|Subject||Biography, Literary criticism|
|Media type||Paperback and Hardcover|
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century is a work of literary criticism written by Tom Shippey. It is about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. In it, Shippey argues for the relevance of Tolkien today and attempts to firmly establish Tolkien's literary merits.
Shippey begins with a chapter-length "Foreword", introducing the fantasy genre, Tolkien's life, and the "Author of the Century" claim. He notes Tolkien's high ratings in the polls, and his effective creation of a new genre.
On The Hobbit, Shippey tells how Tolkien came to start to write; its connection to his First World War experience; the possible origins of the word hobbit, and its parallels with "rabbit"; Bilbo's riddle-contest with Gollum; its links with Old English and Norse literature; and the Ring.
The Lord of the Rings is analysed in three central chapters. These show how subtly it is constructed, based especially on maps and languages, and the conception of evil that it embodies, a tension between the Boethian view (the absence of good) and the Manichean (a powerful force opposing good). Finally it examines the question of allegory (something Tolkien denied) versus applicability, and the mythic dimension of the work, with its deep - not instantly obvious - connection to Christianity, indeed to Roman Catholicism, to ancient myth, and to modern life, most evident in the chapter The Scouring of the Shire.
The chapter on The Silmarillion is subtitled "the work of his heart". Shippey explains the book's long gestation from his 'Story of Kullervo' in 1913. He describes Tolkien's purpose and approach in seeking to create a mythology for England.
On the shorter works, Shippey concedes that many would have been forgotten, but for the popularity of his Middle-earth books. The works include both prose and poetry; he considers Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major to be autobiographical allegories, full of allusions to Tolkien's own life.
The book concludes with an "Afterword" (a whole chapter) repudiating the "intense critical hostility" by the literary establishment in the 20th century. Shippey notes that no "modern writer of fantasy has managed to escape the mark of Tolkien".
The book was first published in hardback in 2000 by HarperCollins in London and Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Both publishers brought out paperback editions in 2001. A Spanish edition was published by Minotauro in Barcelona in 2003. A Polish edition was produced by Zysk i S-ka Wydawnictwo in Poznań in 2004.
The Tolkien scholar Patrick Curry, in The Independent, wrote that Shippey succeeds brilliantly in rebutting Tolkien's critics and demonstrating that Tolkien's Middle-earth writings are "based on deep learning and a set of values that represent a challenge to [the literati's] authority".
Martin Morse Wooster, for The American Enterprise, wrote that "Shippey is a crisp, forceful, and intelligent writer who has produced a highly readable appreciation of Tolkien's life and art."
Publishers Weekly called the book "a wonderfully readable study aimed at not just the Tolkien fan but any literate person curious about this fantasy author's extraordinary popularity". It described the work as building an "impressive, low-key case" for Tolkien's merit, and called the account "as learned as it is free of academic jargon".
Charles Moseley, in The Observer, wrote that Shippey's choice of title is a "sly echo" of Germaine Greer's critical remark that "It has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the century". He called the book witty and combative, but also illuminating "especially on The Silmarillion".
- The Road to Middle-earth, an earlier book by Shippey about Tolkien, revised and extended in later editions
- "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century" (Press release). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Retrieved 2009-12-27.
- Shippey 2001, Afterword.
- "'J.R.R. Tolkien : Author of the Century'". WorldCat. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
- Curry, Patrick (8 September 2000). "Lord of the Ratings - and with very good reason". The Independent. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
- Wooster, Martin Morse (2002). "J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. (BookTalk: the master of middle-earth)". The American Enterprise. 13 (1): 54.
- "Nonfiction Book Review: J.R.R. TOLKIEN: Author of the Century". Publishers Weekly. 7 May 2001. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
- Moseley, Charles (7 October 2000). "A Creature of Hobbit". The Observer. Retrieved 26 September 2020.