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Tolkien: Man and Myth [Hardcover]

Joseph Pearce
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Oct 1998

In 1997 The Lord of the Rings was voted the twentieth century’s greatest work of literature in the English language, by the customers of Waterstones and viewers of Channel 4.

Now, to mark twenty-five years since his death, this important new biographical appreciation of his life explores the man and his work.

Tolkien: Man and Myth takes a controversial approach to Tolkien’s imaginative literature. Unlike the conventional view that his fantasy writing was an escape from reality, Pearce argues that Tolkien saw his great epics about Middle-earth as a leap into reality. Understanding Tolkien’s view of life, faith and the supernatural is crucial to fully appreciating the deep levels of meaning in his three major works: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

J. R. R. Tolkien had no more than seven books published during his lifetime and yet he is a towering literary figure around the world. Tolkien: Man and Myth considers him in the context of his time and also his beliefs. It examines his influence upon other story tellers such as C. S. Lewis and the influence upon him of the writers group called the Inklings. Here is a valuable book for all the many fans of ‘the Century’s most popular writer!’



Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (5 Oct 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002740184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002740180
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 910,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘This fine apologia will certainly shift to some degree our polarised view of Ronald Tolkien… Pearce writes beautifully and with great depth… Even Germaine Greer, the great Tolkien-basher, might have second thoughts after reading him.’
Ronald Blythe in
‘The Tablet’

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' took the first place in a recent national poll to find the greatest book of the century. He may be the most popular writer of our age, but Tolkien is often misunderstood. This major new study of his life, his character and his work reveals the facts and confronts the myths. It explores the background to the man and the culture in which he wrote.

'Tolkien: Man and Myth' observes the relationships that the master writer had with his closest literary colleagues. It reveals his uneasy relationship with C.S. Lewis, the writer of the Narnia books, and the roots of their estrangement.

In this original book about a leading literary life, Joseph Pearce enters the world created by Tolkien in the seven books published during his lifetime. He explores the significance of Middle Earth and what it represented in Tolkien's thinking. Myth, to him, was not a leap from reality but a leap into reality.

Other aspects of his fascinating life troubled Tolkien greatly. The impact of his great notoriety, his relationship with material possessions and his traditional religious faith are all explored, making it possible to understand both the man and the myth he created.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" (Tolkien, in a letter to Robert Murray)
These words might not be to the liking of many Tolkien critics, analysts or pseudo-writers that have been trying to unravel the Tolkien Myth. I believe that many of them have been at least partially unsuccessful due to the simple fact that they underestimated or totally overlooked the main essence of Tolkien's life which was his spiritual faith as a Catholic.
Of course, this is by no means popular for a writer. Indeed , being a Catholic can mean instant "unpopularity" in certain cases; a paradox considering that Tolkien is by all means an extremely popular personality. Probably popularity has been helped by misunderstanding the man as a consequence of so many superfluous opinions by wrongly called "Tolkien experts".
It is thus with great enthusiasm that I read this essay by Joseph Pearce. It is a well documented and objective work that reaches on to the very deep roots of Tolkien's motivations and perceptions of the world which were based on his Christian beliefs and his life as a convinced Catholic.
The essay begins with a lively description of the turbulence caused when several reader polls established Tolkien as "The Author of the Century". Although this is an interesting (even fun) part, the most valuable comes from the rest of the book where we discover a proper view of Tolkien as essentially a Catholic author. Pearce , convincingly achieves this through an impartial presentation of documents, facts and original testimonials that permits us to glimpse the "Real Tolkien".
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16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien: understanding the misunderstood 27 Dec 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
JOHN RONALD REUEL TOLKIEN was voted best writer of the 20th century, yet he also qualifies as the most controversial and misunderstood. At a very young age he moved from Africa to England with his mother and brother, where he spent the rest of his life giving his utmost reflection to the routes of development behind Aglo-Nordic language. This book tries to examine the relationship of the myth behind the man and the man behind the myth he himself created. It is an in-depth examination of the rapport between Tolkien and his surroundings; his friends, his family, his creations, and above all Christianity, the belief for the cause of which his mother had struggled for up to the point of exhaustion. TOLKIEN: MAN AND MYTH is a very powerful book that tries to put lines straight. Beyond doubt, an absolutely proper tribute befitting the great MASTER behing the MYTH of fantasy.
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9 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien through a purely Catholic prism 26 Aug 2001
Format:Paperback
The strongest part of this book is the review of critical reaction to the choice of "Lord of the Rings" as Book of the Century in a UK Booksellers poll. It certainly shows that the literati didn't exactly strain to understand what draws so many people to read (and re-read) "The Lord of the Rings".

