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Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings Paperback – October 1, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-1587430855 ISBN-10: 1587430851

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587430851
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587430855
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dickerson, a teacher at Middlebury College in Vermont and devoted student of Tolkien, begins his work with a strong thematic link to the very popular The Lord of the Rings movies: epic battles. Against the criticism that The Lord of the Rings glorifies war, he argues cogently that Tolkien's original written treatment of these battles provides a very different picture than the films or spin-off video games. He demonstrates how Tolkien offers a deeply nuanced understanding of the nature of war, and how the trilogy criticizes self-aggrandizing glory in battle. As Dickerson moves into the more central, philosophical themes of the books-free will, moral responsibility and ethical absolutes-readers may lose interest, especially when he punctuates discussion of very basic concepts with obscure references from Tolkien's Silmarillion, a work that few will have read: "In contrast to subjective morality, or moral relativism, objective morality is independent of the individual subject.... Feanor's evil deeds, for example, especially the tragic Kinslaying at Alqualonde, are going to be judged." Dickerson's exploration of the nature of the ring's evil power and his final conclusions about the pervasive theological structure behind these stories are engaging, but the verbosity and academic trivia of other sections may alienate some readers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Matthew Dickerson is a computer science professor at Middlebury College. He is the author of The Finnsburg Encounter and Hammers and Nails. He lives with his wife and children in Bristol, Vermont.

More About the Author

Matthew Dickerson is the author of numerous works of both fiction and non-fiction. His first book, a medieval historical novel titled The Finnsburg Encounter, was published in 1991. A sequel to that novel titled The Rood and the Torc was published in the start of 2014. In between he has published books about J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, and fantasy literature as well as a biography of singer-songwriter Mark Heard. He is especially interested in ecological/environmental aspects of the works of Lewis and Tolkien. He is currently working on a series of books about fly-fishing, trout, and ecology, and also as series of fantasy novels. He was born in Massachusetts in 1963, and also has lived or gone to school in New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and most recently Vermont where he has lived since 1989. He teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont, and was the director for 12 years of the New England Young Writers Conference at Breadloaf. He is a member of the OWAA.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 18 customer reviews
Mr. Dickerson writes well, and has a knowledge of tolkien's works.
Steven Whitworth
The author has obviously lectured on this subject for many years, and for some of his discussions I can just see which terms he writes on the blackboard!
Margery L. Goldstein
I bought the book as a gift, but had to read it before giving it away.
C. Dennis Murphy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Tim Martin VINE VOICE on November 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Mr. Dickerson has done a very good job of analyzing Tolkien's ideas on war, morality, free will, determination and fate.
Mr. Dickerson chooses important scenes and characters in the LOTR and examines what Tolkein may have been trying to say to the reader. The discussion on the role of free will and moral vs. military victory is especially good. Mr. Dickerson's treatment of Faramir is very insightful.
Obviously, as the title indicates Gandalf is a major part of this book. Mr. Dickerson's treatment of Gandalf is a good one and raises some points that I had not thought of (which in itself, may be a small feat).
It is obivous that Mr. Dickerson is very familar with all of Tolkien's works and has a great love for them. Mr. Dickerson also does a very good job of exploring Tolkien's religious ethos. Though, I wish the discussion of Tolkien's Catholic faith would have been deeper and more explicit. There is a great deal of difference between the Catholic and Protestant world view and not understanding these differences results in a lot of ill-concieved intrepretations of Tolkien (this is not a specific criticism of Mr. Dickerson, just my editoralizing).
I reccomend this book strongly and would have given it four stars except for the editing of the book. Mr. Dickerson repeats himself often and quotes the same passages several time. A better editor (or a more willful one) would have pared away these passages. But don't let this quibble prevent you from buying this book---it is very good.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been reading as many of the recently published short works about Tolkien as I can find, and although Mr. Dickerson's has been one of many, I would have to categorize it as one of a kind.
I'm sure we'll be seeing many "spin-off" books on the market, as more and more publishers take advantage of the interest in Lord of the Rings that has been generated by the films. However, it is quite apparent that this author's presentation is no last-minute thesis, cobbled together to jump on the LOTR bandwagon. His attitude toward the source material is thoughtful and respectful, growing out of a deep understanding of both Tolkien's work and his own Christian faith, and he manages to present a thoroughly Christian viewpoint without preachiness or jargon.
While short and easy to read, the coverage of themes such as "moral victory versus military victory," "the relationship between free will and human creativity," and the contrast of "hope and despair"---although perhaps mentioned in some other recent works---is here explained clearly and discussed thoroughly by a knowledgable author. Dickerson's references to the films maintains an appreciative neutral approach to what has been accomplished in the first two movies, and his book has enough new and original material to make it worth reading even for those who are steeped in Tolkien-related writings.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Robert A Felthousen on July 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
_Following Gandalf_ is a thoughtful book that, somehow, doesn't quite follow Gandalf.
Dickerson's main topic is the treatment of war in Tolkien's Middle-Earth - specifically in the LOTR trilogy, with references to _The Hobbit_ and _The Silmarillion._ The book asks whether Tolkien's works glorify war and violence, and Dickerson spends a lot of time wandering around this question. Which is okay - that deceptively simple question, after all, encompasses a childhood classic, a popular trilogy, and a pseudo Old-English saga... three very different forms that require different methods of literary analysis.
Dickerson draws some fascinating, well-defended conclusions in this book. He creates a convincing argument for the existence of an absolute set of morals within Middle-Earth (granted, Tolkien establishes this in _The Silmarillion,_ but it's nice to see a critic do his homework and "prove" his thesis through analyzing the other novels); and his study of "the one ring" is quite good. I don't want to spoil the book for you, so I'll just say that Dickerson provides an excellent case for the ring's corruptive properties - there are intrinsic and extrinsic forces at work, and if you think about how the ring was brought into being in the first place, it seems rather obvious...
However, I found two things distracting or unnecessary, which prevented me from giving this book five stars. First, Dickerson relies rather heavily on Peter Jackson's film versions - only two of which had been released with the publication of the novel. His scholarly analysis is interspersed with scenes from the films, which I feel is inappropriate since Jackson's films are NOT Tolkien's books.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David L. O'Hara on December 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Dickerson has crafted a lively and trenchant response to those who think that Tolkien wrote books glorifying combat and who ignore the rich moral dimension of Tolkien's work. It's very readable and, I think, worthwhile both as an introduction to Tolkien (for those who are not very familiar with Tolkien) and to the moral underpinnings of Tolkien's work (for us Tolkien-philes). Dickerson somehow manages to distill into an inviting format a comprehensive overview of Tolkien's cosmology, and metaphysics, and to show how Tolkien uses epic battles, the "gift" of mortality, and tragic form to critique the empty ethical views of Tolkien's time as well as of our own time. I've heard Dickerson lecture on Tolkien at several universities, and can attest both to his profound knowledge of Tolkien's work and to his sheer enjoyment of Tolkien's (sub-)creation, both of which come through nicely in this book. By the way, Dickerson's other recent book, "Hammers and Nails" is also well worth the purchase price. Like "Following Gandalf", "Hammers and Nails" looks at the work of a lesser-known poet and musician, Mark Heard in order to tease out its subtle but morally fecund background. Even if you haven't heard of Heard or his music (covered by the likes of Bruce Cockburn) you'll likely find Heard's reflections on vocation, art and creativity a delight.
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