Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. The goal is to promote the reading of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien! To celebrate, we have compiled some reasons that authors and bloggers have fallen in love with Tolkien’s work. Let us know why you love Tolkien, or what Tolkien book you’ll be reading today, in the comments!
“Tolkien is still dear to my heart after so much time because he brings a sense of wonder to the entire body of his work. While parts of his stories can be dark, there is a sense of awe inspiring faith in the good of humanity that seems lost outside of Middle Earth.” Alexis (Mad Geek Girl)
“In Middle Earth, Tolkien displays his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, and his imagination. In his children’s books, he shows his youthful spirit and his sense of humor. In his academic writing, he reveals his dedication and passion for learning. Tolkien’s works span genres. He is versatile, and always manages to speak some way to the human spirit.” Briana (Pages Unbound)
“A great man and a great author. He understood the real importance and art of storytelling.” DM Andrews (Author of The Serpent in the Glass)
“Tolkien’s books contain a rare beauty that encompasses both joy and sorrow. We seem to be in a time where the ugly and the gritty are considered more representative of the human condition than the good and the beautiful, but Tolkien reminds us that the world is never as dark as it appears. He encourages us to look beneath the surface of our reality to see the guiding hand of providence taking us all on an unexpected adventure.” Krysta (Pages Unbound)
“The reason I like Tolkien is because his stories, however epic and wondrous and brilliant they are, ultimately touch basic fundamental emotions and experiences that we can relate to: love, doing the right thing, desiring peace/the quiet life, temptation, feelings of doubt, friendship, etc. I also love how he conceived the world of Middle Earth complete with a full and detailed history, languages, cultures, lore, etc. (the historian in me delights in this). It really feels like this place exists somewhere and re-reading his works, whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, really feels like coming home every single time.” Lianne (caffeinatedlife.net)
“I love Tolkien because he can easily make me believe that entire worlds are contained within the bound pages of his books. And once that book opens, your mind opens too.” Marie (Me, My Shelf, and I)
“I love the way J.R.R. Tolkien writes everything in such a lush and descriptive matter. Tolkien is a master storyteller!” Scott (Scott Reads It)
“Tolkien has a way of writing that is unlike any other I have ever seen.” Stephanie B (Chasm of Books)
“There’s definitely something special about Tolkien. His imagination, heart, and brilliance are all woven together in his writing, fiction and non-fiction alike. There’s something very sincere and inspiring about him that dares you to live better.” Zita (Pages Unbound)
Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien society celebrates Tolkien Reading Day in order to promote Tolkien’s works. Last year, Pages Unbound celebrated with a two-week Tolkien Reading Event. (You can see a list of all the posts here.) This year, we’re compiling a list of reasons you–readers, bloggers, or authors–like Tolkien. Briefly tell us anything you like about him, through email (email@example.com), Facebook, or Twitter (@pagesunbound), and we’ll include your quote in our post on March 25. And be sure to pick up one of Tolkien’s books! Happy reading!
Source: E-copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Grace has always been fascinated by the world around her, but her interest grows by bounds when she is visited by spirit guides who gift her with a wonder stone. Her mission is to explore the world and store her wonder in the gem as she journeys toward the Rainbow. The trip is not as straightforward as Grace expects, however, as she meets a number of people she can only help if she deviates from her path.
A verse retelling of The Other Side of the Rainbow (1910) by Florence Bone.
Review: Michael Tolkien brings new life to a charming and instructive children’s story about the nature of wonder, sending his heroine Grace on a number of missions on which she learns to help others and to always stay curious. Readers need not be familiar with Florence Bone’s The Other Side of the Rainbow to enjoy Tolkien’s re-imagination. A thoughtful and intelligent preface, however, (which will remind many of Michael’s grandfather’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s philosophy of literature, even in spite of a desire to appreciate Michael in his own right) presents readers with an overview of Bone’s version and interpretations of Tolkien’s changes, in addition to his musings on the meaning of art and the nature of Faerie. This does mean, of course, that readers who would prefer to interpret the story on their own might wish to read the preface last.
Tolkien makes Bone’s story his own, adding new scenes, lessons, interpretations, and his own voice. He even writes in verse, although since it is free verse the most evident reason for doing so is that children will be less intimidated by 200 pages of story if the lines are short. Nonetheless, Rainbow does have the feel of an older children’s book—something, like The Other Side of the Rainbow, that was published in the early twentieth century. The plot, the morals, and the sheer charm of it give it that tone. (So, yes, this is a good thing, and it fits the story perfectly.)
