on November 9, 2012
Professor Louis Markos in his enchanting book about the Lord of the Rings and Narnia has managed to baptize my imagination (I wrote this review before I read Dr. Peter Kreeft's introduction in which he suggests that you allow Professor Markos to baptize your imagination) and set my heart on fire for the works of two of the best authors of the 20th century.
I must admit that I was not a great fan of either Lewis or Tolkien. I had tried to read the Chronicles of Narnia as a young student without much luck. I mistakenly thought that Lord of the Rings was science fiction and never put my full attention to it. However, who has not heard what wonderful authors these two are? I was willing to believe that they were fine authors. But still, I could not seem to appreciate their writing and the last cause I suspected was me. After reading On the shoulders of Hobbits, Professor Markos managed to turn my hard head and my hard heart towards some of the best literature of the 20th century. He removed road blocks, opened up new vistas and in the best way, he led me to an understanding of the true meaning of these tales. Professor Markos also makes clear why Tolkien's and Lewis' works will surely stand the test of time. I think Professor Kreeft put it like this: "they have the fingerprints of God all over them."
Professor Markos' love for the great enduring stories that tell us mere mortals about our true ends and purposes, and in particular his love for Tolkien and Lewis, is infectious. He has a gift for transmitting that love through the written word for those with the ears to hear through the din of modernity and for those with the eyes to see through emperor's new clothes of todays false literacy are in for a trek perhaps not even hoped for.
My own children and students have received great benefits from the fire that PRofesor Markos has lit in my heart. It is with the greatest joy that I enthusiastically pass on my new found love for Tolkien and Lewis as Professor Markos has passed it on to me. This book is a treasure, to be your guide into Middle Earth and into Narnia. Virgil could hardly have done better for Dante on their journey through hell at revealing what is really there.
I would heartily and emphatically encourage anyone who is not sure about the value of Tolkien and Lewis to come to On the Shoulders of Hobbits with a humble heart and a mind open to permanent goodness, truth and beauty and let Professor Markos guide you to lands of which you will never tire.
On The Shoulders Of Hobbits is a pleasant and often inspirational look at the role of Virtue in the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Louis Markos, a professor at Houston Baptist University, has done a fine job of describing the classical and theological virtues as they are depicted in The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. He writes as an admirer of both authors, a well educated and thoughtful man, and a deeply believing Christian.
Markos is a good writer. In this book he purposely set out to appeal to the general reader rather than specialists, and he is successful, though it would be helpful to his readers if they have some background knowledge of Plato and English literature as well as the Bible. In his introduction and in sections of the text I found his chip-on-the-shoulder attitude towards modern culture somewhat jarring, but that does not extend throughout the entire book. And I thoroughly enjoyed his discussions of the importance of stories in our lives and his bibliographical essays with suggestions for further study.
on December 20, 2012
It's not surprising that Louis Markos likes C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. After all, millions of people admire the two Inklings. What is unusual is that he's also an English professor at a Baptist university. The two literary giants typically draw liturgical Christians and evangelicals. It's rare to find Baptists who admire both men. This isn't to say they're incompatible with Baptists, just that Tolkien's devout Catholicism and Lewis' high-Church Anglicanism usually rub Baptists the wrong way. Yet Markos is the rare example of someone who finds not just congruity, but suitability, but congruence.
I've been following Markos' work for years, including two excellent books on Lewis. He's become one of my favorite non-Catholic Inkling experts and his newest book, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis (Moody Publishers, paperback, 234), continues that trend.
Markos argues that the iconic works of both Tolkien and Lewis do more than entertain. They help the reader inculcate classic virtues like courage, valor, trust, and friendship. By following Frodo's moral development, for instance, our own courage and persistence are strengthened. The opposite is true, too.
