J.R.R Tolkien: ISTJ

Guest post by E.J., INTJ

J.R.R. Tolkien ISTJ | The Book Addict's Guide to MBTI #ISTJ

Introverted Sensing (Si): Tolkien’s mother died when he was eight years old, and his memory of her motivated him throughout his adult life. Since her family had abandoned her after her conversion to Catholicism, and her health had subsequently deteriorated, Tolkien considered her a martyr. Her memory was part of the reason why Tolkien became such a staunch Catholic. He remained haunted by his experiences in World War I, and some aspects of those experiences made their way into his books. Tolkien could have difficulty with change, and he was frustrated when Catholic churches began holding services in English rather than Latin. He strongly opposed Nazism and thought he would have been more motivated to fight in World War II than in World War I (the war he actually fought in) because the Nazi abuse of Germanic mythology, his lifelong interest, infuriated him.

J.R.R. Tolkien ISTJ | The Book Addict's Guide to MBTI #ISTJ

Extraverted Thinking (Te): Tolkien wanted his fantasy world hold together logically: in fact, the world existed in the first place because he considered it the logical outgrowth of the Elvish language he spent years developing. Tolkien had a very critical and perfectionistic approach to his own works, which slowed his writing down, but he was simultaneously frustrated by his failure to complete so many projects. Tolkien could be blunt about his opinions, refusing to mince his words when he disagreed with someone.

J.R.R. Tolkien ISTJ | The Book Addict's Guide to MBTI #ISTJ

Introverted Feeling (Fi): J. R. R. Tolkien was an intensely emotional man, even claiming on one occasion that he had “feelings more than ideas.”  He possessed a strong, internally-based moral drive, and morality is a major theme in his writing. He was a staunch Catholic for all his adult life, despite the fact that Catholics were a religious minority within his circle of friends and in England as a whole. Although equivocating on some Catholic beliefs might have given him a more comfortable relationship with other people, he held to the beliefs that he considered authentically right. Tolkien was conservative but largely apolitical.

J.R.R. Tolkien ISTJ | The Book Addict's Guide to MBTI #ISTJ

Extraverted Intuition (Ne): Tolkien was known for jumping from one burst of inspiration to the next and, as a result, had difficulty completing projects. Of his full-length fantasy works that are available today, only two (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) were completed in his lifetime. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien completed the work largely because C. S. Lewis loved it and regularly urged Tolkien to keep writing. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, has spent a large portion of his life organizing, editing, and publishing the various partially completed works that Tolkien left lying around.


Editor’s note (Arvid Walton): Tolkien is canonically argued as either an INFP or INFJ. In the next week or so, I’m going to write a sub post for this one explaining why he’s an ISTJ rather than INFx. Most of my reasoning is based off of my understanding of Medieval literary traditions.

In the meantime, just be patient.

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8 thoughts on “J.R.R Tolkien: ISTJ

  1. Absolutely not. I studied Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inklings, multiple courses in college. I’m all about watching out for “exceptions” and unusual possibilities, which Tolkien being an “S” would be, but this is just so easily refuted. No S is going to be so abstract in EVERY WAY as Tolkien was. The “canonical” answer you will find around the internet is that he is an INFP, however you can find a lot of debates between INFP and very similar types like INTP or INFJ or w.e. The one thing I like about this post, again, is the willingness to look at something at a different angle (think outside the box and all that jazz). But though it’s a good experiment, it’s not accurate. Mainly bc the “N” is one of the most obvious and identifiable of all Tolkien’s traits. That as well as the I are basically lock downs. Not even going to get into the “I’ bc it’s so easily sourced from his biography. Letters. Stories about the Inklings. Stories about his frienship with Lewis, and on and on.

    The T/F and the P/J get more interesting. I’ll handle the T/F first bc it’s the ez one. Some people will judge him T bc of of his cerebral (albeit artistic) qualities, intelligence (so many languages! such an accomplished academic!), the fact that he was a professor, etc. Ofc this mostly generalization and mostly simplistic stereotyping. What I can tell you from his biography is that the “F” becomes very apparent. He was a very sensitive guy. And though he was heavily guarded about both his ideas and his emotions, there are many stories from his life where someone, including Lewis, does or says something that hurts his feelings and he reacts just like an F would – not with aloofness or indifference, but with a grudge or retreating into an emotional fortress. He was also intensely loyal in the “F” sort of way (look up the story of he and his wife’s “courtship”) and the way he pined after her for years during his youth (they met as children.)

