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)