Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week is a “freebie” topic, so I am choosing
Top Ten Books Relating to J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kocher: This was one of the first books about Tolkien I read, and it has remained a favorite ever since.
3. The History of the Hobbit Part One: Mr. Baggins by John D. Rateliff: An absolutely enthralling exploration of the making of The Hobbit. The second part is doubtless as good as the first, though I have not read it yet.
4. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter: A vital book for anyone studying Tolkien. Read Tolkien’s own explanations of characters, events, and other parts of The Lord of the Rings.
6. Beowulf by Anonymous: This epic poem, and Anglo-Saxon culture in general, was very influential to Tolkien’s work.
7. Understanding the Lord of the Rings ed. by Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs: A collection of essays on a variety of topics, this is a great introduction to Tolkien criticism.
8. J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion by Richard Purtill: Read in conjunction with Kreeft’s book.
10. Unfinished Tales: The Lost Lore of Middle-Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien: A fascinating look at some of the stories of Middle-Earth that never made it to complete publication.
Summary: Bilbo Baggins is living comfortably in his hobbit hole when a group of dwarves show up at his door asking for a burglar. They wish to reclaim their ancestors’ treasure from the Lonely Mountain, where a dragon named Smaug is sitting on the hoard, and they think Bilbo is just the person for the job. Bilbo personally has his doubts, but eventually he begins to enjoy the adventures of travelling and becomes a very important member of the group as he saves the dwarves from danger in several situations.
Review: Sometimes The Hobbit confuses or disappoints fans of The Lord of the Rings, so a few misconceptions should be gotten out of the way before a proper review of the book. First, The Hobbit was written as a children’s story and not an epic. In fact, when Tolkien submitted the work for publication, the publisher had his eight-year-old son read the manuscript—and the boy concluded that it was a fine story but better suited to readers younger than himself. Second, Tolkien did not have the story of The Lord of the Rings in mind when he wrote The Hobbit, so many things simply do not match up. Eventually he went back and edited and made the transition between the stories smoother, but The Hobbit still gives the sense Middle-earth is a fairytale land and many characters (Gandalf, the elves, the goblins) do not have the personalities or sheer impressiveness they do in The Lord of the Rings. This can be rattling, and it is really a letdown for readers who consider the epic a higher form of literature. However, The Hobbit is still a very good story, and this fact is best appreciated when the book is considered as what it was meant to be—a children’s book.
The Hobbit follows the traditional quest pattern: a character goes on a predetermined adventure seeking something (in this case treasure) and then comes home again. But the story is often more about the journey than the ultimate goal. The Hobbit, then, is partially about finding treasure, but it is also about the adventures experienced along the way, and some of the story’s most memorable moments come before the dwarves and Bilbo are anywhere near the Lonely Mountain. The book is episodic, but it is supposed to be; it is a bunch of mini adventures that the reader is swept into with Bilbo, and we experience with him a mixture of fear and hope when we wonder what possibly could happen next. We thought the hard part would be getting treasure from a dragon, but it appears there are other dangers in the world. This is a classic literary structure, and it provides the hero with the opportunity to prove himself or prepare himself before he reaches his ultimate goal. Tolkien just turns things a bit upside down by giving his readers an unlikely hero who is physically small, mentally doubtful, and very worried about having left his home without his pocket handkerchief. Read the rest of this entry
Summary: Platonic archetypes begin to appear in a small English town, drawing their symbols to themselves. Some men react with terror and some with joy, but not all men understand the powers they witness, causing them to lose their identities either in fear or in the arrogant belief that they can control the archetypes for their own ends. Anthony Durrant follows the path of wisdom and begins to realize that man has a special place in creation and perhaps can choose to set the world back to the way it once was. He hopes to send the archetypes back to their own place before they reach his beloved Damaris and destroy her.
Review: I have long wanted to read a book by Charles Williams because of his relationship with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Many believe Williams’s work strongly influenced the final book in Lewis’s space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and Lewis speaks with great emotion about the impact of Williams’s death in The Four Loves. Williams belonged for a time to the Inklings, an informal literary group where members read their work aloud for comment and criticism. The group boasted Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, Roger Lancelyn Greene, and Warren Lewis among its members, as well as both C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. Williams’s close association with some of the greatest literary men of his time gives his work added interest as readers can compare his thoughts and style with those of his contemporaries.
Books I had previously read about the Inklings led me to expect difficulty in reading Charles Williams. Williams was, I understood, strangely obscure and not many people would appreciate his work—surely not nearly the number of people who love and admire Lewis and Tolkien. Once I began The Place of the Lion, however, I realized that the book both met and defied my expectations. I struggled to understand some parts, but Williams also frequently interrupted the story to describe in detail the events taking place and their significance. My difficulty with the work, I realized, did not stem primarily from the text, but from my lack of familiarity with Williams’s beliefs.
Anyone familiar with the concept of Platonic archetypes will have enough knowledge to understand the gist of The Place of the Lion. However, these forms interacted with the world as godlike beings and this confused me, since I had had the impression that Williams was some sort of practicing Protestant and therefore expected Williams to portray God as the primary supernatural agent in the lives of men. The Place of the Lion does suggest that the archetypes are subordinate to God, but I had trouble reconciling the chaos which the archetypes cause with my expectations of how God would respond to such activity. Only research into Williams’s specific beliefs on God, the nature of God, and the nature of other supernatural beings can clarify the plot for me.
Other knowledge that I would have found helpful when reading The Place of the Lion includes an understanding of Abelard and other medieval philosophers, William’s thoughts on the nature of philosophy and wisdom, and Williams’s understanding of the nature of romantic love. Familiarity with the beliefs of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien did little to help me understand the beliefs of Williams, even though I expected to see some sort of influence in the works of the Inklings. Before I read more of Williams, I plan on reading some biographies or some criticism in order that I can truly appreciate his work.