Does the world need yet another Tolkien biography?
There is already the excellent and ancient 1977 “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography”, and the newer 2012 “J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend” by Colin Duriez. Other biographies focus on special topics, like two excellent books by John Garth: “Tolkien at Exeter College” from 2014, and the better known “Tolkien and the Great War” from 2002. Adding to that a huge number of articles in publications by several Tolkien societies and in the academia (just search at researchgate).
Enter the author, Jesse Xander, an unknown face in the area of Tolkien research, obviously a huge fan of Tolkien’s work, and a studied biological anthropologist. A first-time biographer who wants to add valuable insights from the point of view of an anthropologist. Like taking a fresh, new look at gender and racism topics and class it to the context of British first half of the 20th century.
That seems to be Xander’s mission. He brought forward his view by interpreting the females in the work mostly derived from Tolkien’s mother and his wife. Adding to that the implicit racism with Dwarves taking the roles of Jews in Middle-Earth. Both topics are highly disputable, and the author failed by providing only one view to the discussion, just like an essay would do.
Here is the most important error with this book: it is just too short and shies away everywhere where it could provide valid insights, because the author is just too lazy to bring own material or dig deeper than just scratching on the surface. Nearly all of his citations are based on Carpenter’s and Duriez’s former biographies plus the Tolkien Letters. I can’t see where he added additional, new contributions to the field.
Rewriting and shortening two existing biographies could be fun, but the author failed utterly in that regard. The outcome is a dry course through Tolkien’s life, failing to link to his works at essential milestones. Can you rely on a Tolkien biography which mentions The Inklings only once?
If Carpenter’s biography is too old, Duriez’s 230 pages still too long, and you see this very short and totally new book in the shelves, then do yourself a favor and just read through the wikipedia entry. Because the world needs a new view on the famous author, but not this one.
Meta: isbn 9781526765154. Published at 28.2.2021 by Pen&Sword.