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Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth Paperback – 31 Oct 2003

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Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth + Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through the Lord of the Rings (Thirsty)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (31 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664226108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664226107
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 246,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ralph C. Wood is Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of several books.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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There is no denying the permanent appeal of J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy-novel, The Lord of the Rings. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Feb 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a very good read, by a theology professor who pulls few punches when writing about grown-up Christianity, yet accessible and readable by lay-people who might lack specialised theological vocabulary. Ralph C Wood deals not only with the more obvious Christian themes to be found throughout Tolkien's writings, but also draws out other strands of Christian and (small-c) catholic teaching which (embarrassingly!) had not previously occurred to this traditionally-inclined Anglican reader. My only reservations concern the typos, editorial slips and straightforward silly factual mistakes which appear throughout the book at fairly regular intervals, giving it the appearance of being a "rushed job" and marring what could otherwise have been an exemplary and insightful study of Tolkien from a Christian perspective. If it goes to a second edition I hope these will be corrected, and then it will merit a 4-star rating. As it stands, the book is still a valuable addition to any Tolkienian's library. From the point of view of the average parish priest, it would make an ideal "peg" on which to hang a study course for older teens/young adults who have found spiritual meaning and inspiration in the recent films based on "The Lord of the Rings" but who might not be so familiar with the books!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
118 of 120 people found the following review helpful
Very helpful and thought-provoking 16 Oct 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have read a number of books that explore the themes of The Lord of the Rings. Some of these books have attempted to deal with alleged Christian themes in the story. Some of those books are ridiculously shallow and superficial. Others are quite insightful. Ralph Wood's book falls into the latter category - a very helpful and thoughtful exploration of the issues. [NOTE: The 1 star review by the person from NYC who could only manage to make it through the first chapters tells us more about the reviewer than the book].
Wood chooses to approach the material in a different way. His book is divided into five chapters, each of which centers on a major element in the Christian worldview: Creation, Evil, the Moral Life, the Redeemed Life, and final Consummation.
Using material drawn from the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, and other less well-known stories, Wood examines the way that Tolkien handles these themes in the mythology of Middle-earth.
Contrary to what another reviewer below claims, Wood does not overstate his case, nor does he ignore passages in Tolkien's stories that might seem to contradict his thesis (this is particularly true in his handling of the virtue of hope).
The last chapter is especially interesting because it examines a little-known story buried in the multi-volume "History of Middle Earth" series (the specific volume is titled Morgoth's Ring) edited by Christopher Tolkien. This work entitled "The Debate of Finrod and Andreth" is set in the form of a debate between an elf and a human, and it contains a fascinating prophecy of the future incaration of Iluvatar (the one God of the Tolkien mythology) and the final eradication of evil and the renewal of all creation.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A good companion. 24 Mar 2005
By Israel Galindo - Published on
Format: Paperback
The plethora of books with a variant of the title "The Gospel According To ..." continues to fill bookshelves and entice the unwary buyer into reading some attempt to shoehorn popular culture into the biblical message. The earliest of this genre that I can recall was The Gospel According to Peanuts (still in print since 1965), after the popular cartoon strip by the late Charles Schultz. Being a confessing Christian, Mr. Schultz did on occasion openly present a Christian message through his syndicated strip-the most famous and endearing being the rendition by the blanket-hugging Linus of Luke's birth narrative in Schultz' animated Christmas television feature. Today we have our choice of The Gospel According to Dr. Seuz, The Gospel According to The Simpsons, The Gospel According to Harry Potter, The Gospel According to Disney, and The Gospel According to The Sopranos (I'm not making that last one up, really).

Ralph C. Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, has now added to that collection The Gospel According to Tolkien. It is arguably the only volume that can legitimately make a claim to that title, for as Wood ably demonstrates, Tolkien's corpus is implicitly, but authentically, Christian. Tolkien's Middle Earth trilogy has experienced a rediscovery, if not a revival, among a wider audience due to Peter Jackson's brilliant movie interpretation of The Lord of the Rings, so the timing of this publication could not have been more strategic.

Wood presents an accessible theological interpretation to The Lord of the Rings material, though he draws from Tolkien's entire corpus of writings, from works like The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, as well as letters and essays, in which Tolkien provides the background and history of the mythic Middle Earth as well as commentary on the nature and purpose of the literary genre in which he worked. This background material is in evidence especially in the first two chapters of the book in Wood's treatment of the themes of creation, the Fall (both of the mythic world of Tolkien and of the real world), the nature of sin ("iniquity") and evil. Subsequent chapters stay closer to the more familiar Middle Earth material of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. These later chapters deal with the themes of good and evil, and Tolkien's vision of the Kingdom. The most valuable contribution of this book, I believe, is Wood's treatment of the redeeming virtues in the panoramic drama of Tolkien's world and ours. Specifically, his treatment of the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, courage, and temperance-as well as his treatment on Tolkien's concepts of eucatostrophes, community, and the nature of stories-serve in an authentic way to connect the dots between Tolkien's dense cosmology and the Christian faith.