Tolkien uses a strong narrative voice that occasionally interjects into the story to address the reader. It often offers background information children will need to understand the story or explains the lessons being taught. If there is one thing Rainbow lacks, it is subtlety, although this is probably a good thing if very young readers are going to follow it for 200 pages. The plot, too, is undemanding, despite Grace’s many deviations from her original purpose into other adventures; she never faces danger for long before a solution appears and she is travelling once again. The constant action is likely to keep children interested. Adults will be drawn in by the imaginative world-building and the same type of wonder that Grace is trying to cultivate.
Rainbow is delightful, delicate, and imaginative, just like the illustrations by Maureen Ward. Its story, though featuring Grace and her many exciting adventures, is just as much about the readers, as it strives to teach them to also wonder about the world and to seek their own adventures. Those who have wonder, explains Rainbow, never grow old.
Published: 2012; print version March 2013
- Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo and remarkably expressive.
- Gollum is both cute and frightening.
- Richard Armitage is an imposing, heroic, and rather handsome Thorin.
- Most of the dwarves do successfully build their own personalities. A few may get more time in later films.
- Quotes from the novel are successfully incorporated.
- There are lots of great nods to The Lord of the Rings movies.
- There is enough background given for viewers who have not read the book.
- The film is gorgeous. (Though there were a few beginning scenes where I found it hard to find something in focus to look at.)
- The score is impressive.
- Minor changes made sense. A few major changes made less sense, but I can live with them.
- The movie is the perfect mix of comical and epic. It retains the spirit of the novel, while matching the tone of The Lord of the Rings movies.
- I am impressed.
The Hobbit read-along continues over at The Warden’s Walk and so do my rambling thoughts about the book!
Chapter 12 continues developing the philosophies underlying the actions of all the characters. The Dwarves think about treasure, Bilbo thinks about home, and Smaug thinks about himself. Their philosophies and not their physical prowess ultimately decide all their fates.
Tolkien does not portray the Dwarves in a very flattering manner at this point in time, stating outight that “There it is: Dwarves are not heroes but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money.” Though Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth to the group, rescuing his companions from the spiders and the prisons of Mirkwood, he receives little credit from Thorin, who announces (rather pompously) that the time has come now for the Hobbit to earn his reward. Even so, the Dwarves hope to aid Bilbo as little as possible in his burglaring because they fear too much for their own lives; only Balin dares to venture into the tunnel with the Hobbit. A sense of duty does arise when their companions find themselves in direct danger, and Tolkien informs readers that they would save Bilbo if he got into trouble, but altogether their treatment of the Hobbit seems to rely on how much they think he is doing for them, and how well. They have focused all their thoughts and energy on the treasure so that their moral vision remains limited and they have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships that are not inherently useful to their goals.
Bilbo informs Smaug that the group has come to the Mountain not merely for treasure but also for revenge–but the evidence to support this seems limited. The Dwarves actually neglected to take a living dragon into account when forming their plans, so clearly they have no intent to take back their home. They want their wealth back–it’s as simple as them. Maybe you can argue that stealing treasure from a dragon will anger him and thus counts as revenge, but such action seems to be lacking in symbolic victory. Can you really imagine a tale like this going down into legend–a bunch of Dwarves loitering around a mountainside while they hire an unknown to tote out their former possessions like a common criminal? The story is interesting and maybe some people will find the cleverness and bravery of the Hobbit admirable, but it really doesn’t do anything for the reputation of the Dwarves.
The greed of the Dwarves would have proven their downfall if not for Bilbo. Thinking only of their glorious treasure, they are totally unprepared to face the reality of Smaug. Bilbo can help them precisely because he doesn’t care about the treasure. He cares about the right sorts of things–upholding his end of a bargain so he can return home to his comfortable hobbit-hole. Love of adventure and a desire to prove himself also play a role in his exploits, but at the root of all his thoughts is the idea of a simple life unburdened by old grudges and the desire for excessive wealth.
Bilbo also stands in opposition to Smaug, who lays the foundation for his own downfall through his pride. Even though he recognizes the flattery of Bilbo as lies, he cannot help feeling pleasure in even this fake admiration. Desirous of impressing the Hobbit even further, he boasts of his invincibility, thus revealing the flawed spot above his heart. (Note that Bilbo’s pride in his own cleverness also has unintended bad consequences as it focuses the wrath of Smaug on Lake-town.) Smaug’s greed, anger, and overriding desire for revenge will all further combine to bring him to the edge of ruin; if he could only have overlooked the loss of a single golden cup and stayed with his hoard, the world might have remained content to continue ignoring his existence.
