Book Reviews: The Real JRR Tolkien by Jesse Xander and Stan Lee: how Marvel Changed the World by Adrian Mackinder

I asked to review both of these books as they are subjects I am very interested in.  JRR Tolkien and Stan Lee must be two of the most influential people in popular culture.  Their works have far-reaching influence and few people can say they have not heard of them or some element of their work.  I have not paid for these books and I have not been paid to write these reviews.  My words and opinions are as ever my own.

I have been a reader of Tolkien's works since The Hobbit was read to me at junior school way, way back when.  I loved The Hobbit and as is still my habit when I get interested in something I need to know more and read all I can find.  So I have quite a collection of Tolkien's works including 'Tree and Leaf', The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham.  Of course I have The Hobbit and The Lords of the Rings and several other books.  Tolkien's works are full of the nature and plants and are journeys through and with nature; (yes even the trees walk).  These have all had their impact on me and my love of nature and gardening.  I started writing a biography of Tolkien when I was around 12 years old.  I cannot remember if I finished it, or indeed if I still have it.  If I do it is in the attic somewhere and now I really want to go and hunt it out. Thankfully Jesse Xander completed their biography, for which I am grateful.  

Jesse writes the history of Tolkien's family, from his parents marriage in South Africa, to his own marriage, academic and writing career.  All have been interwoven with insights and analysis of his writing.  The chapter on Tolkien's declared dislike of anti-antisemitism yet ambiguous portrayal of dwarves is an interesting read that does not shirk this discussion.  Similarly Jesse tackles the question as to whether Tolkien and/or his writing is racist.  This is an uncompromising book tackling several complex areas in Tolkien's life and works.

The chapter on Tolkien's legacy: looking at the further histories of the Middle Earth written after his death; the films and even computer games and so on that now followed is very interesting. Tolkien's legacy is more than just the licensed creations but also the fan-fiction and the fictions that have been inspired by his works.  We all know of books/games/tv series where you can see a strong element of Tolkien's approach to history and mythological creatures being played out in front of us.  

This is an excellent biography.  If you have any interest in Tolkien's work then it is one you should read.  I completely recommend it as it is informative, very readable and provokes thought.

The Real JRR Tolkien by Jesse Xander is published by White Owl.

Ok, I hear you say, I get that Tolkien has strong connections to the natural world, but are you really going to tell me that Stan Lee was a gardener?  Well in truth even after reading this book I cannot say I know the answer to that; but I will say that there is the character 'The Gardener' who has one of the 'infinity gems' and who also has interactions with Groot who must be a character who captured the imagination of many fans in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Who has not seen Groot plant pots etc - if this character has encouraged people to grow things then that is connection enough for me (and of course, my blog my rules!)

I grew up reading the left aside Marvel comics of my older brothers and whilst I would never claim to watch every Marvel film there has been, I have seen a fair few and it is a type of film I enjoy.  I knew very little about Stan Lee himself so this book was something I was keen to read.

Adrian takes us through Stan's life, leading us 'True Believers' by the hand through the good and the bad, the twists and the turns.  I love that Adrian inserts himself into a chapter, making a cameo appearance as he notes that Stan himself liked to do in Marvel films.

Adrian talks us through the comics and the early television programmes.  I remember loving the television series The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.  Adrian explains how in that year The Christopher Reeve as Superman film was released and the impact that had on Stan, motivating him to get his characters from the small screen to the big.  

This is a fascinating biography.  It is full of in-depth information and is told with warmth and candour.   It would make a great present for that Marvel-loving person in your life.

Stan Lee: how Mavel Changed the World by Adrian Mackinder is published by White Owl.

Stay safe and be kind.

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