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Myth Maker: J. R. R. Tolkien

Myth Maker: J. R. R. Tolkien

5.0 3
by Anne E. Neimark, Greg Newbold (Illustrator)

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As a boy, he created original languages in his spare time. As a man, he created an original world. But imaginative as he was, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien never dreamed that his tales of Middle-earth would transform so many millions of lives.


As a boy, he created original languages in his spare time. As a man, he created an original world. But imaginative as he was, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien never dreamed that his tales of Middle-earth would transform so many millions of lives.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Jamie S. Hansen
Tolkien created the world of Middle-Earth and peopled it with hobbits, orcs, elves, dragons, dwarves, and wizards. Although his characters-Frodo, Samwise, Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf-have become part of our culture, his own life and personality are less well known. This biography is intended to introduce this gentle scholar and writer to young readers. Neimark's description of Tolkien's early life, marked by the death of his father and then his mother, is touching, although overwritten. She reveals the influence on his life by his guardian, Father Francis Morgan, who nearly lost him the young woman he loved, in a misdirected effort to encourage the young man's scholarly career. Neimark also shows how the experiences of two world wars shaped Tolkien's vision of Middle-Earth and of the heroism of the little man. The last section of the book deals with happier later years that brought recognition, both as a scholar and as a fantasy novelist. To make her subject more appealing to her intended audience, Neimark includes intriguing anecdotes such as the near-rejection of The Lord of the Rings (Houghton Mifflin, 1967), the writing of the famous first line of The Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin, 1938, rev. 1966) on the blank page of a student's exam, and the origin of Tolkien's hatred of spiders. Without a list of sources, however, the reader may question the veracity of her information. The use of dialogue in a biography, however well-intentioned, also prompts questions of accuracy. This reviewer questions the age level eight to twelve as suggested by the publisher. Surely Tolkien's works, with the possible exception of The Hobbit, are normally read by teenagers, most of whom would avoid this book as too juvenile. The typeface, layout, and general appearance seem to aim the book toward the reluctant reader, few of whom would find the biography of an Oxford professor and philologer relevant, or manage reading Tolkien's own works. Neimark is generally a competent writer, although her enthusiasm for her subject sometimes causes her to gush overmuch about Tolkien's achievements and influence. Brad Weinman's black-and-white drawings alternate between boringly static and downright troubling. The sketch of a figure in a clerical collar tearing apart a patched-together heart is particularly unpleasant. J. R. R. Tolkien is an unlikely subject for a juvenile biography. Any young adult who tackles The Lord of the Rings will rightly refuse to read this curious work. Illus. Biblio. Appendix VOYA Codes: 2Q 2P M (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6This serviceable biography gives a straightforward introduction to the life of the man who created the world of The Hobbit. Although brief, the book covers pertinent events. Tolkien spent the first few years of his life in South Africa, where his father worked for the Bank of Africa. When he was three, Tolkien, or Ronald, as he was called, went to England with his mother and brother for what was supposed to be a visit. While they were away, Tolkien's father died, leaving his wife nearly destitute. Five years later, she died. Tolkien was eventually sent to live in a boarding house for orphans, where he met his future wife. After a brief teaching post at Leeds University, he taught at Oxford for the rest of his career. Because Tolkien's life lacked the drama of a Fitzgerald or a Hemingway, this biography often seems slow moving. It does, however, give some interesting insight into the power Tolkien's work has had on people over the years, and gives addresses of Tolkien groups operating both in the U. S. and Great Britain. Libraries that have David R. Collins's J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Fantasy (Lerner, 1992) may want to pass on this one, since the books are similar in scope and content. Otherwise, buy as demand suggests.Melissa Hudak, North Suburban District Library, Roscoe, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of the author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit that devotes equal time to all periods of his life. Tolkien lost both parents by the time he was 12; at 17 he found the love of his life, but his guardian forced him to give her up for three years. Following his schooling, they were reunited, and he convinced her to marry him, a relationship that lasted more than half a century. As a scholar, Tolkien broke ground in the fields of language, literature, and philology. Fans will be heartened to see his life's passion—inventing languages and worlds—succeed in the form of The Hobbit. The Rings trilogy was rejected at first by publishers, so the story of its success is even more sweet.

Neimark offers no clues as to her sources for information, so that credible situations include dialogue that—barring information to the contrary—seems invented. Tolkien's fans will find this to be a serviceable look at his life, no more.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.28(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.40(d)
1090L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The tall grass of the desert farm in Bloemfonlein, Africa, almost hid him from view. His nurse screamed his name, her voice chasing him, but he kept running from her — a pale three-year-old child in a white blouse and shorts.

He loved the prickle of wild grass against his face and the bright clusters of flowers. Stopping to bend down, he yanked off his shoes and socks. "Ronald!" his nurse shouted, but she was still far behind him, her dark face wet from the sun.