For those wishing to delve into the informing Christian theology that plays out behind the curtain of Tolkien's dramatic trilogy, or for those who want an overtly Christian introduction to the epic story of The Lord of the Rings, there is unlikely a better resource to be found. Wood's book will not only help introduce the reader to the theological world of Tolkien's Middle Earth, but will provide insight into the importance of stories-of good stories-to our ability to understand the Gospel message.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
"A fundamentally religious and Catholic work." 19 Jan 2006
By J. Colon - Published on
Format: Paperback
There are many books out there that are trying to Christianize works of literature and popular media these days. I am sure you have seen them. Books that claim you can find Christ in Harry Potter, The Matrix, and Star Wars. I think we can agree that in most cases these books are really IMPOSING Christianity on these works. But J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" is different. In "Letters", page 243, Tolkien himself states that the "Lord of the Rings" is a "fundamentally religious and Catholic work." These are Tolkien's very own words. He confirms the Christianity of his epic yet again on page 172 of "Letters" when he states that "The religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism." So, right of the bat "The Gospel according to Tolkien" is set apart from other books of the genre. Ralph Wood is not imposing Christianity on "The Lord of the Rings", he is exploring the Christianity that Tolkien himself integrated into his great work of literature.

Ralph Wood's book is a very good introduction to the Christianity of the "Lord of the Rings." He makes it clear that reading the "Lord of the Rings" with the eyes of faith will greatly enhance ones understanding of what Tolkien was doing in writing his great epic. The only problem for me is that Ralph Wood decided to write his book from an ecumenical perspective. The themes he explores in his book are those that are shared by all Christians. Now I realize that one can view this as a very good thing. But Tolkien was a Catholic, and the "Lord of the Rings" was deeply affected by his Catholic faith. So if one explores the Christianity of the "Lord of the Rings" without exploring the Catholicism of it, I feel we are left with a somewhat incomplete study. Ralph Woods touches on the Catholic aspect only briefly now and then. He does state that the Elven "Lembas" bread is highly reminiscent of the Eucharist. Ralph Wood also mentions that the Vala Elbereth parallels the Catholic view of the Virgin Mary. But, to my recollection that is the limit of Wood's exploration of the specifically Catholic elements of the "Lord of the Rings." This is why I stated that Ralph Wood's book is a good INTRODUCTION to the Christianity of Tolkien's books. There are many books out there that explore the full religiosity of the "Lord of the Rings" in a complete manner. Still, I would recommend you read "The Gospel According to Tolkien" first before going deeper into the Theology of Middle-Earth.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Thought-provoking and intelligent 13 July 2004
By Kevin Dunn - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a very good study of the Christian underpinning of Tolkien's work. His great mythology is set in pre-Christian times, so cannot be overtly Christian, but celebrates and points to the loveliness and necessity of the great Christian values. Further, it has a Christian eschatology reminiscent of the Four Last Things - Heaven. Hell, Death and Judgement. Even an Orcv and the Lord of the Nazgul, it may be noted, refer to some sort of life after death.
There is no real Christ-figure in The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien himself said Frodo was not an equivalent of Christ but simply a good soldier who sacrificed himself to the utmost in a good cause. Gandalf is a supernatural being - a Maia - equivalent to an angel.
It is interesting to note in the movie of "The Two Towers" how much Galadrial, who blesses and intercedes for the members of the Fellowship, resembles many depictions of the Madoona.
Note too, how the elvish hymn to Elbereth resembles the Catholic hymn "Hail Queen of Heaven"
Tolkien's work is congruent with Christianity, and its message is a celebration of Christian values. Plainly it could not have been set in Christian times - the theological problems would have been too great (the Christian Arthur stories are full of theological difficulties).
I would recommend this book be read in conjunction with the two other best books on the subject - Shippey's "JRR Tolkien, Author of the Century," and Hal GP Colebatch's "Return of the Heroes" both available from Together they give a comprehensive and balanced account of the religious elements in Tolkien's work ("Return of the Heroes" brings in "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" as well.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Excellent study in the Christian principles of Middle-Earth 24 Jan 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I've found The Gospel According to Tolkien to be the most comprehensive exploration and study on the spiritual themes of Middle-Earth that is available today. Ralph C. Wood shows his true understanding of Tolkien's works, extending beyond just the trilogy of books itself.
No one can deny that, while eschewing blatant allegory (ala C.S. Lewis), Tolkien inserted numerous Christian themes and principles into his wonderful 1,000 + literary work. Wood works his way through the beginning of Middle-Earth (not going back to the Shire; I'm talking the very beginning, when Eru first began the Symphony of Creation) to discuss the Music of the Ainur that sang into being Arda, the world within. No one can deny that a supernatural Father of All ("Eru" literally translated "The One" in Elvish) creating a world with the music of his divine minions is too far off from the mainstream Judeo-Christian story of Biblical Creation. But this is just the beginning. Wood next explores the disfigurement of celestial accord found in the original Dark Lord Morgoth, whose workings wrought great woe in Middle-Earth's founding years. Wood then looks at how evil is countered throughout the ages of Middle-Earth, followed by Tolkien's redeeming principles of life, and finally the lost tale of the coming Consummation of Middle-Earth.
I found the book on a whole to be rather academic, long-winded, and at times dull. But some can find this to be the case with Tolkien's books as well, so you should know what you're in for. Anyone who HAS seen the trilogy through in book form should be able to stick with this. While academic in nature, the contemplations, and revelations are none the less enjoyable.
Again, very comprehensive and complete study of the theological themes gleaned from these works, and if you are interested in learning more about them, buy this book.
Comical side note: Be aware when you buy this book that roughly 50% of the cost is devoted to ten-dollar words like "milquetoast", "supernal", "repudiate", "concupiscence", and "ubiquitous".
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