I just finished an excellent short biography by Wyatt North on Tolkien. North seems to be very fond of biography, having written about the lives of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis, Mother Theresa, and St. Theresa of Lisieux. He also has written an expansive history on the papacy from its origins to the present pope. If these works are anything like his work on Tolkien, they are well worth the Kindle price of three dollars.
North sets out to give an overview of Tolkien’s literary and scholarly career in J. R. R. Tolkien: A Life Inspired. He accomplishes this perfectly, and one can boast of familiarity with the subject once one has finished the book and being well prepared for more in-depth biographies and treatises. I myself feel more motivated to read Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War, which talks about how WWI influenced both Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
Though the work is short enough to read in one or two sittings (the latter was true for me), the work includes plenty of details even for those well-versed in Tolkien’s life. For example, I have not heard until reading this book that Tolkien’s hatred for technology was such that he compared his son, Christopher Tolkien, joining the RAF to a hobbit learning to ride a Nazgul to defend the Shire! But, North portrays the place of Tolkien’s wife and children in his life better than I have seen elsewhere. One neat detail is that Tolkien loved the name “Reuel” ( meaning “Friend of God” inn Hebrew) so much that each of his four children’s names include it.
So, should you read North’s biography of Tolkien? Yes, unless you already have three detailed biographies under your belt. It is refreshing for the intermediate and very valuable for the beginner.