He ran with bare feet pummeling the dry earth, stalks of grass bending and cracking near their roots. Now he could see the camelthorn tree on the hill! Once, his father had taken him to this nearby farm, lifting him onto a limb of the tree. He'd wrapped his legs around the warm, scratchy bark. "We don't have many trees in South Africa's desert," his father had said. "Thats why I like planting them at home."

A fiery pain stabbed through Ronald's foot. Gasping, he toppled sideways onto the ground, his small arms flailing against his shorts. "No!" he blurted out, his eyes filling with tears. Something was darting -away over the dirt — a black, furry thing with crooked legs, fearless as the snakes with tongues that slid across his parents' garden.

Before long, his nurse Was upon him, dropping to her knees. Scooping him into her lap, she saw the huge spider waiting slyly atop a bush. "Tarantula!" she shrieked, babbling in both English and Afrikaans. 'John Ronald Reuel Tolkien! You shouldn't have run off."

The nurse put Ronald on his back under the scorching sun. His leg waslifted upward, his wounded foot grabbed and pulled toward the bright red of her mouth. Moaning and cooing, she sucked the spider venom from the swelling beneath his toes. Wincing, Ronald tilted his head so that he could glimpse the base of the camelthorn tree. "Take me to the tree," he said. "I can climb it!"

"I'm taking you home, Master Tolkien! You can rest on-the, balcony upstairs and look at the trees your father planted."

Carrying him like a large sack of corn, his socks and shoes bulging from her pockets, the woman awkwardly loped away from the farmland and hurried down a road near her native kraal or village. Ronald's foot stung even more as it touched the starched pleats of her apron; cringing, he imagined spiders crawling out of her hair. At Bloemfontein's market square, not far from his home, he saw houseboys on their daily errands. .May I have an apple?" he asked, his voice trembling, but his. nurse bypassed the stalls and ran over the steps of the Raadzaal, Bloemfontein's most important government building.

"Mrs. Tolkien! Mrs, Tolkien!" the nurse called in singsong cadence when, a few moments later, she dashed with Ronald into the Tolkien house. "A. tarantula- bit your son!"

Mabel Tolkien hurried from the kitchen, her long skirt hoisted above her ankles, her face drawn from the day's excruciating heat. Seeing the crimson welt on the bottom of Ronalds foot, she took him from the nurse's shoulders. "Africa's playground," she whispered sadly to herself, then asked Isaak, the: houseboy, for calamine lotion and bandages from. the cupboard.

Ronalds foot was swabbed with pink lotion and covered with gauze. "It was a spider as big as a dragon!" he told his mother. He asked to sit on -the balcony with, his favorite book of fairy tales, the one with pictures of fire-breathing dragons and goblins, but his mother only reluctantly agreed. Always, she fretted over his health, finding him -too thin and frail in the relentless sun.

From the balcony chair, Ronald opened the book he could not yet read caught up by an etching of an armored knight on horseback whose sword menaced a two-headed dragon. Below, in the Tolkien garden, trees planted by Ronald's father — cypresses, firs, and cedars-rustled as if the brave knight had just ridden past them. Ronald stood up, putting his weight squarely on both feet, defiant against the soreness under the gauze. Perhaps, he thought, he was crushing spiders with his feet and might himself, be a brave knight. He decided he would ask Isaak, the houseboy — not his -nurse, who always said "No," or his mother, who often looked sad — to take him back to the desert farm in the morning so that, even with his bandaged tarantula bite, he might finally climb the, camelthorntree.

Ronald had been, from the start, an observant child, quick to mark details around him — the shop signs along Maitland Street, the gray blue of the Indian Ocean where he once was bathed, the wilting boughs of the eucalyptus tree at his first Christmas. Brought to his father's bank office, -he would find pencils and paper and make simple drawings of what he'd seen. He drew the locusts that had descended on the dry grassland and destroyed the harvests. He drew the ox wagons that carried bales of wool into the market square, and the white two-story house where he lived with his parents, Arthur and Mabel Tolkien, and his one-year-old brother, Hilary.

Born and raised in England, his parents had moved to Africa to begin their marriage. At Lloyds Bank in Birmingham, England, his father's salary had been too small to support a family-, he'd gone to Bloemfontein when offered a better job by the Bank of Africa. His mother-homesick before shed even left Englands shores-had followed in April 1891, her steamer trunk full of Birmingham -mementos.

On an April day, weeks after he was bitten by the tarantula, Ronald climbed onto the family steamer trunk in the parlor, touching its dented comers and polished lid. His mother had been packing the trunk with clothes; shed told him that he and Hilary would be traveling with her to visit relatives in faraway England. "You'll be much cooler while were away," his mother said, "and you'll grow fatter...

Meet the Author

Diana Wynne Jones was raised in the village of Thaxted, in Essex, England. She has been a compulsive storyteller for as long as she can remember enjoying most ardently those tales dealing with witches, hobgoblins, and the like. Ms. Jones lives in Bristol, England, with her husband, a professor of English at Bristol University. They have three sons and two granddaughters.

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