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    Ever since I arrived at Cambridge as a student in 1964 and encountered a tribe of full-grown
    women wearing puffed sleeves, clutching teddies and babbling excitedly about the doings of
    hobbits, it has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of
    the twentieth century. The bad dream has materialised.
        -Germaine Greer

I believe the Lord of the Rings to be the greatest fiction of the 20th Century and perhaps the greatest of all time.  The failure to include it on the Modern Library Top 100 is completely inexplicable.  Happily, the Amazon Top 100, which was voted on by actual readers, put it at number one.  Allow me to offer the reasons, both objective and personal, why I think that is it's rightful place on any list.

When we speak of authors as gods, or more likely they speak of themselves as such, there is of course an element of hyperbole, but it accompanies a kernel of truth.  Within the boundaries of their fiction, authors are in fact Creators and wield godlike powers.  They define reality, control events, decide who lives and who dies.  The best of them create characters and situations that the reader genuinely cares about and a very few of them, the best of the best, create characters and situations which seem to exist beyond the bounds of the story.  To take an easy example, there is Sherlock Holmes.  Not only do many people simply assume that he actually existed, not only did readers demand that he be brought back from the dead, there is a continual flow of further adventures and prequels being written all the time.  Holmes is so "real" to us that an author can write about his childhood or his old age and easily carry us along because in our guts we feel that he enjoyed such phases of life.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a character whom we feel must have had a past and a future independent of the tales the author left us.  This is truly a remarkable accomplishment.

On the other hand, consider Leopold Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses (see Orrin's review).  Because the entire novel is technique and artifice it is impossible to imagine a Bloom who exists outside of the author's head.  He has no past or future because Joyce didn't write them.  This in itself does not make Ulysses a bad book--there are plenty of other reasons that it is a bad book.  It is certainly possible to create a great book or a great protagonist within these bounds.  Holden Caufield, for instance, is a great character and Catcher in the Rye a great book (see Orrin's review), but he is unimaginable as an adult.  Though memorable and sympathetic, his existence is intrinsically enmeshed within this particular novel.

All of which is by way of introduction to what is perhaps the greatest feat of creative imagination in all of literature, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien created not merely one or two characters who seem to have an external existence, he created an entire world, several races, entire languages, mythologies, songs, poetry, and so on, until finally it comes to seem that he is merely the historian of a separate world, rather than it's Creator.  The thoroughness with which he realizes his unique vision gives to his fiction a texture and a substance which may never be equaled.  He was able to achieve this remarkable effect in large part by spending years working on the background elements of his story before ever turning his attention to the main narrative thread.  For example, dwarves are a common enough staple of fantasy and fairy tales, but because Tolkien had spent years developing a dwarvish language and writing a history of the dwarves and imagining a dwarvish mythology, when we come upon a dwarf in Middle Earth, he seems not to be a convenient imaginary figure but an actual being with his own life story, racial history and tongue.  This is likewise true for the elves, the hobbits, even the orcs--a pretty amazing achievement.

All of this would suffice to rank these books among the world's greatest, even if he just put the characters through some fairly pedestrian paces, just some standard quest or adventure.  But Tolkien's has a much higher ambition here.  His religious influences and aims are well understood and I'll not dwell on them here.  I'm more interested in the way the stories function as democratic myth.  The great tension in the series is not truly between good and evil, rather it derives from the capacity of power to corrupt good people.  Elves and men and dwarves and even Gandalf must all struggle, some successfully, some not, against the temptation to take the ring of power themselves.  Each is able to imagine that committing acts of short term evil will allow them to act for what they perceive as the greater good.  But in fact it is only the lowly hobbits, Sam and Frodo, with no aspirations towards greatness, who can wield power selflessly and even they ultimately require divine intervention to finally destroy the ring.  This political understanding further elevates the series and provides it with a message that resonates with our experience, particularly in the 20th Century.  The various races who are tempted by the ring resemble New Dealers and Bolsheviks and Maoists, each of them thinking that they are uniquely capable of using power toward good ends, failing to perceive that the seductive qualities of power itself is warping their souls.  In the end, in Middle Earth as on Earth, only the humble folk should be trusted with power and even they bear watching.

