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Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real [Paperback]

Alison Milbank

Price: 21.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 Mar 2009
This book takes Chesterton's 'natural theology' through fairytales seriously as a theological project appropriate to an intellectual attempt to return to faith in a secular age. It argues that Tolkien's fiction makes sense also as the work of a Catholic writer steeped in Chestertonian ideas and sharing his literary-theological poetics. While much writing on religious fantasy moves quickly to talk about wonder, Milbank shows that this has to be hard won and that Chesterton is more akin to the modernist writers of the early twentieth-century who felt quite dislocated from the past. His favoured tropes of paradox, defamiliarization and the grotesque have much in common with writers like T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and James Joyce and their use of the demotic as well as the 'mythic method'. Using Chesterton's literary rhetoric as a frame, the book sets out to chart a redemptive poetics that first decentres the reader from his habitual perception of the world, then dramatizes his self-alienation through the grotesque, before finding in that very alienation a sort of pharmakon through paradox and an embrace of difference. The next step is to change one's vision of the world beyond the self through magic which, paradoxically, is the means by which one can reconnect with the physical world and remove the fetishism and commodification of the object. Chesterton's theology of gift is the means in which this magic becomes real and people and things enter into reciprocal relations that reconnect them with the divine.

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"'The fictional worlds of Chesterton and Tolkien are not only theological but also deeply Augustinian: they show us universes in which creatures exchange gifts with one another and with God. So argues Alison Milbank, with verve and brilliance, in this finely conceived and beautifully written book.' --Kevin Hart, The University of Virginia

'A fascinating discussion of the moral obligations implicit in Tolkien's world... a stimulating read.' --The Tablet

About the Author

Alison Milbank lectures in Literature and Theology at the University of Nottingham, UK. She was formerly John Rylands Research Institute Fellow at the University of Manchester, UK, and taught at the Universities of Cambridge, UK, Middlesex, UK, and Virginia, USA.

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insights! 12 Feb 2011
By Anne Marie Gazzolo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book contains what has to be the most beautiful description of the deep bond between Frodo and Sam I have ever read. It's a rather long quote, but it's very much worth giving, regarding the sundering of the two hobbits at the Grey Havens: "The main problem for the reader is how to separate in his or her mind two characters who have been a pair all through the novel, and who belong together. Despite his marriage, parenthood and obvious delight in Shire life, Sam is incomplete without Frodo, and Frodo an attenuated presence without Sam's earthliness. It is partly a problem of analogy, with Sam the `answer' or common feature that unites Blessed Realm and Shire." She then speaks of the resurrection of the dead: "Tolkien in his essay `On Fairy-Stories' refers to this as the `Great Eucatastrophe', when all our bodiliness shall share in some sense with our spirit - our Sam with our Frodo side. For Frodo hardly seems to have a body at all in the later parts of The Lord of the Rings, and even his pains back home in the Shire have a spiritual basis. Sam, on the contrary, is not just a reassuring physical presence but an active agent in the rebuilding of his community, and in forming human relationships. The true happy ending of the novel lies beyond the pages of the book, and yet is anticipated in moments such as Sam and Frodo's descent from Mount Doom, when Sam, a true Bunyanesque `Hopeful', leads the lost and broken Frodo to safety, just as he had borne Frodo and the Ring up to the summit, and found the burden surprisingly light. Sam is not to be reduced to an allegory of the body, for he is much more than that, but the separation of the two at the Grey Havens is emblematic of the sorrow of the separation of the soul and body at death, while their solidarity gives a taste of the ecstatic reunion of soul and body at the Resurrection" (p. 111).

I have never heard the pure love these two hobbits share explained so profoundly. I love what she says about the pain of separation of body and soul and the joy of the reunion that would come. The lovely image that arises is that Sam is the body encasing the soul and the light that shines softly from Frodo is the light of the soul shining from within the body. This surpasses what had been my favorite way of expressing their bond, that they are knitted souls as David and Jonathan were, as Ralph C. Wood in one of my very favorite books points out: "Their mutual regarding is . . . . to the friendship of Jonathan and David: `the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul' (1 Sam. 18:1)" (Gospel According to Tolkien, p. 136). They are actually closer than that, one soul within one body.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars insightful and scholarly 11 Feb 2008
By a theological strummer - Published on Amazon.com
It is indeed a terrible shame this book is priced out of the reach of simple hobbit folk. This, however, is no reason to penalize the author with poor reviews.
It deserves FIVE STARS.
I attended the lectures given by Alison Milbank upon which this book is based. Her reading of Tolkien is insightful, scholarly, and above all, readable. It will become essential reading for any future scholars wishing to work with Tolkien.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stoppian yer whingen 28 Nov 2008
By OP Filmmaker - Published on Amazon.com
Buy the paperback when it comes out. It should be out any day now. All hardbacks are steeply expensive when they first come out. Sheesh!
2 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Way too expensive 6 Jan 2008
By vladimir998 - Published on Amazon.com
I would not mind owning this book, but I do not have $94! This is an outrageous price. What is T&T Clark thinking? There are several books like this about Chesterton and Tolkein individually for about $15. One or two are published by Ignatius Press. I hope T&T wakes up soon.
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