By studying the villains throughout Middle-Earth and Narnia, we can detect sin in our own lives and destroy it. Tolkien's Sauron provides one example of sin, in this case pride, exposed through the Light of humility:
"The reason Sauron has not guessed the true purpose of the Fellowship is not that he is a fool or even that he is prideful, but that he simply cannot conceive that someone would willingly forsake power. He is completely blind to the ways and motivations of goodness; such Light is too bright for his darkened eyes to fathom."
Markos' primary focus in the book is on Tolkien's Middle Earth, but he closes each chapter with a brief sojourn in Lewis' Narnia:
"I believe that the most effective way to draw out of The Lord of the Rings its golden treasures is by holding The Chronicles of Narnia beside it as a sort of literary philosopher's stone."
This decision should delight Inkling fans who receive books on Tolkien or Lewis, but rarely both together.
As Peter Kreeft says in his Foreword, "Life is a story, and therefore moral education happens first and most powerfully through stories, e.g. through books." On the Shoulders of Hobbits will show you how to do that--how to stimulate your own moral development--through these powerful, enchanting stories.
on June 15, 2013
The author starts with an introduction all about what the book is not. And made me so depressed I put it aside for a few months.
However, once I started reading the main part months later, it was a delightful book.
Mainly using the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia, it also quotes a lot from Lewis and Tolkien's other books, the Illiad, Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, Dostoyevsky, and others. It uses examples from these to teach Courage, Endurance, Temperance, Wisdom, Justice, Friendship, Faith Hope and Love. Even about the "Byronic Heroes". Better known as the anti-hero, like Darth Vader or more to Tolkien, the nasty Gollum, who saves the world by stealing the Ring and then falling into the Fires of Doom.
Among the things the author swears he will not be doing is giving a commentary on the LOTR, yet he does manage to illuminate parts of it extremely well.
Jolly good show!
"In our public schools today, there are only three virtues taught: tolerance, multiculturalism, and environmentalism. Really, there is only one: inclusivism or better, egalitarianism - all people and ideas should be treated the same; all cultures are equally valid; man is not distinct from nature but merely another species. These modern "virtues" are not, in and of themselves, negative, but when they become the be-all of moral and ethical behavior, they become idols that blind us from our true nature and purpose. When all other virtues are reduced to a bland egalitarianism, our humanity is likewise reduced to a colorless, passionless, amoral existence. If we to pull ourselves out of this lowest-common-denominator world, then we need a fresh infusion of story: one that will propel us back into the full romance of living. If our children are to successfully steer a course between the Scylla of standardless relativism and the Charybdis of purposeless existentialism, then they will need to be guided by transcendent truths embodied in universal stories." (120)
Even a cursory survey of this site will reveal a real passion for the works of CS Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. The imaginary worlds they created stand, I believe, as some of the greatest literary works of the 20th Century. As such I eagerly cracked the spine of Louis Markos's wonderful book On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue With Tolkien and Lewis.
Unlike other similar books, the author does not offer simplistic insights and applications from Tolkien and Lewis. Instead, Markos walks the reader to the power of stories in general and Tolkien and Lewis in particular. We are all wrapped in a story and the author shows why the worldview evident in Middle-Earth and Narnia is one that should be celebrated.
The three sections worth highlighting here regard the classic virtues, the theological virtues, and evil. The classical virtues include self-control, courage, wisdom, and justice. The author takes us inside the worlds of Tolkien and Lewis to show us numerous examples of each. The theological virtues include faith, hope, and love which are, in many ways, related to the classical virtues.
Finally, the author looks at evil. In my own reading of Lewis and Tolkien, I have taken a particular appreciation of their worldview here. Being the father of a little girl, I have noticed a weak understanding of evil in the classic Disney films. Tolkien and Lewis, on the other hand, offer a more real, robust, and accurate understanding of what evil is and where it is to be found. Markos explores this even further in a way that helps us to better understand the world we live in.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. I didn't know for sure what to expect but was very pleased with the books contents. For fans of both Tolkien and Lewis, you will thoroughly enjoy re-exploring their world again with Markos as your guide. I know I did.