    Despite this innate F, he was a great case study in the most important and undervalued benefit of the MB – character/personality development/balancing. The point of the MB isn’t to take pleasure in reading about all one’s great qualities, it’s much more useful as a tool for identifying and cultivating weaknesses. This is sorely needed in the world considering most people have their propensities and changes very little and do a very poor job at balancing those proclivities out. The MB can show us that all types and traits have value in relation to their purpose, and encourage us to use abilities that don’t come naturally to us when we are put in a situation where those abilities can serve us better than the one’s we want to use by reflex. Some obvious but somewhat simplistic examples from the I/E relationship: sometimes you need to be receptive, quiet, and listen and sometimes you need to be aggressive, speak up and drive a conversation, or work a room. Anyway he was an F by nature. As a child it was more obvious, but he was also a great example of someone who strengthened his T into adulthood to achieve a more well-rounded temperament.

    I’ve also seen some people try to make a judgement about his personality, in particular the F/T-J/P based on his writings, but these people invariably quickly reveal how little they know his work. If you have only read Hobbit/LotR then you aren’t even half way there. The case usually goes something like this. His characters are not particularly deep, they get their identity from the group, and just generally lack that constant internal monologue/motive explorations that is the way of contemporary writing (though NOT necessarily Tolkiens generation of writing). The problem is if you read some of his other works like Turin, you see that it is in fact not so clear cut. Another really important factor when making an assessment about his personality based on his writing style is that his writing style was HEAVILY informed by his constant reading and study of the Bible and his faith. The bible is not like contemporary writing. It does not spend 5 pages explaining all the inner-workings and feelings of a character. He choose this style consciously, more than he did impulsively.

    Lastly, and this is my favorite, is the P/J. This one makes me laugh so hard, bc, if you look around the internet, he’s listed as a P all over the place. IMO this is mostly bc INFP’s are the go to for writers (particularly poetic ones), and there are a lot of people running around who barley understand the MB, but love it. As a result they want to make predictions and feel like they know the system and their favorite ppl. I’m not going to lie 10 years ago I felt this way, still feel the impulse some. Add in the echo chamber effect and you have a lot of people estimating a close but most definitely wrong personality. So, even though i saved the P/J for last, bc in some respects it’s the hardest – this is only so bc the “Smaug” ignorance hovering over the topic. Actually, even though the N is by far the easiest letter to pick for Tolkien, the J isn’t far behind. Why? Because anyone who has read about him or his conversations with friends, etc. will see that he was a classic J. He spent hours agonizing about what the BEST possible decision was in his writing process. Oddly I keep seeing this quality cited as evidence of him being a P. I can only assume it is bc people have heard that he spend a lot of time writing and rewriting and exploring. And in this way it’s revealing how each letter combo is interrelated to some extent. A J in their obsession to find the perfect plan/product can spend years agonizing over their creation (as Tolkien did – decades actually) and a P can spent decades trying various routes. Practically both processes might look the same from the outside. They both involve a person doing and redoing. But the difference is the motive. Tolkien was a perfectionist. He was literally “Feanor” crafting the Silmarilion. That is how he saw himself and that is what he wanted. He wanted to create the perfect story, the perfect mythology, the perfect language. And all of these desires are hardcore J traits. Some P’s might perform similar looking actions, but the hallmark of a P is “going with the flow” and not worrying to much about perfection or planning. Everyone who knew Tolkien not only knew this about him, but also were often driven crazy by him. This is why Lewis played a part in getting Tolkien to take action, and settle for the “flawed” work he had on hand. It is also why Tolkien could be frustrated, and probably jealous about Lewis’s ability to finish a book in the ‘twinkle of an eye’ … compared to Tolkien. (Not that I am saying Lewis was a P, I don’t believe he was, but he wasn’t the sort of hardcore, 100%, insane level J Tolkien was. Actually, I’ve often wondered if they had the same personality, and their different life experiences just made it hard to see, but the likely truth is: Lewis INTJ vs. Tolkien INFJ. (though Lewis may have been an INTP (I’ll admit I haven’t taken the time to make my decision about this one yet, though I know more about Lewis than Tolkien by far, and I know most everything one can know about Tolkien. Something about the way Lewis built massive “philosophical constructs” in his head, which is one of the hallmarks of an INFJ makes me lean towards very well balanced T/F INTJ…but that’s just a nagging sensation over the years.) As such they were uniquely suited for helping each other in their creative process, which they did. Their relationship, though changed the world in absurdly powerful and wide reaching ways. Actually, I can think of VERY few duo’s who have had such a potent and lasting affect on the world. The waves of their intellect were so powerful and deep that most of the people affected don’t even know it, and the ones who do really know it. It’s like a tsunami, when it passes you at sea you can barely feel the lift, but if it makes landfall on you, your life is changed forever.

