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The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The "Lord of the Rings" [Paperback]

Peter J. Kreeft
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (1 Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586170252
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586170257
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 197,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The philosopher and author, Peter Kreeft, presents what he calls "a second adventure of discovery." While nothing can equal, or replace, the adventure in reading Tolkien's masterwork, "The Lord of the Rings", Kreeft says that the journey into the underlying philosophy of Tolkien, or his "world-view", can be another exhilarating adventure. Thus, he takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into the philosophical bones of Middle earth. Like a good concordance, this book organises the philosophical themes in "The Lord of the Rings" into 50 categories, accompanied by over 1,000 references to the text.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful analysis of a great book 18 Dec 2010
What is special about the Lord of the Rings is that you want to read it again and again. It is a great prose, of course, but there are other reasons for getting enchanted with that masterpiece.
One can try to identify important philosophical issues which the book addresses, but it takes a brilliant intellectual to venture a profound analysis of the book's attraction. Peter Kreeft is just the kind of an author who can do that successfully. Reading his books is an intellectual pleasure and this one no exceptions. If this is your first book of Peter Kreeft, I hope it will prompt you to get acquainted with his other works too. (Not all of them are in print. An exellent series of lectures on the history of moral thought is available only as a download on [...] or [...]
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Middle Earth 17 Dec 2008
By Gandalf
This is a good read by a good author. More to the point, the book appealed to me on several levels. First, Dr. Kreeft provides a summary of the classic world view that rests behind Tolkein's great work. Kreeft ties the themes of LOTR with Philosophy as it used to be understood and taught. Secondly, the book serves as an outline of philosophy 101; this should be of value to many who despite a university education, still do not know their Ontology from their Ethics. Finally, as always when reading the works of Peter Kreeft, his Christian world view comes through loud and clear with the force of reason and faith. And, as iceing on the cake, Kreeft ties in the works and words of C. S. Lewis on each major point. Tolkein, Lewis and Kreeft, a bargain at any price and well worth the readers time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An extra dimension 29 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a well- thought- out and well-written book. I found it fascinating and it gives an extra dimension when reading Tolkein's works. I enjoyed it immensely.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Belief and Unfair to Tolkien 15 Sep 2011
By Gadfly
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Please do not buy this book. I have no idea what has got into the other reviewers or how on God's green earth they could have rated this five stars. It gets one star from me only because Amazon require at least one. I will give you two good reasons not to buy; (i) if you love Tolkien and are looking for genuine insights into his work you will be very, very disappointed, and (ii) although it also presents itself as "an engaging introduction to philosophy" and is, apparently, by a philosopher, it is so philosophically off the wall as to be utterly bizarre and misleading, at best, and is sometimes just plain dumb (I write, for what it is worth, as someone who has taught philosophy at an established university for more than twenty years).

With respect to the first, the book borrows heavily from C. S. Lewis; so heavily, in fact, as to make you think you've bought a book about Lewis's philosophical viewpoint. There is often not much Tolkien in it. My advice, if you like the sort of discussions which interested Lewis, is to go and buy Lewis - it's a lot more interesting and readable than this. Often, when Tolkien does appear, Kreeft just gets him wrong. I often wondered whether he had bothered to read Tolkien, the errors are so basic (e.g. Eowyn is 'saved' from the Nazgul by Pippin). The 'insights' are often, well, bonkers. For example; "Tom Bombadil and Goldberry are quite possibly the Valar Aule and Yavanna". The entries he cites in support of this possibility simply suggest no such thing. And how about this: the great Tolkien puzzle, according to Kreeft, is how and why Tolkien "has produced the most convincing, desirable, beautiful, believable and awesome Elves. And the answer is," Kreeft suggests, "that he must have been an Elf. Or at least he had Elf blood somewhere in his ancestry.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaven in Middle Earth 11 Jun 2006
By "Rocky Raccoon" - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Kreeft is a gifted writer. He is able to take some of the most difficult concepts and make them accessible to the reader. He is very concrete and clear. In this book about Tolkien, he states his objective concisely: "This book is not about Tolkien's world. It is about Tolkien's worldview, Tolkien's philosophy. Exploring that* can be another adventure. For while this philosophy is as much a part of Tolkien's world as its wars,...the philosophy is not on the surface,...but hidden beneath it,..." Kreeft uses a wealth of thinkers, philosophers, theologians, and writers to illuminate (or contrast) Tolkien's major ideas and ideals. He presents a virtue, a philosophy, or a theological concept, then defines it, expounds on it, and ties it to "The Lord of the Rings". He is also adept at applying his ideas to modern events such as 9/11. Then he takes excerpts from Tolkien's own books and provides the clincher.

As succinct as he is at this task, it is significant that he seldom mentions Tolkien for nearly the first sixty pages, and the introduction consists of only about twenty of them. Correspondingly significant, he quotes from C.S. Lewis more often than from Tolkien. However, this is a description, not a flaw, for he frames Tolkien well with Lewis. (Sometimes Lewis is better at describing the process and/or values of Tolkien.) He is masterful for tightly presenting key concepts from Plato, Dostoyevski, Sartre, G. K. Chesterton, and Hegel, just to name a few, and applying them to the framework of Tolkien's deepest beliefs. And, I must note, you don't have to have read any of these figures to understand the book or their references.

