Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Frodo lives

I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager. I still have those paperbacks on my shelf, some a little more worn than others. They still have leaves pressed between their pages – green in the beginning and turning orange and red as the story progresses. And when I re-read them a few years ago it took me back to those teenage days as I sometimes read them under a back yard tree in the summer shade or the autumn sun. But reading them took me much further than my youth; it transported me to another world – the world of Middle Earth. That's the power of a great story.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

J. R. R. Tolkien was born in South Africa but grew up near Birmingham, England. His father died when he was three and his mother when he was 12, but he was strongly influenced by her Roman Catholic faith. His love of poetry and northern European languages and mythologies became a guiding passion that directed his life – from Oxford through the French battlefields of WWI and back again. But Tolkien is known best for his books, and I love the fact that The Hobbit began as a story for his children. It was only when he shared his writings with some friends (like C. S. Lewis) that it eventually was published and he was asked to write more about hobbits – both by his publisher and his new fans!

J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series)Tolkien is frequently called “the father of modern fantasy literature,” but in my opinion, his books transcend mere genre. I tried reading other "fantasy" books but couldn't get into any of them (I've never even been able to finish The Silmarillion). And that wide appeal, according to author Mark Horne, is part of what makes The Lord of the Rings such a powerful story.  Rather than being overtly religious (as Lewis' Narnia series was), it presents the struggle between good and evil and leaves the reader to “apply” it as they will. Tolkien was devoutly Catholic (and felt that LOTR was very "Catholic"), but disliked the idea of pushing his beliefs upon his readers.

For several years now I've had a couple of books about Tolkien on my to-be-read list, but somehow they never seem to percolate to the top. So when I saw J. R. R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series) from Thomas Nelson Publishers (I received the book through their blogger program) I knew it could fit into my reading schedule. My foremost concern was that it might be overbearing or preachy, but to Mr. Horne's credit, he is as modest as Tolkien was. He never assumes too much or overstates the role of religion in Tolkien's life, but explains perfectly how the books were influenced by his faith. And if there's any fault in this short bio, it's that it's too short – 130 pages just doesn’t seem enough.

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