    (Hmm 7am, and I’ve been up all night, I think I digressed, but hopefully it’s useful/intersting to anyone interested in any of the 3 very meaningful topics covered: Tolkien, MBriggs, or Lewis.

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  2. Even in this analysis arguing for ISTJ, Fi and Ne sound like they were much more dominant traits in him than Si or Te.

    “Extraverted Intuition (Ne): Tolkien was known for jumping from one burst of inspiration to the next and, as a result, had difficulty completing projects.” <— This is a big part of why I'm not convinced he was an ISTJ. The way you describe Ne in Tolkien matches someone who has dom or aux Ne, not someone who has inferior Ne. Because their Ne is inferior, an ISTJ would not be naturally prone to jumping from thing to thing and not completing projects. They would likely be naturally distrusting of Ne and frustrated by people who jump from thing to thing.

    The statement, "I have feelings more than ideas" is such a Dominant Fi statement that I really can't see anyone besides an INFP or ISFP saying it.

    Finally, the way you describe Tolkien using Si and Te sounds like they were tertiary and inferior functions, respectively. "Tolkien had a very critical and perfectionistic approach to his own works, which slowed his writing down, but he was simultaneously frustrated by his failure to complete so many projects." <— this screams Inferior Te to me, and matches the frustrations/sentiments I hear from INFPs. And, because Si is tertiary for INFPs, they do hold a respect for tradition in many ways — particularly traditions that align with their deeply held Fi values.

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  3. That’s the post I’ve been looking forward to since I requested typing Tolkien. His approach to his past, to religion, to literary tradition… his relation with INTJ Lewis… Everything always shouted “ISTJ” to me, and I only saw people typing him as an INFx, mostly INFP. As a one myself I called bullshit on that immediately, usually trying to use his mother… issues(? or maybe that’s just how Si-doms roll?) and attitude towards language creating as pro-SiTe arguments. It never worked,
    “but he was a fantasy writer”. Oh, you obviously haven’t read his opinions on Celtic mythology… Very non-INFPy point of view on fantasy worlds. “And he was nice” Because no ISTJ ever had a heart. It’s confirmed, scientifically.
    (Also, was he really that nice? He surely was kind and well-mannered, but nice… I don’t know, maybe I just don’t understand the word correctly).
    The only thing I see as really far from ISTJ stereotype is the chaos connected with finishing his fictional works (and modern translation of poor Sir Gawain, Pearl and Orfeo…), but it can be easily explained.
    “reasoning based off of understanding of Medieval literary traditions”… I may understand what you mean – but I may all the same be totally wrong about that! (And I probably am.) Well, waiting it is, then.

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  4. I love this post! I believe this and the following post on him coming up have the potential to shatter the stereotype that types with inferior Ne lack imagination. I have read on a few forums about ISTJ and ISFJ stereotypes and that one was mentioned very frequently. I think that J. R. R. Tolkien is proof that ISTJs and ISFJs can create beautiful things filled with creative imagination.

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  5. I approve of this post, being an ISTJ myself, Tolkien is, and has been for a long time, my favorite author. Him being an ISTJ is a little surprising to me though.

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