Since the appearance of The Lord of the Rings
in 1954, J. R. R. Tolkien's works have always sold briskly, appealing to a wide and diverse audience of intellectuals, religious believers, fantasy enthusiasts, and science fiction aficionados. Now, Peter Jackson's film version of Tolkien's trilogywith its accompanying Rings-related paraphernalia and publicityis playing a unique role in the dissemination of Tolkien's imaginative creation to the masses. Yet, for most readers and viewers, the underlying meaning of Middle-earth has remained obscure.
Bradley Birzer has remedied that with this fresh study. In J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth, Birzer explains the surprisingly specific religious symbolism that permeates Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. He also explores the social and political views that motivated the Oxford don, ultimately situating Tolkien within the Christian humanist tradition represented by Thomas More and T. S. Eliot, Dante and C. S. Lewis. Birzer argues that through the genre of myth Tolkien created a world that is essentially truer than the one we think we see around us everyday, a world that transcends the colorless disenchantment of our postmodern age.
"A small knowledge of history," Tolkien once wrote, "depresses one with the sense of the everlasting weight of human iniquity." As Birzer demonstrates, Tolkien's recognition of evil became mythologically manifest in the guise of Ringwraiths, Orcs, Sauron, and other dark beings. But Tolkien was ultimately optimistic: even weak, bumbling hobbits and humans, as long as they cling to the Good, can finally prevail. Bradley Birzer has performed a great service in elucidating Tolkien's powerful moral vision.
Read and post comments on Brad Birzer's review of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in the ISI Forum. Click here.
What They're Saying...
"You've seen the movies—now read the book about the books. For those familiar with Gandalf & Co. only through Peter Jackson's films, Birzer's book provides an accessible and informative glimpse of further depths."
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Birzer is a fine writer who does a wonderful job of integrating primary sources such as letters, reminiscences and journals into his text…. [A] fine tribute to the man who, Birzer suggests, 'resuscitated the notion that the fantastic may tell us more about reality than do scientific facts.'"
— Publishers Weekly
"Essential reading for all Tolkien enthusiasts."
"[T]he pick of the crop...."
"[T]he Catholic study of Tolkien we've been waiting for."