Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien Paperback – 1 Aug 2003
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"A splendid commentary, which will delight and fascinate all admirers of Tolkien" (Sunday Telegraph)
"The book impels the reader to return and re-read Tolkien with a new insight" (Library Journal)
"A winner. The book impels the reader to return and re-read Tolkien with a new insight." (Library Journal)
"A valuable guide to the enjoyment of the eminent British author's writings." (Publishers Weekly) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'A splendid commentary, which will only delight and fascinate admirers of Tolkien.' Sunday Telegraph --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The writer begins by discussing how Middle Earth works as an imaginary world. Drawing on Tolkiens' own lectures and essays, he expands on Tolkiens'view that there must be an internal consistency in the secondary world of fantasy that mirrors that of our primary reality. In this way, the fantasy world becomes three-dimensional, living and breathing, and the fantastic creatures and happenings become enchanting, not just ridiculous. That Tolkien took such efforts to a remarkable degree with Middle Earths' history, politics and language the writer goes on to explore.
He then goes on to explore 'The Hobbit,' how this works less as a prologue (because it is written on a completely different level, for children) but more as a unique, stand alone work. He explores the differences and similarities between the worlds of the two books, and underlines some of the storys' quite adult themes and situations.
The writer then turns to the philosophy and moral world of The Lord of the Rings, and what kind of theology lies in the background. Though Tolkien avoids sharp parallels and explicit language echoes to the Christian faith, our attention is drawn to important similarities, such as the importance of free-will. That life is a gift that needs to be given back is set against the drive towards possessiveness and ownership the ring engenders, and the evil it stands for. Expanding on this in the next chapter, 'Sauron and the Nature of Evil,' the writer draws our attention to the will to dominate and the greed to possess that characterises Sauron and his creatures. The writer underlines how such obsessiveness leads to Saurons' inability to 'think laterally,' as he assumes that all think as he does. That this leads to his downfall is vividly illustrated in The Lord of the Rings. The co-ercion of the will is set aside the freedom of the will.
In the next chapter the writer explores the 'Free-Peoples' of Middle Earth, that is the different intelligent species, how they differ, what binds them, and how they interact. The writer then moves on to trace the progress and development of Aragorn, a character he sees as largely neglected and misunderstood in the critical world. He is not, Kocher says the 'noble horse' as described by the critic William Ready, but a character who thinks, feels, struggles and develops in his progress from Ranger to King.
The final chapter, 'Seven leaves' looks at a selection of Tolkiens' other fantasy works. The most important thing they illustrate, Kocher states, is that they reflect and develop Tolkiens' view of the imaginative world as a huge tree, tales and stories being the different leaves drawing sustenance from the same source of fantasy, imagination and ideas, an accumulation of mankinds' story telling. There is also the tremendously important point that 'succesful fantasy' gives glimpses of a larger reality or truth which informs our own world.
This book will enthuse those new to Tolkiens' work, as well as established readers. Paul Kochers' love for Tolkien is infectious.
Insight into the history and nature of each race of peoples (and how they interact and impact on one another) adds a new dimension to LOR: I found to the point I bonded better with some of the key characters.
I wouldn't recommend this for advanced students of Tolkien's work - partly as it will probably be old news to them and partly as it is quite basic.
For those starting out on the journey into Middle-earth, this should prove a very useful guide indeed.
If you know "Lord of the Rings", then you need this to supplement your appreciation of the masterpiece. A real must.
The text is very light and well-structured, and it surely is interesting, even if you know Tolkien's works by heart - actually the better you know the original texts the more fun it is to follow these comments and analysis.
NB! I know it's a paperback edition, but I can't help being a bit disappointed with the quality of this rough yellowish paper, especially as the font looks a little too delicate for this texture, and the thinner parts of the letters seem to flicker, which is a bit stressful for my eyes. My previous experience with paperback books has been more pleasant.
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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.
The last chapter, "Seven Leaves," may be of less interest because six of the "leaves" are about JRRT's writings that are on non-Middle Earth topics.
Although the book was published in 1972, it does not appear to me to be outdated by later JRRT publications, and can be enjoyed by anyone who has read "The Hobbit" and LR.
Kocher had a law dgree and a PhD, both fron Stanford, where he also taught English. He may have practised law - which may account for his lawyerly analysis in this book of Aragorn as the key character of Middle Earth.
If you read only one book to help you along as you read Tolkien's books, this could be a good choice. (Another would be Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle Earth.)
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