The Real J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle-earth by Jesse Xander (Guest Review by Rosie Amber)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Love and Friendship. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting several days of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Real JRR Tolkien Book Cover

Official Summary

The Real JRR Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle Earth is a comprehensive biography of the linguist and writer; taking the reader from his formative years of home-schooling, through the spires of Oxford, to his romance with his wife-to-be on the brink of war, and onwards into his phenomenal academic success and his creation of the seminal high fantasy world of Middle Earth. “The Real JRR Tolkien” delves into his influences, places, friendships, triumphs and tragedies, with particular emphasis on how his remarkable life and loves forged the worlds of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Using contemporary sources and comprehensive research, “The Real JRR Tolkien” offers a unique insight into the life and times of one of Britain’s greatest authors, from cradle to grave to legacy. 


Jesse Xander believes that much of the success of Tolkien’s writing is because of its believability, which Xander suggests is due to the way Tolkien immersed himself totally in the worlds he created. Xander shows the author’s complexities, his beliefs and ideologies, giving his audience insight into the man behind the books. Secondly, Xander goes on to consider the inspirations for Middle-earth.

Tolkien said: “One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science, but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind.”

Xander has a passion for the world of Middle-earth, understanding how the communities, histories and languages of the inhabitants were considered on an anthropological scale. Once Xander saw the whole picture it was easier to fully appreciate Tolkien’s work.

The book begins with Tolkien’s early years: his birth in South Africa and the history behind the name John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. Xander suggests that the recurring theme of multiple names for Tolkien’s characters may have stemmed from the many different names that family and friends knew him by over the years. Xander discovered that Tolkien’s relatives, many of whom were lovers of storytelling, may have influenced his need to create fiction.

In 1896, Tolkien’s mother moved her family to the village of Sarehole; at an impressionable age, Tolkien is said to have found himself in the “heart of the English countryside.”

Jumping ahead to the summer before Tolkien went to Oxford University, his aunt took him and his younger brother on a trip to Europe, part of which involved trekking in Switzerland through mountains and valleys and a visit to the Aletsch Glacier. Some of the locations from this trip were some of the real places that inspired his work. There is also the suggestion that the all-male world of Oxford University may have been reflected in Tolkien’s works; as Xander said,  “Many of the women in Middle-earth are noted by their absence.”  A side discussion considers the following:

“Hobbit women appear either as deceased rebels, redeemable crones or love interests with barely anything documented about them.”

I was very interested in Tolkien’s background knowledge of ancient languages and dialects and how this evolved through his time in academia. While at Oxford, he was encouraged by one of his professors to study the Celtic languages; he began with ancient Welsh, and his love of languages became a part of his writing, for example the Elven script. I also liked how the author linked events and experiences with such detail from Tolkien’s writing, giving a clear picture of his influences.

There are a few black and white photographs to break up the writing, which were just enough to leave me with some images in my mind of the author. There is, however, much more in this book as it follows Tolkien’s life, family, friendships and his written works. I found the book interesting as previously I knew only the author’s name and very little else, while Xander offers some fascinating discussion topics which fans of Tolkien might like to consider.

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I was brought up in the beautiful Hampshire countryside. I started blogging to combine a love of reading with a desire to embrace social technology; since then it’s developed into a passion to introduce avid readers to new writers, and offer a platform for little-known talent. Visit Rosie Amber’s blog here.

12 thoughts on “The Real J.R.R. Tolkien: The Man Who Created Middle-earth by Jesse Xander (Guest Review by Rosie Amber)

  1. Rosie Amber says:

    Thank you so much for including my review as part of your Tolkien Reading Event, I hope that it inspires readers to pick up the book and add to their interest in the man behind the books.


  2. kamifurr says:

    I didn’t realize March 25 was a thing for Tolkien fans. Cool!

    This book sounds very interesting. I’ve always been fascinated with Tolkien’s life and how it relates to his work. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

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