Finally, to my subjective reasons.  If my Mom is to be believed, and I think we can trust her on this one, it was around 5th grade that I really became a reader.  As I recall, my teacher Mrs. Deakens got me going on books about explorers.  Like any young boy I was captivated by such tales of adventure.  I devoured comic books swashbucklers and science fiction.  I read every Doc Savage I could get my hands on, Tarzan (see Orrin's review), John Carter of Mars, Conan, and any other pulp fiction I could find.  Meanwhile, our neighbor, Mark Farris, read the same books over and over again in an unending cycle--the Chronicles of Narnia (see Orrin's review) straight through, then the Lord of the Rings from start to finish and back to Narnia--and he swore by them.  Now the Narnia books weren't too daunting. each one is pretty slender, so I managed them.  But the Lord of the Rings offers quite an imposing structure to the kid who contemplates reading it.  Taken together the four books are what? maybe 1700 or so pages?  Well, of course I did eventually screw up my courage and tackle this daunting task and not only was I ensorceled by the story, but having finished I was naturally inordinately proud of myself.  Add that sense of self satisfaction into the mix and I'd imagine that for most kids who read the series at a certain age it inevitably becomes their favorite.  In fact, I'd like to get these kids who are so enraptured by the Harry Potter books (see Orrin's review) and make sure that they continue on through C.S. Lewis and on to Tolkien.  The Potter books are fun; Tolkien is sublime.


Grade: (A+)


J.R.R. Tolkien Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: J.R.R. Tolkien
    -LETTER: “There’s no invention in the void.”: Read a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien on the origins of Middle-earth. (Emily Temple, July 15, 2022, LitHub)
    -Letter To Milton Waldman (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1951)
    -PODCAST: Podcast: Tolkien Takes Us Places: Unearthing the real-life places and events that inspired fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. (Atlas Obscura, OCTOBER 9, 2023)
    -SUMMARY: The Hobbit in a Nutshell (JOSEPH PEARCE, 10/22/22, Crisis)
    -SUMMARY: Lord of the Rings in a Nutshell (Joseph Pearce, 11/05/22. Crisis)
    -ESSAY: Forgotten Classics: The Silmarillion is Worth Your Time. No, Really! (Felix James Miller, 2/25/23, European Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The political philosophy of Tolkien (Gary McGath, November 21, 2023, Online Library of Liberty)
    -ESSAY: The Fellowship and Me (Liv Ross, 5/18/24, Voegelin View)
    -ESSAY: Dragons, Hoards, and Theft: Beowulf and The Hobbit (Anna Leman, June 16, 2023m, Online Library of Liberty)
    -ESSAY: How Tolkien’s Frenemy, Charles Williams, Indirectly Saved Lord of the Rings (John Shelton on July 11, 2024, Providence)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien's Secret: Tolkien’s tale reminds us that we ourselves are part of the Great Story. (Robert Lazu Kmita, June 8, 2024, European Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Clausewitz in Middle-Earth: Although the setting feels medieval, the War of the Ring is recognizably a modern war. (Graham Macaleer, 5/24/24, Law & Liberty))
    -ESSAY: The Hidden Meaning of the One Ring : Tolkien shows us the similarity between machinery and magic, which both point to the desire for power. (Robert Lazu Kmita, January 4, 2024, European Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Liturgical Conservatism and the Modern Novel: The greatest Catholic writers of the 20th century drew on the deep riches of the liturgy to speak to the secular age. (Roy Peachey, October 29, 2023, European Conservative)
    -ESSAY: How Tolkien filled Middle-Earth with a “weird realism” philosophy: The One Ring has its own agency and sentience — and it opens up a wonderful philosophy of things beyond our comprehension. (Nick Groom, 9/09/23, Big Think)
    -ESSAY: The Tragedy of Despair (Nathaniel Urban, September 5th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Misreading Middle-Earth: Tolkien and the Contemporary Reader: Fantasy is more popular than ever, and this is the direct consequence of Tolkien’s success. But the genre has survived by adapting, and in an age of secularism, that process has involved evaporating the religious themes Tolkien cared about so deeply. (Josh Allan, 2 Sep 2023, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien and Theology (Bradley J. Birzer, September 2nd, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien, 50 years on: The true scale of his legacy is gradually becoming apparent (Sebastian Milbank, 9/02/23, The Critic)
