Understanding Tolkien: Recommended Resources
Books on the man
The standard Tolkien biography is Humphrey Carpenter's authorized Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin, 1977). Both this book and Carpenter's The Inklings (George Allen & Unwin, 1978) provide intimate, detailed portraits of Tolkien and his circle, liberally sprinkled with unexpected insights. A recent biography that explores Tolkien's faith and its impact on his work is Joseph Pearce, Tolkien: Man and Myth (Ignatius: 1998).
For a warm portrait of the man and his work, see Clyde Kilby, Tolkien and the Silmarillion (Harold Shaw, 1976). It is in part a record of Kilby's attempt to assist Tolkien in finishing The Silmarillion, but its lasting value lies in the many interesting personal and professional details it provides about Tolkien, as Kilby gently relates in anecdotal detail the Oxford author's working habits, his convictions, and his foibles.
In The Tolkien Family Album (Houghton Mifflin, 1992), an easily accessible "photo-biography," John and Priscilla Tolkien chronicle memories of their father. Containing many rare pictures of Tolkien, his family, and the places they lived over the years, along with affectionate reminiscences illuminating his life and times, the book is a treat for fans.
Books on his books
An invaluable reference work covering every aspect of Tolkien's imaginative world is Colin Duriez, The J. R. R. Tolkien Handbook (Baker, 1992). This also contains a valuable short bibliography of books by and about Tolkien.
Professor Tom Shippey has produced an outstanding literary analysis of Tolkien's work in J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). Shippey's grasp of Nordic and Celtic myth makes for some penetrating insights into how Tolkien constructed Middle-earth. Readers will ...