’s life, Duriez discusses correlating scenes from The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the lesser-known The Silmarillion, in tandem.
Despite the occasional awkwardly structured sentence, the smooth interweaving of biographical facts with episodes from Tolkien’s fiction makes this biography pleasantly readable. Brief summaries of the scenes from the books to which Duriez refers, make the account highly accessible to those new to Tolkien. The book, however, does not provide so much explanation that it feels tedious to a well-versed Tolkien fan. It is a pleasantly succinct and thorough, if not comprehensive, introductory biography of Tolkien for someone who finds themselves interested in Tolkien’s creative process and an illustration of how the author’s life informed his fiction.