    -ESSAY: How J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels were inspired by Medieval poems of ‘northern bravery’ (Madeleine S. Killacky, September 1, 2023 , The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien’s Traditionalism: Conveniently Forgotten? (Julian Kwasniewski, June 13th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Good and Evil in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (Pedro Blas Gonzalez, 3/06/23, Voegelin View)
    -ESSAY: The Death and Resurrection of Bilbo Baggins (Joseph Pearce, February 8th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: “The Hobbit” and Virtue (Joseph Pearce, November 13th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: “Sad but not unhappy”: J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision of sorrow and joy (Ralph C. Wood, 5 September 2022, ABC REligion & Ethics)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien’s Easter Joy in “The Lord of the Rings” (Nathaniel Birzer, April 16th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien's Political Soulcraft (Titus Techera, 2/02/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien's Intricate Politics: Tolkien saw the destructive potential of all forms of government. He endorsed none of them through his stories. (Henry T. Edmondson III, 2/25/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien on Reality (Joseph Pearce, April 27th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Socialism, Nationalism, and Tolkien: How an unfinished Lord of the Rings sequel gives insight into young radicals on the left and right. (Alec Dent, Sep 3/22, The Dispatch)
    -ESSAY: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Jewish Dwarves (Matthew Wills September 24, 2022, JStor Daily)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien’s True Love: The values of Tolkien’s world are not those of moral relativism, but those of the traditional Christian conception of courtship and romantic loyalty, in which the intimate aspects of love are treated with discretion and respect that protects their nobility. (Robert Lazu Kmita, June 21, 2023, European Conservative)
-REVIEW: of Tolkien's Modern Reading by Holly Ordway (Bradley J. Birzer, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Who is Tom Bombadil? In Search of the “One-Answer-To-Rule-Them-All”: a review of In the House of Tom Bombadil by C.R. Wiley (Jeremy Johnston, July 6, 2022, Front Porch Republic)
    -ESSAY: Who Is Tom Bombadil? (JACK BUTLER, July 11, 2022, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Stratford Caldecott & the Secret Fire: Understanding Tolkien (Robert Lazu Kmita, June 10th, 2024, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Between Middle Earth and the West: 130 years from his birth, what can we learn from Tolkien? (David Engels, 3 January, 2022, The Critic)
    -ESSAY: The Power of Poetry in The Hobbit (MARY CUFF, 10/16/21 Crisis)
    -ESSAY: Tolkien's Ring: When immortality is not enough (Spengler, 1/05/04, Asia Times)
    --ESSAY: Christ Figures in “The Lord of the Rings” (Joseph Pearce, February 8th, 2021, Imaginative Conservative)
    -LECTURE: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: J.R.R.TOLKIEN, CATHOLICISM AND THE USE OF ALLEGORY (David (Lord) Alton at the Catholic Society of Bath University and Bath Spa University College on Thursday 20th of February 2003)
    -ESSAY: THE RETURN OF THE KING: TOLKIEN AND THE NEW MEDIEVALISM: The obsession with power, will and hierarchy in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings fuels its dangerous topicality: a vindication and veneration of empire. (K.A. DILDAY, OpenDemocracy)
    -ESSAY: THE RING AND THE RINGS: Wagner vs. Tolkien (ALEX ROSS, 2003-12-15, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Imaginary Histories: How Tolkien’s Fascination with Language Shaped His Literary World (Damien Bador, April 8, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -REVIEW: of The Hobbit (C. S. Lewis, The Times Literary Supplement, October 2, 1937)
    -ESSAY: How the Horror and Fellowship of World War I Shaped “Lord of the Rings” (ALEX LAUER, 12/20/21, Inside Hook)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Tolkien’s “The Children of Húrin” (Bradley J. Birzer, September 10th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of The Fall of Númenor, And Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth By J. R. R. Tolkien (Ben Reinhard, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of Tolkien and Theology, edited by Douglas Estes (Stephen H. Conlin, Imaginative Conservative)
-REVIEW: of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Revised and Expanded Edition Edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien (Isaiah Flair. University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of Myth, Magic, and Power in Tolkien’s Middle-earth by James E. Siburt (Jesse Russell, Voegelin View)


