J.R.R. Tolkien has arguably had a greater influence on contemporary culture and reading habits than any other twentieth century writer. Successful film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have only increased interest in his work. What sort of man was he, who so profoundly changed the sort of things we read and write? When The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien was in his early sixties; until then, he had led the outwardly unremarkable life of an Oxford don. Yet beneath the surface conventionality, his astonishing imaginative life, nourished by the rich sources of his professional interests, grew luxuriantly. This is the first Tolkien biography since Humphrey Carpenter's authorized life of 1977 to deal with the wealth of posthumously published material; it sets Tolkien's imaginative writing firmly in the context of his academic life, shows the great personal and professional difficulties he overcame to complete The Lord of the Rings and charts his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to complete the great cycle of legends that appeared, after his death, as The Silmarillion.
It also deals with Tolkien's role in the precipitous decline of his academic discipline, philology, as a university subject; and shows how, in one sense, his imaginative achievement is itself a triumphant vindication of his academic career. illustrations