This book was given to me for free for the purpose of this review.
on March 31, 2014
This is another book I’ve had the pleasure of picking up through Moody Publishers for review. Now, I normally preface my book review posts with a kind of “I chose to review this book because..” But I don’t really think I need to explain myself on this one.
J.R.R. Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Nuff said. Amiright?!
Maybe it’s because I’m slavishly devoted in a fangirl spiral of euphoria over these two fandoms, but I thought this book was remarkable. Awesome, really. Worth reading again. Between the frequent references to classic scenes, and lengthy quotes from adventures in Middle-Earth and Narnia, this has made me crave another re-read of both Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Louis Markos, a professor at Houston Baptist University, has done an amazing job of describing the classical and theological virtues as they are designed and depicted in The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Markos is clearly a fan of both authors and a well-educated man. As a Christian thinker, he provides insights into the novels that are enlightening, entertaining and thought provoking.
This book was clearly well researched and the source material thoroughly understood. And while being rather scholarly in his approach to the texts, he still manages to speak in terms that incite the fantasy loving heart:
“Though Lewis and Tolkien clad themselves, humbly and inconspicuously, in professional robes, these two Oxford dons were in fact medieval knights come down from the past, heroes for a distinctively unheroic age.”
I’ll say it again, get your highlighter ready, this book is GOOD. The basic truth conveyed (pulling heavily on Tolkien’s own article, “On Fairy Stories”), is that fairy stories can be helpful in conveying timeless messages to everyone.
Tolkien and Lewis had clear intentions in writing both the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia books. They were intended from the start to illustrate and pass on Christian virtues. This book is a great “guide to the virtues” in these books. As someone well versed in both fandoms, having enjoyed and studies these book for well over a decade now, I’ve found that there is much for both children and adults to learn from this engaging book by Markos.
on March 21, 2014
My first thought upon reading this book was “where the hey was this guy during my college years???” I would have signed up for every single class. Not my major? Big whoops. What’s that amongst friends? Details people. Details. He had me when he described the duo as such:
“Though Lewis and Tolkien clad themselves, humbly and inconspicuously, in professional robes, these two Oxford dons were in fact medieval knights come down from the past, heroes for a distinctively in heroic age.”
I mean, y’all what better way to describe these two? This is just one of the things I enjoyed about On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis by Louis Markos.
So yeah, I loved it. Let’s all pretend to be shocked by that. I’m pretty sure the only time I’ll not like a book about these two, is if it’s a book that says something negative about them. If I do read something like that, then friends…HOLD MY EARRINGS.
Plus there’s so many fantastic quotes that explain the power of Tolkien and Narnia’s stories in much better language than I can.
We are, in many ways, a civilization adrift on the stormy seas of relativism and existentialism. The first “ism” has robbed us of any transcendent standard against which we can measure our thoughts, our words, our deeds; the second has emptied our lives of any higher meaning, purpose, or direction. Our compass is broken and stars obliterated, and we are left with nothing to navigate by but a vague faith in the modern triad of progress, consumerism, and egalitarianism. They are not enough.
The Lord of the Rings stands as a lighthouse in a world that has not only lost it’s way, but has lost much of it’s virtue, it’s integrity, and it’s purpose.
I love that this book not only talked about my two favorite authors, but reminded us of the power of story (which is why I started this blog to begin with!). As Sam would say, the stories that matter.
This is the kind of book Tolkien and Lewis fans will absolutely love because it points to the reasons we love them to begin with. Yet, for those on the fence or those indifferent to the world of Tolkien and Lewis (to which I must ask FOR THE LOVE WHY??), this might tip the scales and open you up the the amazing world of story they both created.
Oh and example C:
That’s one of the things that fairy tales teach us: that we are all heroes or princesses in disguise. And if that is so, then we must all set out to discover who we truly are: not so we can become rich or successful in the debased modern, consumerist sense, but so that we can step into our true inheritance.