But these are all weighty matters. This chapter is a prime example of a thrilling quest adventure story! I’m not entirely sure why it worked, but Tolkien’s liberal use of the exclamation point really drew me into the action: “The glow of Smaug!” It was like I was there! Not only that, but this chapter is funny. Tolls? Bilbo has travelled all this way to get a fourteenth part of a treasure only to realize he neglected to consider transport and tolls to get it all home? Did anyone bother to plan anything about this adventure? Why does Gandalf keep disappearing? Does he really believe this group is capable of accomplishing anything without him? And why does Smaug, of all the characters, think about tolls? I don’t believe that dragon ever paid a toll in his life.
So, what do you all think? Have I been too harsh on the Dwarves? Was Smaug a law-abiding dragon in his youth? Weigh in and continue the read-along next Tuesday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!
That’s right, everyone. ”The Hobbit” read-along is taking place over at The Warden’s Walk and I’m in charge of explicating/reviewing/pondering chapter 3! I know I’m late in posting this and I do apologize for those who have been eagerly refreshing their screens in hopes of getting the next installment of the read-along. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you may have noticed that I’m not posting much of anything right now–and indeed won’t be for awhile (but that’s okay because Briana’s wonderful posts completely cover my absence). My life is currently busy and complicated and all manner of crazy. So, in the interest of fulfilling my obligations to the promotion of all things Tolkien, I’m not really going to explicate my chapter (sorry about that), but rather throw down some thoughts as they occur to me. Feel free to generate more discussion in the comments (thereby imparting to this post some manner of legitimacy).
I’ve read The Hobbit several times and each time chapter three sticks out to me due to one thing: those Elves singing “tra-la-la-lally”. I don’t think this is Tolkien’s crowning achievement in poetry, it is true, and I sometimes chuckle to myself over how a place known for its poetry and song could be introduced to readers with this particular song. Poetic merits aside, however, the song presents much bigger issues to me. After all, readers familiar with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion know that Elves are these ethereal, other-worldly beings remarkable for their nobility and wisdom. Certainly no one envisions Hugo Weaving’s Elrond singing “tra-la-la-lally”!
I’m not convinced this moment can be explained away by saying that The Hobbit came before The Lord of the Rings since Tolkien did edit The Hobbit to make it fit more smoothly into his mythos. Furthermore, we receive hints of the noble Elves we will come to know in Tolkien’s description of Elrond: “He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.” So, maybe, if we try to fit Tolkien’s Hobbit Elves into our conception of his later Elves, we’re approaching his work from the wrong way. Maybe we don’t need to perform mental gymnastics to create consistency. Maybe Tolkien is being consistent, but our modern mindset hasn’t prepared us to recognize that.
Assuming the “tra-la-la-lally” Elves must be different from the Lord of the Rings Elves implies that silly and serious cannot exist together. But the Elves are remarkable for more than their high poetry or tragic history. They are remarkable for their connection to Eru and the Undying Lands. Many of the Elves have seen the light of Valinor. They have known joy. Can the joy they have be related to the light-hearted songs and jokes of the Rivendell Elves? And aren’t light-hearted song- and joke-making actually two of the most serious activities a person can engage in? Life can be hard and full of sorrow, as the Elves, who have lost Valinor, perhaps know better than anyone else in Middle-earth. However, they refuse to let sorrow have the last word; they engage in song-making, even silly song-making, because they know that no sorrow lasts forever.
*Note: I can’t recall from memory whether the Rivendell Elves actually were in Valinor (I’m inclining towards no), but I think the point about joy and seriousness still stands. Plus, I’m sure that the Elves who were not in Valinor know and are affected by the tragic loss their kinsmen suffered.
Continue the read-along this Thursday with Taliesintaleweaver of Lights in the Library!
David of The Warden’s Walk has begun posting for The Hobbit read-along taking place from now through November. If you’d like to read along or just follow the fun, you can read his first post here and check out the list of participants and the schedule here. Also be sure to look for my upcoming post on chapter three of The Hobbit!
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine where bloggers share books they are eagerly anticipating.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Trans. by Mark Walker
Release Date: September 13, 2012
Summary: This Latin Translation of Tolkien’s classic fantasy book will be published in September to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit‘s publication. The first line will read, “In foramine terrae habitabat hobbitus.” Read more about the project here. So far no cover image is available.
Why I Want to Read It: Tolkien is my favorite author, and Latin is a wonderful language! My skills in Latin are probably not yet developed enough to read this book with ease, but I will go through it slowly and with a big dictionary with joy just for the experience! Read my review of The Hobbit (in English).
