Countless scholars and quite a few amateurs have tried to dissect the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Most do a rotten job. But Paul Kocher actually does it well -- while his essays are a bit outdated, "Master of Middle-Earth : The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien" still stand as some of the best interpretations of Tolkien's work.
Kocher tackles such subjects as whether Middle-Earth is really an imaginary world, or one tied closely to reality, followed by a critical look at "The Hobbit" and how it related -- or doesn't -- to "Lord of the Rings." One of the most intriguing essays in here is "Cosmic Order," a look at how Tolkien portrays free will, predestination and fate, followed by a study of how Tolkien writes Sauron and the other evil creatures of Middle-Earth, such as orcs (which Kocher thinks are trained to be evil) and barrow wights.
Kocher then does a 180 and looks at the free peoples of Middle-Earth, and the importance of each race. A careful study of Aragorn follows, tracing the uncrowned king's subtle development over the entire trilogy and studying his status as a hero. As a grand finale, Kocher examines various short works that Tolkien wrote or translated, including the lesser known creations like "Imram."
Most people who analyze "Lord of the Rings" end up like that guy in Nabokov's "Pale Fire" -- they see only what they want to see. But Paul H. Kocher, who was a professor at Stanford, does a very good job of analyzing "Lord of the Rings." Certainly nothing has been put out that disproves him.
Kocher obviously had a great deal of respect for Tolkien, even speaking with intense scorn about people who dismiss "Lord of the Rings" as "just an adventure story." But he doesn't pull his punches due to that respect -- he's about as honest as he can be when he doesn't like something, such as the cockney-speaking Trolls.
Kocher's essays are somewhat out of date, since they were written in the 1970s, long before the "Unfinished Tales" book was published, and it only dips into the "Silmarillion." But at the same time, his essays are thoughtful and in tune with Tolkien's trilogy, and stick closely to Tolkien's Christian beliefs and his mythic influences.
"Master of Middle-Earth : The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien" is a solid resource for people who have read "Lord of the Rings." Definitely worth reading.