If you enjoy their works, then I definitely recommend this read!
(Thank you Moody Publishers for the copy in exchange for my honest review)
Originally posted at [...]
on August 23, 2014
In his introduction called "Stories to Steer By," Markos suggests that in the past morality has been taught "first and foremost through stories." But today there is a dearth of such tales. "Worse yet, we try to make up counter stories, politically correct fairy tales that are as paltry as the newfangled virtues they are meant to celebrate" [i.e.tolerance, multiculturalism and environmentalism.]
He then sets out to celebrate the traditional virtues of courage, love, self-control, etc. by highlighting how each of them is portrayed in the masterworks of Tolkien and Lewis. Each chapter of the book deals with a specific moral quality as evidenced in Lord of the Rings and in the Narnia Chronicles. Although I loved both of them, I wasn't always able to appreciate the two of them being compared side by side. It was jarring at times to be pulled out Middle Earth and yanked into Narnia. Still, I appreciated Markos' keen observations with regard to these two masterpieces of English literature.
(Need I add that it's best to be familiar with the Narnia Chronicles and LOTR before tackling this book?)
on September 9, 2013
In On the Shoulders of Hobbits, author Louis Markos attempts to help his readers "rediscover the power of stories and the importance of virtue" by pointing out the "real life truth and goodness . . . communicated powerfully through [the] fantastical fiction" of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The imaginative worlds of Tolkien and Lewis are, Markos says, "stories to steer by." They not only impart much-needed truth to their readers, they also help us "to live in and through and by that truth."
In part 1 (chapters 1-4), Markos details the echoes of the classic "hero's journey" found throughout the tales of Middle Earth and Narnia. Parts 2 and 3 are structured around the four cardinal virtues (courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love, plus friendship which serves as sort of a bridge between the cardinal and theological virtues). Part 4 (chapters 13-16) focuses on the nature of evil. Finally, there are two bibliographical essays (one on Tolkien and one on Lewis).
In each chapter, Markos focuses mainly on the works of Tolkien, using illustrations from his works to illuminate the topic at hand. He then develops each topic further by briefly turning his focus to Lewis' Narnia series.
Markos stated goal is to help turn back the nihilistic drift of Western civilization (pp. 9-10) by helping his readers find their place in the grand "human-divine narrative: what many today refer to as a metanarrative or overarching story into which all of our individual stories can be grafted and from which they derive their ultimate meaning" (p. 11). Though On the Shoulders of Hobbits doesn't quite seem up to the task, it is a nice start and a pleasant read. Plus, for fans of Tolkien and Lewis, the bibliographical essays alone are worth the price of the book. Are there better books on Tolkien and Lewis? Yes, but On the Shoulders of Hobbits is unique enough to be a valuable edition to any fan's library. Recommended.
I was provided by the publisher with a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
on September 15, 2013
Many people consider fairy stories as kid's stuff at best, a way to escape reality at worst. They're for people who aren't ready or willing to step forward and take on life. Louis Markos disagrees with that conclusion, and explains how fairy stories can be helpful in conveying timeless messages to everyone in On the Shoulders of Hobbits.
Tolkien and Lewis had clear intentions in writing both The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia books. There was an element of entertainment, but they were intended to illustrate and pass on virtues. Markos says that many people do not see virtues like courage, wisdom and faith as important. They are not considered to be worth striving for. He tells how these and other virtues were woven throughout both stories, and that there is much for both children and adults to learn from them.
Markos begins by telling why we all travel a Road, and that it isn't bad to do so. He then describes each of the virtues, split into classical and theological groups, and where they are found in each story line. He ends by showing how evil is illustrated, and what we can learn from those illustrations.
I have been a fan of both series since I first read them, and I never thought about how some people probably think of them as escapes from reality. However, I am glad that Markos shows how they are not to get out of reality, but they are about we we can put into reality.
I received a free copy from Moody Publishers in exchange for this review.