The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The "Lord of the Rings" Paperback – 1 Oct 2005
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"Kreeft shows how Tolkien gives a very convincing myth or vision which makes sense of reality and gives arguments for them. This is an exciting and insightful book."
About the Author
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, is one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time. His many bestselling books cover a vast array of topics in spirituality, theology, and philosophy. They include Practical Theology, Back to Virtue, Because God Is Real, You Can Understand the Bible, Angels and Demons, Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, and A Summa of the Summa.
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Top Customer Reviews
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 [...]
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.Read more ›
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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)
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.
Prof. Kreeft has written an entertaining review of what he calls 50 of the "great questions of philosophy" from the perspective of self-avowedly conservative Christian apologetics. He uses Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to illustrate the points he is making - Lewis largely from his non-fiction essays and Tolkien from his letters and, to a lesser extent, his fiction.
Approach the book from the perspective of a Tolkien buff wanting to learn more about Middle-Earth or JRRT's life and times and you will be disappointed. Similarly, if, like me, you are not too interested in Lewis' apologetics, you will find yourself getting a bit antsy.
It is a bit surprising to me that the book dwells so rarely on the Catholic tradition, since this is very much the one from which JRRT was writing (I mean particularly matters of sacraments, intercession, authority and the Virgin), but perhaps the author did not want to alienate the large protestant market. A pity, because I think it prevented the book from making some potentially fascinating points.
A note on the tone: some reviewers appear to have taken exception to Prof. Kreeft's no-nonsense tone, and there are certainly passages here which may challenge those with sympathy for liberalism. (And, wow, does poor old Nietzsche get a roasting!) I personally didn't find it to be too off-putting, but I enjoy reading the views of intelligent, opnionated people.