Joseph Pearce picks a wonderful quote from Brenda Partridge, which has parts of the story deconstructed into a tale of male hegemony and sexual violence. The problem for atheist readers is that the shoe horning of any complex story into a rigid framework is just as obvious (and grating) when it's done from the perspective of the orthodox Catholic as from (say) a feminist. In the end, this is a book which has some pleasing insights, but never quite leaves the pages of The Tablet.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A study to find the real Man behind the Myth: Tolkien 25 Sep 2001
By Pablo Iglesias Alvarez - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" (Tolkien, in a letter to Robert Murray)
These words might not be to the liking of many Tolkien critics, analysts or pseudo-writers that have been trying to unravel the Tolkien Myth. I believe that many of them have been at least partially unsuccessful due to the simple fact that they underestimated or totally overlooked the main essence of Tolkien's life which was his spiritual faith as a Catholic.
Of course, this is by no means popular for a writer. Indeed , being a Catholic can mean instant "unpopularity" in certain cases; a paradox considering that Tolkien is by all means an extremely popular personality. Probably popularity has been helped by misunderstanding the man as a consequence of so many superfluous opinions by wrongly called "Tolkien experts".
It is thus with great enthusiasm that I read this essay by Joseph Pearce. It is a well documented and objective work that reaches on to the very deep roots of Tolkien's motivations and perceptions of the world which were based on his Christian beliefs and his life as a convinced Catholic.
The essay begins with a lively description of the turbulence caused when several reader polls established Tolkien as "The Author of the Century". Although this is an interesting (even fun) part, the most valuable comes from the rest of the book where we discover a proper view of Tolkien as essentially a Catholic author. Pearce , convincingly achieves this through an impartial presentation of documents, facts and original testimonials that permits us to glimpse the "Real Tolkien".
Written in an agile and practical style, it permits a clear and pleasant reading without falling into the usual dull academicism of many essays.
I consider this, along with "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien" a most illuminating source to enjoy and truly understand the creator of such beauty as "The Lord of the Rings". Regarding beauty, let me end quoting Tolkien again: "...Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded"
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien the Devout 30 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the man behind the LOTR, The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion. Largely based on Tolkien's own letters, as well as perspectives from critics, friends and family, Pearce's book offers a fresh and insightful perspective of Christianity's influence on Tolkien's philosophy and use of myth. I have seen no other work that provides such an articulate and well documented linkage between the man's faith and his works. Pearce succinctly and effectively dismantles claims that Tolkien is either reactionary or escapist, while furthering the case that the creative genius is one of the most important and influential authors of this century. As a Christian, I am inspired by Pearce's description of Tolkien's Theocentric approach to life and to his work. Traveling in Christian "fundamentalist" circles, I too often see Tolkien's name associated with occult and New Age activity. Of all criticisms leveled at the man and his works, I'm sure that these unfair allegations would hurt this devout Christian more than all others. Only a profound misunderstanding of the man and his myth ( and Myth, in general ) could lead to such a confused opinion. T:M&M also educated me as to the profound impact Tolkien had on his fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, the renowned Christian apologist, whose own works, including the Narnia tales ( which were heavily influenced by Tolkien), are staples in every Christian bookstore. And yet Tolkien's name is often pronounced with contempt in Christian circles. Again, this book may help to silence this kind of calumny. Furthermore, Pearce's book has prompted me to read the works of G.K. Chesterton ( another noted apologist ) , as well as more of the letters, essays, and unfinished tales of Tolkien himself. T:M&M reminded me of my early days as a born again Christian. Having discovered Tolkien two years before I "discovered" Christ, I now recall the odd sense of familiarity and recognition when I read the Bible for the first time. At the time I simply attributed this to a primitive recognition of the Truth which is hardwired into the hearts of all men. I still believe that, but I also recognize that I was "remembering" my previous experience with Tolkien. His myths were just as he had intended them - a variation on the theme of the "True Myth" of Christ Jesus. Thanks to Mr. Pearce for helping me recognize this.
77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 1/2 stars...an essential companion 30 Jan 2002