It is hard to argue with Kreeft. Like any of his books, you are backed into a corner, for which (thankfully, this reviewer believes) one must accept the Kreeft package or be a gifted debater. He is not one to compromise! I wonder what disparity there would be between a Christian and secular audience for this book. For the former, "The Philosophy of Tolkien" is soul food; for the latter, it may be a fascinating, extraneous, or infuriating experience depending on the taker. It is hard to say where Kreeft could have done better, but his other works resonate even better and seem even more seamless, but his execution is so remarkable that any minor criticisms should be taken with at least a grain of salt.

This is a brilliant book and a wonderful gift to readers. Peter Kreeft may take you on a different voyage than "The Lord of the Rings," but, while he challenges you, he does most of the work.

(Allegedly, it took Kreeft two years to publish this book because the Tolkien and Lewis estates are tight-fisted about their copyrights. If true, it would make this book a particular treasure.)

(*italicized, emphasis the author's)
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Well Beyond the Topic 17 Mar 2006
By Matthew Dickerson - Published on
This is a superb book. Well-written, and insightful. If viewed only as a work of scholarship on J.R.R.Tolkien, it might not be indispensible. But Kreeft is full of such profound insights into the bigger issues of the value of story, and how story incarnates philosophy--and he articulates them so clearly--that the book becomes a must read for anybody interested in the value of story, the value of fantasy, the value of myth... and how a reader should approach this genre of literature. Of course the book does an excellent job at the stated topic also, outlining how Tolkien's masterpiece addresses the most important questions of philosophy.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget "Lord of the Rings and Philosophy"; THIS is your book! 8 Jan 2007
By Kendal B. Hunter - Published on
I recommend this books hand and fist above "Lord of the Rings and Philosophy." It has the blessing of being both narrowly focused while surveying a broad filed. Kreeft manages to cover 50 philosophical touch-points, and show what Tolkien has to say on each of them.

This is important. Esthetics is a branch of philosophy--a neglected branch of philosophy since one wag said "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and everyone believed him--and therefore all art is a form of philosophic engagement. The astound thing this is that Tolkien never set out to be a philosopher--" It is neither allegorical nor topical . . . I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations."

On page 11, Kreeft suggests that this book can be used as a grid for comparing and contrasting books such as "Nausea," "The Stranger," or "The Sound and the Fury." He is way too modest: you can use this book as a key for unlocking every book you read. I am going to follow a similar formant for the next time I read "War and Peace." Both Tolkien and Tolstoy have written long books, and both are each other's equals.

This book's biggest boon is its concordance. Most of the 1,000 references in the text are actually contained in this nexus. The Lord of the Rings becomes a new book, allowing you to isolate key passages from the "background noise" of the prose. There is one warning: the concordance refers to specific editions of LOTR and Silmarillion, etc, so you need to get this book first and then buy the appropriate editions as found on page 229 and page 12. Hopefully when the estate of JRR finally produces a standard text, an expanded concordance can be made. Until then, use this one in conjunction with "The Complete Guide To Middle-Earth."

Although the back implies that he quotes a chilion references in the prose of the book, he doesn't. Don't blame Kreeft for this--a copy editor wrote the blurb on the back. I have had the same problem with my book "Consider My Servant Job."

This book has two drawbacks. First, Kreeft does not fully incorporate "The Hobbit" into his study and the concordance. True, "The Hobbit" is not part of the main storyline of the War of the Jewels and the Ring, and it is written as a children's book, but the charters and events are an important prequels to the LOTR. Much like Lewis's "The Horse and His Boy," Doc Smith's "Vortex Blaster," or Adam's "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe," they are bona fide parts of their respective cannons. We need to treat them as such.

The second drawback is the reliance upon C. S. Lewis. This is actually more of a philosophical since we are not sure how exactly C. S. Lewis's ideas meshed with Tolkien's. There are some oblivious differences, such their denominations (Anglican versus Catholic), or their use of allegory in their writing. However, recognizing the terse argument on page 12 , and from what we can infer, there does seem to be a lot of overlap. They both represent a classical pre-modern and pre-post-modern (an ugly word!) worldview.

The real weakness is that Tolkien did not do much formal philosophizing as Lewis. Aside from "On Fairy-Stories" and his "Letters," Tolkien did not write much on his personal intellectual beliefs. He has no equivalent of "Abolition of Man," Mere Christianity," "God in the Dock," or "Weight of Glory." All we have is the LOTR, the Hobbit, and reams of posthumously published material that is mostly draft revisions of the LOTR, and "The Silmarillion."

Furthermore, if you compare Tolkien's letters to C. S. Lewis's, you see that Lewis was the sharper thinker, and the better writer and persuader. Tolkien's letters are formal and paternalistic, with chatty parenthetical asides, and abstruse references to Old English root-words. Formal philosophizing and theologizing was not his cup of tea, so Kreeft uses Lewis to fill in the gaps.

This book is for a thoughtful reader of Tolkien, or s student of Christian philosophy and Christian art.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Commentary on a Great Book 11 Jan 2006
By Dr. - Published on
Peter Kreeft is one of the best at helping readers see key insights. For those who love Tolkien, Kreeft is a most helpful guide at exploring the worldview that permeates the entire masterpiece by Tolkien. The author of more than 40 books (not amazon reviews that miss the point) has done it again!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Read 9 Jan 2007
By D. S. Singer - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kreeft has written an engaging, highly readable book. On the one hand, it serves as a philosophy primer: it's organized according to the 50 questions asked most frequently by philosophers. Don't let that scare you off, however, because Kreeft uses his extensive knowledge of both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis to answer those questions. The book is suitable for those who wish to delve beneath the surface of LOTR and Lewis' canon, but it would also work as a textbook for an introductory philosophy class or a major author class for either Tolkien or Lewis.
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