Book Review: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Two Towers (Lord of the Rings #2) by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Five Stars)

(This review is of the 1990 unabridged audio recording by Rob Inglis.)

“For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”

Have read this series at least once a decade since college (a few decades ago), and it continues to be fresh and refreshing. Often imitated; seldom Continue reading

Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J. R. R. Tolkien

(Five Stars)

(This review is of the 1990 unabridged audio recording by Rob Inglis.)

Great story and great storytelling. Even after all these years, the gold standard for epic fantasy. Excellent narration, especially the rendition of the songs as songs, but I still recommend reading the book for the initial pass. (See below) Inglis is superb but can’t help interposing himself between Tolkien and the reader.

Before listening to audiobooks or seeing movies based on a book, read the book. Some movies are completely different stories. You’ll hardly spoil Continue reading

Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, et al. (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, E.S.C. Weiner, Jeremy Marshal

(Five Stars)

“Writers have been borrowing words from their predecessors for centuries.”

The intersection of Middle Earth and the love of words. Who could want more? (Other folks maybe, but not me.) The best non-fiction I’ve read in years. No, it’s not that well written, but it’s exhaustively researched.

“Within fantasy literature, Tolkien’s coinages and distinctive uses can be found everywhere.”

Before the internet, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was heaven for word lovers to noodle around in. Tolkien worked on the first edition in his first job after World War I.

Lore-master evidently fills a gap, and has apparently made its way out beyond the restricted context of fantasy into general use.”

While the sections on Tolkien’s work on the OED are interesting, the Word Studies are my favorite. Amazing and gratifying to see that Tolkien didn’t just invent words: he researched them. In essence he built an etymology for each word, as if it had developed on its own without his midwifing it. Given his day job, it’s no surprise most sprouted from the rich loam of the Anglo-Saxon languages. (“Middle-earth,” for example, is derived via Middle English middel-erthe, middel-erd from middangeard, an Anglo-Saxon cognate of Old Norse Miðgarðr, the land inhabited by humans in Norse mythology.)

“The English language has begun the process of assimilating Tolkien’s personal word-hoard. And the OED will continue to record this record.”

Book Review: Defending Middle Earth by Patrick Curry (Two Stars)


Book Review: Defending Middle Earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity by Patrick Curry

(Two Stars)

“The costs [of modernity] have been horrendous, and are, unlike the benefits, increasing.”

Curry opens defending J. R. R. Tolkien against wrong-minded critics, then shifts to weaponizing Tolkien to beat his own ideological foes. That his foes are mostly English only obscures his bias to American readers. Disappointing. Since he makes several glaring errors on topics I know a little about, I suspect more lurk within.

“It has been asserted … that The Hobbit represents an alliance of the lower-middle class (Bilbo) and skilled workers, especially working class miners (the dwarves), in order to overcome a parasitic capitalist exploiter who ‘lives off the hard work of small people and accumulates wealth without being able to appreciate its value’ (the dragon). This is genuinely interesting … but it says at least as much about Marxism as a fairy [tale] as it does about The Hobbit.”

Tolkien was not a postmodern. If anything he was pre-modern, even pre-Enlightenment, because he believed that good and evil were real. He believed in God, and while there’s no church in Middle Earth, Tolkien based his entire mythos on an all-knowing, all-sufficient God. Those who claim Middle Earth was polytheistic do so from ignorance or guile.

“Modern profit-driven and state-protected science [is] a powerful counter-enchantment, much of whose power stems from being a spell that denies that it is one: a secular religion, literally a bad faith.”

Curry casually tosses Tolkien’s religion aside as irrelevant. Curry admits he judges Christianity by the externals he has witnessed, not from inside as Tolkien experienced it. Curry uses Lord of the Rings (LOTR) the way some atheists use the Bible, as a weapon against those who believe it. Despite Tolkien’s claims to the contrary, Curry asserts that LOTR is fundamentally a “pagan” work with Christianity included. A counter argument is that Tolkien meant for all the pagan myths to be included in the greater Christian mythos, which unlike the rest of them happens also to be true.

“I have been accused of using Tolkien to advance an ecological agenda. But nothing in this book about defending nature does not draw its warrant from the contents of Tolkien’s own work … I believe he himself would have thoroughly approved.”

Apparently others called him on his bias because in his Afterword, published seven years after the original work, Curry claims, “I nowhere argue that Tolkien was himself a postmodernist, nor that ecology is the only or even the most important key to his work.” His original work argues otherwise.

“As Max Weber saw long ago, religion itself becomes an enemy of enchantment when it asserts it [sic] own sole universal truth, and thus becomes entangled in aspirations to complete control and ultimate power.” Curry asserts, “So his defence of Middle-earth is fully as spiritual as it is ecological and cultural. But it is not a journey away from our lives and our home here on Earth; ultimately, and critically, it is a return.”

Does Curry admire Tolkien’s work as much as he says or has just taken them up as a cudgel in his own battles?

“There are no havens in a world where evil is a reality. If you think you live in one, you are probably naïve like the early Frodo, and certainly vulnerable.” J. R. R. Tolkien