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


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

Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Five Stars)

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

(Five out of five stars)

“Fairy tales are for adults too.” And Gaiman delivers. This fully realized fairy tale is as fresh and red-blooded as ancient mythology. Wow.

That said, this book might have been rated only four stars had it not been for the inclusion of his speech “Writing and the Imagination” (2000). Comparable to J. R. R. Tolkiens’ “On Fairy Stories” (1939). Gaiman’s speech reminds us that mythology and fairy tales are important “because they have power.” Not just as children’s stories but for all of us. He paraphrases G. K. Chesterton, “Fairy tales more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.”

Excellent read.

Pre-review: J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Beowulf”

Never done a “pre-review” before, but …

The Tolkien family has published the Professor’s 1926 translation and later commentary of “Beowulf.” Within the last year I read Tolkien’s 1936 paper “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics” and the 1940 “On Translating Beowulf,” both of which awoke a new appreciation for and understanding of that classic. I’ve backed off buying “new” Tolkien fiction as they often have not the quality of the material he actually published. But this was Tolkien’s day job.

Of the controversy over publishing Tolkien’s unfinished work, New York Times “Beowulf authority” Kevin Kiernan wrote, “It’s like Gandalf says, ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ He decided he didn’t want to waste it on a translation. He worked on ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord the Rings’ instead.”

For a professional reviews, see the Wall Street Journal or New York Times.

Looking forward to this one.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (5 stars)

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

(Five stars out of five.)

“Do well. Act with courtesy and dignity … because it is the only way to live. And that is as true for my kind as for yours.”
The best fully realized high Medieval fantasy since Tolkien. Chivalry, courtly love, feudal politics, the art and logistics of Medieval warfare. So detailed it borders on fussy. But wait, there’s more. Complex, deeply realized adversarial culture, too. (the Wild) Ooo. All seen from the “inside.” Divisions, doubt, love, sacrifice—it’s got them all. (The only things missing were festering wounds and filth. Okay by me. Yes, healing magic is the best.)
The use of Arthurian names is unfortunate because Continue reading

eBook Review: Hollow World by Sullivan

I also rated Hollow World four stars. (See my 2013 review on

Hollow World is a great example, as are most Sullivan novels, of a well-developed eucatastrophe. In his essay “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien writes in The Tolkien Reader, “Tragedy is the true form of drama, its highest form; but the opposite is true of Fairy-story.” The consolation of the unexpected happy ending Tolkien called eucatastrophe. While this story is science fiction, Sullivan is becoming of the eucatastrophe.

Full disclosure: I was also a Kickstarter supporter of this book last year, and received it and some autographed bookmarks.

Reading for Pleasure

A friend recently called reading a “fictional dream.” I totally agree. I liken it to the writer casting a spell upon the mind of the reader, which the reader welcomes.

Incongruities or just plain dullness can break the spell. (In science fiction, it’s most often crappy science. In fantasy, it’s often internal inconsistencies.) Then, no matter how good the setup or the storytelling, it’s hard to stay engaged.

Verisimilitude (following the thinking of Karl Popper) is critical at that point, making possible what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the “willing suspension of disbelief.” While the suspension takes place in the reader’s mind, it is the responsibility of the writer to maintain the “spell” not waking the reader from the “dream.” J. R. R. Tolkien called it an “enchantment” which “produces a secondary world into which both designer and spectator can enter.” As distinguished from “magic” which “produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World” (from his essay “On Fairy Stories”).

I want to lose myself in the story. I want, for a short time, to be transported to a different time or place and be totally involved in the story.

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis

Book Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Hounded by Kevin Hearne stars out of five)

A fun read. Silly, but fun. With a well-received dash of humor. An urban fantasy about a druid allied to a pack of werewolves and a vampire battling the denizens of the spirit world (mostly Irish) with the hindrance and help from various witches . . . in contemporary Arizona.

Yawn, it’s been done, right? Not so fast, what sets this urban fantasy apart is the storytelling. The POV character is a 2100 year old druid, who has the perspective and insight to see both the dangers but also the humor in his situation.

Reading this book I recognized that I look for Continue reading