Summary: Peter Kreeft explores the worldview behind Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by asking 50 philosophical questions and then explaining Tolkien’s answer in a three-part format: a quote from Tolkien’s works on Middle-earth demonstrating the answer, a quote from Tolkien’s other works expanding upon and clarifying his answer, and a quote from C. S. Lewis’s work explaining the answer more directly. Kreeft encourages readers to use the book not only as a guide to Middle-earth but also as an introduction to philosophy; he suggests asking the same questions of other works of literature, especially those with philosophies greatly different from Tolkien’s.
Review: In The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft proposes to explain the enormous and continuing popularity of Tolkien’s books. His claim is daring because it makes much the same point that Tolkien made decades ago when he wrote that fairy tales and fantasy should not be dismissed as mere “escapism.” He argues that readers find themselves drawn to Middle-earth not because they want to escape their own reality, but because they find there a deeper reality. Kreeft’s book serves as a guide to that deeper reality, answering questions about how Tolkien viewed and portrayed the nature of truth, beauty, love, virtue, and God.
Having someone explain to you why you love your favorite author may seem, if not condescending, at least invasive. Tolkien especially touches chords that seem intensely private; the beauty and sorrow that permeate his work are of a depth and quality that many people don’t find easy to share. Kreeft, however, establishes himself immediately as a worthy and trustworthy companion on this new journey through Tolkien’s works. His love for all things Middle-earth is evident from the first page, marking him as a kindred spirit, one of those people who understands. He can speak of the longings stirred by the high beauty of the Elves or of the nostalgia awoken by the sense of Middle-earth’s deep past as one who has experienced it and is not ashamed. He lets his readers know that they are not alone in feeling a deep desire for something in Middle-earth, even if they cannot yet give that desire a name.
Unfortunately, though the spirit of the book is in the right place, the structure could use some more work. At times Kreeft seems to lean too heavily on Lewis to explain Tolkien, taking it as a matter of course that the latter would have agreed with his friend’s statements completely, without establishing a basis for this assumption. Because Lewis speaks so directly on points on faith and philosophy while Tolkien often prefers to let his story speak for itself, Kreeft seems to be pushing his conclusions on Tolkien’s philosophy too far. Other times, Kreeft raises a question but fails to answer it fully. He seems conflicted as to whether he was writing an introduction to philosophy in general or a book on Tolkien’s philosophy.
Despite his structural problems, however, Kreeft ultimately writes a sound guide to Tolkien’s philosophy. He demonstrates clearly and simply how Tolkien’s understanding of the world influenced his vision of Middle-earth, even if most of the philosophy remains under the surface of the narrative. His conclusions make another journey into Middle-earth an even richer and more fulfilling experience.
If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like. This is the fourth week we are running it, and we post it once a month. If you have more suggestions, let us know in the comments!
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J. R. R. Tolkien
During the 1920s and 30s, Tolkien retold the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer and the fall of the Niflungs in English alliterative verse. His version of these famous Norse tales remained unpublished until 2009, when his son Christopher released them along with commentary on Tolkien’s sources. The high tone and matter will appeal to those readers who enjoyed The Silmarillion while Sigurd’s connection to Túrin Turambar from The Children of Húrin may also interest fans of Middle-earth.
The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer
The author challenges the standard assumption that the Inklings (a group of writers including Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams) had little influence on each other’s works by citing the many ways in which writers interact with and receive input from others, even if they do not work in direct collaboration. Even readers not particularly interested in the Inklings will want to consider Glyer’s refutation of the myth of the isolated artist.
The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien
On the night of his return home from a long estrangement, Stephen Cade becomes implicated in the murder of his father, an Oxford historian and WWII colonel. The evidence seems to point conclusively to his guilt, but five other people were present at the time of the murder and all of them have their secrets. Concerned that Stephen will face an unwarranted hanging, the inspector who arrested him sets out to uncover the truth about the colonel’s past. Part mystery, part historical fiction, and part courtroom drama. Written by Toklien’s grandson.
Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy edited by Douglas A. Anderson
J. R. R. Tolkien receives primary credit for the enormous popularity of fantasy today, but before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings other authors sparked his imagination. This anthology includes 21 short stories and one play selected by Anderson to illustrate the range of writers whom Tolkien would have read. The collection includes “The Golden Key” by George MacDonald, “The Story of Sigurd” by Andrew Lang, “The Dragon Tamers” by E. Nesbit, “The Enchanted Buffalo” by L. Frank Baum, and “Golithos the Ogre” by E. A. Wyke-Smith among other works.
Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien
Between 1920 and 1942, Tolkien wrote his children numerous letters purporting to be from Father Christmas and chronicling his adventures with the North Polar Bear. They were published in 1976 and again in 2004 along with Tolkien’s original illustrations.