By Ryan McNabb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The truth is that "The Lord of the Rings" didn't just win in one poll, it won in several, and Tolkien himself won "author of the century". What really upset the literati was that he won again, and again, and again. Burned 'em up, it did. What this said was that "The Lord of the Rings" was not 'the greatest' book of the century, but it was the one people loved the most, the one they cherished and gave their children, the one that had the most meaning for them in the quiet places of their hearts. Which hurt the establishment even more, I expect, and which leads us to Mr. Pearce's book.
Part of the problem with writing biographical material now nearly 30 years after a seminal biography (and a dozen or more literary critiques) have come to press regarding one of the century's most popular writers, is that it's all pretty much been said. So don't be surprised when Carpenter's excellent and justly famous biography is footnoted many, many times. This isn't meant to be an entirely original biography. The biographical section does in 4 pages what Carpenter does in 40 - this book is about something else. Tolkien distrusted traditional biography and doubted very seriously that just because something happened to an artist that it was necessarily important to him or her. Tolkien's own list of the most important events of his life and art is pretty short...the Catholic Church and growing up in the pre-industrial English countryside. Not much there for a biographer to go on, seemingly. But Mr. Pearce wisely lifts these and a very few other aspects out of the white noise of every life and uses them to illuminate the life and work of a singular and impressive man. His unshakeable Catholic faith, his tireless devotion to his family, his love of the unspoilt countryside: there you have Tolkien in a nutshell. It's Pearce's assertion that many modern readers don't really want to hear all that. Often looking more for excuses rather than examples, they want to know all the cracks in the plaster. What were his indiscretions? His debaucheries? His infidelities? Was he gay? What is most important is that, even after losing both beloved parents in childhood, spending a difficult and poverty stricken youth moving from one shabby apartment to another, struggling to obtain an education, losing two of his greatest friends in the meat grinder of the Somme in WW1, making it home himself by sheer luck, he remained decade after decade a tireless and devoted father and husband, a fount of instruction for generations through his teaching, and the writer of one of the most entrancing and beguiling works ever to be written in the English language. He didn't devolve into a drunk or a wife beater as did many another self absorbed artist dealing with his "issues" or carrying around post traumatic stress. So where's the fun in reading about him then, you ask? Pearce's delightful book shows how Tolkien did it, how he lived the life he did, based on the things that were important to the man himself. And Tolkien ought to be allowed an opinion, don't you think?
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise Summary of a Man and His Great Works 22 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
J.R.R. Tolkien's work and life have been misconstrued by critics who never understood a modern man's devotion to faith. He was misconstrued even by his "authorized" biographer. Pearce pierces through the crusts of insult and mischaracterization of Tolkien (the first chapter reprints some of the fiercest critical comments by those who lack the imagination to see past the mundane in literature and who write "Lord of the Rings" off as a childish fantasy), and his study is an excellant overview of Professor Tolkien's life and works. Though Pearce's book can be read in a day, it has sufficient grounding and insight to explain why Middle-Earth is so full and satisfying when so many other very-well-thought-out subsequent fantasy worlds appear hollow. This book is must for Tolkien's fans and for anyone interested in the intertwining of faith and literature; and a quick, fun, and enlightening read for anyone interested in twentieth-century literature, who is undogmatic about what that literature must be. Those who brand religious faith (particularly Tolkien's devout Christianity) as irrelevant and/or literature as nothing more than a tool mirroring their own Nihilistic mindset will not understand this book at all. "The Lord of the Rings" will probably be read into the Fourth Millenium, and this fine study of its author dispenses with the patronizing and pseudo-Freudian claptrap that so often surrounds Tolkien and his sub-creation like a dreary fog, directing sunshine into areas many critics and academics wish were left foggy.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien: Man and Myth 14 Jan 2001
By Anon Ymous - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an excellent look into J.R.R. Tolkien's life. Joseph Pearce tries (and succeeds) to explain the works of Tolkien by looking at the beliefs the man held. This biography especially focuses on the Christian faith held by Tolkien and how that factored into the development of his philosophy on life and life beyond death (and hence into his fictional works). A very interesting read if one is curious about the man behind such wonderful literature like the Lord of the Rings. It also does a fantastic job of showing how friends and acquaintances helped encourage him to keep writing (particularly C.S. Lewis). Highly recommended.
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