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

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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 Continue reading

Book Review: Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware

(Four Stars)

“God can and does find us almost anywhere—that He seeks us in the most unlikely places and draws us to Himself even when we’re not looking for Him.”

A competent review of how a Christian reader may find divine content in J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous book. Basically a Christian commentary on the text by topic, not page-by-page.

“The world is a bigger place than I realized, Gandalf. I see now that it contains many things beyond the grasp of my puny imagination.” Gandalf laughed. “If that is your view, then I would suggest that your imagination is Continue reading

Book Review: The Pioneers by David McCullough (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough

(Four Stars)

“Besides the opportunity of opening a new and unexplored region for the range of natural history, botany, and medical science, there will be one advantage which no other part of the earth can boast, and which probably will never again occur; that, in order to begin right, there will be . . . no inveterate systems to overturn.” Manasseh Cutler

Excellent history of the opening of the Northwest Territory after the American War of Independence. McCullough focuses on the individuals who formed and were sent out by the Ohio Company to settle in Marietta, Ohio and environs.

“As one widely respected, later-day historian, Albert Bushnell Hart of Harvard University, would write, ‘Never was there a more ingenious, systematic and successful piece of lobbying than that of the Reverend Manasseh Cutler’ and the great Northwest Ordinance of 1787 stands Continue reading

Book Review: Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield

(Four Stars)

“It was a horrific time of my life. I don’t know if I can talk about it even now. I saw atrocities. I saw the worst in people. I was deceived into going there—misled and lied to by my own people.” Robert Trimble

Another great story of the war behind the headlines of World War II. Gripping tale of a bomber pilot who volunteered for a mission then discovered he was actually sent to do another. Well told with sufficient background and detail to Continue reading

Book Review: Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R. Tolkien (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beren and Lúthien (Middle-Earth Universe) by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

(Four Stars)

“He greatly regretted having used the word ‘Elves’, which has become ‘overloaded with regrettable tones’ that are ‘too much to overcome’. Years later, when the Elves of the Third Age had entered the history of Middle-earth, there was nothing ‘fairylike’, in the modern sense, about them.”

First published in 2017, long after the story of the title dyad appeared in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion in 1977, this volume explores the story of the story. Christopher Tolkien mines his father’s literary compost heap to dig out Continue reading

Book Review: Splintered Light: Tolkien’s World by Verlyn Flieger (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Splintered Light: Tolkien’s World, Revised Edition by Verlyn Flieger

(Five Stars)

“Tolkien’s work is more relevant to the world today than it appeared to be when The Lord of the Rings was first published in the mid-1950s. Reader initially enchanted by its fantasy world return again and again to the story for its soberer reflection of the real one.”

Drawing from the entire corpus of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work and influencers such as Owen Barfield, Flieger opens the greater vista of Tolkien’s created universe, especially as it relates to his (and our) own world. First published in 1983 and heavily revised in 2012 as more posthumous works were published, Light analyzes Tolkien and his world.

The Silmarillion can be fully understood without reference to The Lord of the Rings, but Continue reading

Book Review: Sergeant York by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill

(Four Stars)

“I only did my duty to God and my country, and every man should do this.”

The true story of an extraordinary man of conscience who also happened to be an incredible shot with a rifle. York’s struggle with the conflicting dictates of his faith and his patriotism is perhaps a more compelling story that his battlefield exploits, and those—though documented—are so incredible as to seem like pulp fiction.

“Great care has been taken to preserve his mountain dialect.”

Writing this in York’s semi-literate dialect may have played well in the 1920s, but today’s reader will find it obscure and dishonest. This is obviously Continue reading

Book Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot (Five Stars)

Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot

(Five Stars)

“We, who love the gods, do not worship them. The ancients, who worshipped the gods, did not love them. Whence is this?” Thompson

An insightful investigation of the influence of Catholic mystic Francis Thompson on the worldview and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because not only the ancient pagans but modern Christians no longer love their god, this investigation reverberates with immediacy. Not that Tolkien agreed with Thompson at every step, but that Thompson may have introduced some themes and conclusions Tolkien spent his life exploring.

“We are grown older and must face the fact. The poetry of these old things remains being immortal, but no longer for us is the intoxication of both poetry and belief.” Tolkien

Fontenot’s award-winning essay is written as if to discourage readers. Eschewing simple, straight-forward wording, she tortures the reader with convoluted sentences common to academia.

“Elves are there (in Tolkien’s tales) to demonstrate the difference” between “the devices and operations of the enemy” (magic), and “those of the Elves,” and that “their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effective, more quick, more complete. And its object is Art not Power.”

Read it anyway. It’s worth the effort. Quotes from the essay may give a feel for the scope of the essay, but neither this review nor the excerpts to justice to the richness of the work.

“Absolute Nature not in our life, now yet is lifeless, but lives in the life of God: and in so far, and so far merely, as man himself lives in that life, does he come into sympathy with Nature, and Nature with him.” Thompson

“I think that … he understands his impulse to appropriate pagan stories as the impulse toward redemption. To find the good and true at the heart of paganism, in this framework, is to participate in the work of redemption and evangelium—but throughout time rather than space.” Fontenot

“All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.” Tolkien

Book Review: Tap Code by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Tap Code: The Epic Survival Tale of a Vietnam POW and the Secret Code that Changed Everything by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry

(Five Stars)

“I am convinced that there is a reason for all of this. Whatever the reason, I am sure we can use this time to become emotionally and spiritually stronger.” Excerpted from Smitty’s first letter to reach Louise, Sep 1965.

Ruminations on the nature of integrity and struggle. Starting with the moment “Smitty” Harris was shot down on April 5, 1965, he and his wife Louise take the reader moment by moment through eight years of combat of a different sort than either imagines they would fight. Treated as criminals instead of prisoners of war, Harris and hundreds of other POWs (including Vietnamese and Thais) suffered starvation, deprivation, and intense psychological and physical abuse, though their captors tried to not inflict obvious wounds.

“If Smitty can do what he is doing right now, I can do this.” Louise

A compelling and well-told history. Told in a conversation voice. Folded timeline confuses. Digressions inside digressions. Needed on more Continue reading

Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler

(Five Stars)

“Tolkien was an ecologist, hater of ‘progress,’ lover of handicrafts, detester of war long before such attitudes became fashionable.”

Extraordinary literary criticism. I wish I read this book forty years ago. (Published in 1972, before many of Tolkien’s extended Middle-Earth stories, like The Silmarillion.) Though I have read most of Tolkien’s canon and many books about him, I gained many insights.

“Probably every writer making a secondary world … hopes that the peculiar qualities of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality or are flowing into it. The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as Continue reading