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Monday, February 26, 2007

The Best book on Tolkien

I have recently been privileged to read the best book about J. R. R. Tolkien and his writing. That book is The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005) by Stratford Caldecott.

Why do I say this? Caldecott knows Tolkien's writing. He presents some intriguing insights into Tolkien. He considers Tolkien's Catholicism. The book is short (about 200 pages) and very readable, without sacrificing the scholarly apparatus that some readers might want.

So what does Caldecott make of Tolkien? Quite a bit. Here's some of it:

Tolkien saw natural things freighted with the depth of meaning that all things possess, being rooted in the mind of God. God does not create things simply to fill up space. He creates for a reason, and the ultimate reason for his creation is love. Each thing, and especially each living thing, is a word, a symbol, a revelation. Each is a note, or a theme, in some great music. At any rate, it is more than itself: that is, more than the thing most people see when they look at it. (p. 24)

Tolkien's relationship with his father, or lack thereof, was very important to him, and one reason why father-son relationships are important in his work. (His father died when Tolkien was four years old.)

Caldecott considers Mary-figures in Tolkien's work. These include Galadriel, and, he says, Tolkien's changing views on Galadriel over the years were to make her more like Mary -- purer than in his original conception.

Beren and LĂșthien, says he, were important archetypes for Tolkien, standing for male and female qualities, in humans and elves, respectively. This explains the lack of important roles for females in his writing, according to Caldecott. The story of these two, he writes, is re-told, not only in the story of Aragorn and Arwen, but in the story of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton.

On a similar note, Caldecott says that ". . . the center of The Lord of the Rings is not in Gondor, it is in the Shire, firmly rooted in the domestic. It is there that we must look for the final integration of Elvishness into human nature, within the romance as a whole. (p. 96) As he points out, the last sentence of the trilogy is domestic, and in the Shire.

I liked this book a lot. I'm not sure that I agree with all of Caldecott's conclusions, but they are worth a hearing, at least.

Thanks for reading.


Elliot said...

Thanks for the recommendation!

Martin LaBar said...

You are welcome, and thanks for reading.

Kim from Hiraeth said...

I found my way over here from All Things 2 All. I'm delighted to learn of this book and enjoyed reading your review. It's on my "list" now!

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, kim from hiraeth, and also thanks to Catez from All Things 2 All for the recommendation.