Why I Read It: I've been a fan of Hobbits for three decades.
Summary: A biography of the master.
My Thoughts: Tolkien himself seems to have been quite an interesting character, somewhat stereotypical of the post-Victorian British society learned types, yet somehow deeply intriguing in his ability to lose himself in his own mind in a rigid world shaped by the harshness of two world wars.
I've read the classic Tolkien biography, by Humphrey Carpenter, and remember it as quite enlightening itself. I wondered what could be new with Duriez' assault on the topic. What I found was that it certainly fit the way that my mind works.
Duriez pieces together the life of the author and academic much in the way that others before him have, but expands his research, or his presentation of that research, to include the physical world that shaped Tolkien's mind. Throughout the book, references are made to the places on which Tolkien patterned his mythical landscapes, and the landmarks of his life. The photographs in the book are of those places - of the inspiration for the Two Towers, of the apartments and other homes in which he lived, and more. The book, more so than any other I've read on the master, gives us Tolkien historicity. We could almost design a Tolkien driving tour of England, to revisit the places that remain - and even those that don't - as inspiration highlights.
This book, more than others, also leads one to believe that Tolkien's life was one of fellowships. Although the direct connection is not so written, the fact is that from the T.C.B.S. to the Coalbiters to the Inklings, Tolkien surrounded himself with friends of differing strengths, and believed in the power of such fellowships. His first group, the T.C.B.S, even pledged to change the world for good, and then lost two of its four members in the First World War. Those dark days definitely shaped the future of Tolkien's writing career.
Duriez brings us a little different focus on the life of Tolkien, allowing us to see a little deeper into the mind of the master storyteller, and to appreciate his work just that much more.