Book Review: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens, Anna Milon, editor. (Three Stars)


Book Review: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens (Peter Roe Series XIX), Anna Milon, editor.

(Three Stars)

We have moved into the scholastic era of Tolkien studies. Now that Tolkien and his Bowell (son Christopher) are safely dead, scholars can opine on what his Middle-earth works really mean without fear of contradiction. As usual the scholars quote themselves and each other, never accepting the received wisdom as complete or even valid. Many of these works are derived from others. Something of a self-licking ice cream cone.

“It would be ‘missing the point’ to read Tolkien’s works as ‘a fairy story’, for ‘Tolkien’s work was in reality a monumental act of channeling.’” Markus Altena Davidsen

Though the title is something of a red herring, a notable addition to Middle-earth scholarship. Best read slowly, after having read at least The Silmarillion in addition to Lord of the Rings. (Nice, if misleading cover art by Becky Green.)

“This triadic pattern of the providential historicism of Middle-earth evidently mirrors the triplicity of Tolkien’s trinitarian theology.” Ryan Haecker (Did he construct this tongue-twister on purpose)

To make any sense of the first paper, the reader must understand (and agree with) Ryan Haecker’s quirky definition of historicism. I don’t. That Haecker employs a discarded image of Kant, Hegel and Marx suggests how far out a limb authors already climb looking for fresh fruit.

“The self-identified Elves argue, that they don’t really feel at home among the humans (almost muggles), but long to return to their Elven homeworld.” MAD

A further hindrance to direct enjoyment and understanding of the corpus is the Peter Jackson movies. While a minority still read original texts, the prevalent perception of Middle-earth will increasingly be mediated by the images and alternations of those movies. See Tolkien’s comparison of drama and books in “On Fairy Stories” for why that’s a problem.

The last work—Also Sprach Fëanor, Spirit of Fire: A Nietzschean Reading of Tolkien’s Mythology by Giovanni Carmine Costable—demonstrates the future of Tolkien studies: works which turn Tolkien upside down with “can be read” and “led me to question” vagueness. Rubbish. (If capitalizing Dark Lord is referring to the God, why did Costable capitalize “the Professor” referring to Tolkien?)

“Of course, to claim Tolkien’s Christianity and Catholicism as the most founded reading we have at the moment, and given the present evidence, should not constitute a reason to forbid any different reading in the applicability of a literary work, even an atheistic, Nietzschean, anti-Christian one.” GCC

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens, Anna Milon, editor. (Three Stars)

  1. Hate that kind of ‘literary criticism.’ Of dead authors. People who can’t do, teach about it.

    I like your comment about him being safely dead. I don’t get ‘his Bowell’ – couldn’t find an explanation with a quick google search – but I think you mean one who picks up the standard when the standard bearer falls? His son was protective of his legacy.

  2. Was referring to Sir James Boswell “best known for his biography of his friend and older contemporary, the English writer Samuel Johnson, which is commonly said to be the greatest biography written in the English language.” Christopher Tolkien protected and expanded his father’s literary legacy. He edited and published more of his father’s books than his father, starting with The Silmarillion in 1977. He also drew the maps for Lord of the Rings.

  3. I absolutely agree. Ursula Leguin put it well when criticising the approach of critics to fantasy, singling out their perverse acceptance of Lewis Carrol based on his presumed (though mostly shown to be false) addictions and sexual deviancies:

    “I wonder if I am wise in wanting the critics and professors to talk seriously about children’s books. Will they insist on burrowing after sexual perversion in the author as the only way of making the book respectable?”

    I grow weary of the critics insistence of digging out of Tolkien what is not there – I tire of them trying to make his tales ‘respectable’ to their twisted minds – when they are not ignoring them, or rubbishing them altogether.

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