-REVIEW ESSAY: Defenders of Civilization: Two problems—war and kingship—should guide the viewer revisiting Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films twenty years later. (Titus Techera, 1/28/22, Law & Liberty)
    -TV REVIEW: The Rings of Power: The Necessity of Vigilance and the Limits of Beauty (Marc LiVecche on September 9, 2022, Providence)
    -REVIEW: of J. R. R. Tolkien's Utopianism and the Classics by Hamish Williams (Graham MacAleer, Law & Liberty)


    -ESSAY: Rings of Power: Sauron’s Call and the Way of the Servant King (ANNA DAUB | NOVEMBER 06, 2022, Center for Faith & Culture)
-TV REVIEW: of Rings of Power: The Lore of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction is suffused with the pleasures of scholarship and study. Amazon’s new franchise The Rings of Power can’t sit still. (Austin Gilkeson, January 24, 2023, NY Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
-The J.R.R. Tolkien Information Page
    -Tolkien's Oxford
    -The Tolkien Timeline
    -One Ring - The Complete Guide to Tolkien Resources
    -The Tolkien Society
    -Tolkien Archives
    -The Hobbit and Gollum: "The Riddle Game" by Tom Kirk
    -The Hobbit Site
    -The World of J.R.R. Tolkien
    -A History and Complete Chronology of Númenor
    -The Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor
    -The Last Homely House  (Aaron Fuegi)
    -ESSAY: Lord of the Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic (Brian Handwerk, December 18, 2002, National Geographic News)
    -ESSAY : Mordor, he wrote... : The Lord of The Rings is set to rival Star Wars, both at the box office and as a mythic portrayal of the battle of good and evil. So it's time we recognised the qualities of Tolkien's book as well (Neil Spencer, December 9, 2001, The Observer)
    -ESSAY : The Battle of the Books  : No contest. Tolkien runs rings around Potter.  (BRIAN M. CARNEY, November 30, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : The Fellowship of the Ring : Wherein an Oxford don and his ragtag army of fans turn a fairy tale about hobbits into the ultimate virtual world. Can any movie ever do it justice? (Erik Davis, October 2001, Wired)
    -ESSAY : Y«'Tolkien was not a writer' :  Y«What is the secret of The Lord of the Rings' appeal? Re-reading the books in the run up to the film, AN Wilson found a surprising answer SOME time ago, in one of his witty columns in The Telegraph, Andrew  Marr repeated a story of CS Lewis, in his college rooms at Oxford,  listening to JRR Tolkien reading aloud from The Lord of the Rings,  and interrupting with: "Oh no! Not another f***ing elf!" (A.N. Wilson, November 2001, Daily Telegraph)
   -PROFILE : Letters reveal Tolkien as a grouchy Hobbit (Cahal Milmo, 02 November 2001, Independent uk)
    -ESSAY : Lord of the words (02 November 2001, Independent uk)
    -ESSAY : Finding God in 'The Lord of the Rings' (Jim Ware,
    -ESSAY: The Fairy Tales of J.R.R. Tolkien: Roverandom, Farmer Giles, Smith of Wootton Major
    -ESSAY : Kicking the Hobbit (Chris Mooney, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : The book of the century :  Although its popularity is unparalleled, intellectuals dismiss "The Lord of the Rings" as boyish fantasy. Now one scholar defends J.R.R. Tolkien's  "true myth" as a modern masterpiece (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -DISCUSSION: Why The Lord of the Rings Is Dangerous: The authors of Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues and J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth talk about the Christian life in Faerie.: A conversation between Brad Birzer and Mark Eddy Smith (Christianity Today)
    -Songs and Poems from The Lord of the Rings
    -Online Study Guide: The Hobbit (Sparknotes)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. (Patrick Gardner, Spark Notes)
    -Literary Research Guide: J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)
    -TEACHER'S GUIDE: The Hobbit (Robert Foster)
    -REVIEW: Secular Hobbitism (W. H. Auden, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Janet Adam Smith: Does Frodo Live?, NY Review of Books
        Master of Middle-earth: The Fiction of J. R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kocher
        The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. II: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
        The Lord of the Rings, Vol. III: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
    -REVIEW: The Hobbit  J. R. R. Tolkien Illustrated by Alan Lee (James Seidman, SF Site)
    -ESSAY: Lord of the Rings (Terry Pratchett, Washington Post Book World)
    -REVIEW: THE BOOK OF LOST TALES Part One. By J. R. R. Tolkien LANGUAGE AND PREHISTORY OF THE ELVES (Barbara Tritel, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: THE LETTERS OF J.R.R.TOLKIEN Selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (D.J.R. Bruckner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Roverandom  A Forgotten Tolkien Tale (David Grayson, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: Tolkien, J. R. R. Roverandom (Booklist)
    -ESSAY: Flaming Swords and Wizards' Orbs (Edward Rothstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century By Tom Shippey (Patricia Bernstein, Houston Chronicle)
    -BOOK LIST : Beyond Hobbits : A Defense of Fantasy with a Reading List (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World)

FILM:[tm]| Lord of the Rings Movie News and Rumors
    -Lord Of The Rings Movie / Hobbit Movie   Fact /Rumor Roundup (xenite)
    -REVIEW: The Hobbit (Stomp Tokyo)
    -REVIEW : of The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Ring (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

    -REVIEW : of The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Ring (Richard Corliss, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Ring ()
    -REVIEW : of The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Ring ()
    -REVIEW : of The Lord of the Rings : Fellowship of the Ring ()
    -REVIEW : of Fellowship of the Ring (Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Fellowship (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Two Towers (Jeffrey Overstreet, Christianity Today)

    -The Brothers Hildebrandt