This is an intellectual appreciation of Tolkien, written by someone who is a scholar, a perceptive critic, and a lover of his works. It is by far the best all round appreciation of Tolkien that I have read. He gives a good biographical outline of his life, and a short appreciation of 'The Man' himself. He has clearly read and enjoyed many of the works that influenced Tolkien, and relates them to what Tolkien thought and wrote. He establishes that LOTR, and in fact all Tolkien, is based (as the Greeks would say), on the perception of the Good. The Good as an objective, real thing, and not based on opinion. In other words, judging something to be 'good' is not a way of saying 'I like it': a person, idea, thing, or situation can be good regardless of opinion about it. Our duty is to be able to see that it is so. This of course was and is an unfashionable notion.
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Tolkien was also unfashionable in his literary tastes and effectively revived certain classic works. His rehabilitation of heroic fantasy literature with the Hobbit and LOTR was spectacular but almost incidental. He shows that some of the works to influence Tolkien's Middle-Earth were (in their various ways): the Curdie stories by George MacDonald; Peter Pan; The Wind in the Willows; Beowulf; Plato's Republic; Spenser's 'Fairie Queen'; and E. R. Eddison's 'The Worm Ouroboros'. I think I would tentatively add Charles Williams' 'Many Dimensions'. (He not only knew Williams well, but the stone of the Tetragrammaton is very similar to the Ring as it confers immense powers to the user, but has subtle and unpredictable effects on the user's will and mind.)
He is not afraid to pick up some of the weaknesses in the writing, such as the description of Gandalf with 'long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat' - possibly magical eyebrows then. The best chapter is the fourth: he knows that Middle-Earth is 'Neither propaganda nor allegory'. He resists the temptation to see the Ring as the Bomb; lembas as communion wafers; and similar parables. He quotes C.S. Lewis well: 'What shows that we are reading myth, not allegory, is that there are no pointers to specifically theological, or political, or psychological applications'. There is a useful bibliography of Tolkien's works and books about him, and an index. Recommended!
The review of this Book prepared by Michael JR Jose