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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaven in Middle Earth
Peter Kreeft is a gifted writer. He is able to take some of the most difficult concepts and make them accessible to the reader. He is very concrete and clear. In this book about Tolkien, he states his objective concisely: "This book is not about Tolkien's world. It is about Tolkien's worldview, Tolkien's philosophy. Exploring that* can be another adventure. For...
Published on June 11, 2006 by "Rocky Raccoon"

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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much Lewis, too little Tolkien
Important to be clear about what you are getting with this interesting book.

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...
Published on January 12, 2012 by J. Drayton


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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaven in Middle Earth, June 11, 2006
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
Peter Kreeft is a gifted writer. He is able to take some of the most difficult concepts and make them accessible to the reader. He is very concrete and clear. In this book about Tolkien, he states his objective concisely: "This book is not about Tolkien's world. It is about Tolkien's worldview, Tolkien's philosophy. Exploring that* can be another adventure. For while this philosophy is as much a part of Tolkien's world as its wars,...the philosophy is not on the surface,...but hidden beneath it,..." Kreeft uses a wealth of thinkers, philosophers, theologians, and writers to illuminate (or contrast) Tolkien's major ideas and ideals. He presents a virtue, a philosophy, or a theological concept, then defines it, expounds on it, and ties it to "The Lord of the Rings". He is also adept at applying his ideas to modern events such as 9/11. Then he takes excerpts from Tolkien's own books and provides the clincher.

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)
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Well Beyond the Topic, March 17, 2006
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
This is a superb book. Well-written, and insightful. If viewed only as a work of scholarship on J.R.R.Tolkien, it might not be indispensible. But Kreeft is full of such profound insights into the bigger issues of the value of story, and how story incarnates philosophy--and he articulates them so clearly--that the book becomes a must read for anybody interested in the value of story, the value of fantasy, the value of myth... and how a reader should approach this genre of literature. Of course the book does an excellent job at the stated topic also, outlining how Tolkien's masterpiece addresses the most important questions of philosophy.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forget "Lord of the Rings and Philosophy"; THIS is your book!, January 7, 2007
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Kendal B. Hunter (Provo, UT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
I recommend this books hand and fist above "Lord of the Rings and Philosophy." It has the blessing of being both narrowly focused while surveying a broad filed. Kreeft manages to cover 50 philosophical touch-points, and show what Tolkien has to say on each of them.

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.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Commentary on a Great Book, January 10, 2006
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Dr. (Montgomery, Alabama United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
Peter Kreeft is one of the best at helping readers see key insights. For those who love Tolkien, Kreeft is a most helpful guide at exploring the worldview that permeates the entire masterpiece by Tolkien. The author of more than 40 books (not amazon reviews that miss the point) has done it again!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Read, January 9, 2007
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
Kreeft has written an engaging, highly readable book. On the one hand, it serves as a philosophy primer: it's organized according to the 50 questions asked most frequently by philosophers. Don't let that scare you off, however, because Kreeft uses his extensive knowledge of both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis to answer those questions. The book is suitable for those who wish to delve beneath the surface of LOTR and Lewis' canon, but it would also work as a textbook for an introductory philosophy class or a major author class for either Tolkien or Lewis.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do we love Lord of the Rings?, January 12, 2008
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
Prof. Kreeft provides an absolutely delightful and well-structured guide to the ideas and beliefs underpinning Tolkien's work. In his introduction he suggests that his book, unlike LOTR, will be somehow less enjoyable, yet relevant. I would beg to disagree. "The Philosophy of Tolkien" is merely a pleasure of a different kind. LOTR brings us into a mythological world where we can quickly lose ourselves to the richness and texture. By contrast, Prof. Kreeft's book is like wandering through a beautifully ordered museum focused on a single artist -- in this case J.R.R. Tolkien. The author shows connections and threads, ideas and motivations.

After wandering this museum, at least this one Philistine came away with a much clearer understanding of why Tolkien's work has touched me at such a deep level. My first reading was of a paperback copy given by my grandmother when I was 11. Now, at 50, I cannot count the number of copies that I've ploughed through or given to friends. Prof. Kreeft clearly explains my "obsession" and the deep human needs that have driven it.

Another delight of this must-read-over-and-over book is the author's weaving of other writers to explain, elucidate, and extend Tolkien's ideas. Especially pleasurable for me is that Prof. Kreeft draws from books that I have read -- by Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and others -- as well as from books that an engineer-turned-MBA would have never gone near. My must-read list has grown dramatically.

In short, this is a magical book, a door to learning about ourselves. I couldn't put it down.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much Lewis, too little Tolkien, January 12, 2012
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J. Drayton (Brisbane QLD Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
Important to be clear about what you are getting with this interesting book.

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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly easy enlightenment, May 28, 2007
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
The book is blessedly light, genuine and remarkably connected to the worlds of Tolkien's Catholic philosophy and the beloved Lord of the Rings. For those who were captivated and enthralled by the world into which we once stepped via LOTR, this text provides an insightful path as to why such a deep and spiritual connection was possible to a world beyond our own. Tolkien's LOTR was THE book of the 20th century, critics be damned, and Kreeft's book gives us an even deeper understanding of the themes in it and in our own lives.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!, February 10, 2008
This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
I wasn't sure I would like this book as I am not into philosophy or so I thought, but this book I can definitely highly recommend. This is the first book I have read that is written, not just from a scholarly point of view, but from an unabashed point of view of the joyful fan writing lovingly of the inhabitants of Middle-earth. This is by one of us! Frodo is Kreeft's favorite and mine which endeared this prolific author even more to me. He addresses all the big questions philosophy tries to answer about free will, fate, humility, friendship, mercy, evil, etc. and applies this to the story Frodo and Sam wrote in the Red Book. One of the more interesting points is we all know how strong evil is, but do we realize how weak it is? That is brought out here among many other things.
He also has an essay in Celebrating Middle-earth that is very good so check that out also! Thank you, Professor Kreeft! God bless you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes Me Want to Read LOTR Again, January 12, 2011
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This review is from: The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings (Paperback)
This book has been on my reading "wish list" since it came out a few years ago. I finally made time to read it, and I'm so glad I did!

As Kreeft -- a Roman Catholic theologian and a professor of philosophy at Boston University -- points out in the introduction, The Lord of the Rings is widely considered the greatest book of the twentieth century, though not all literary critics agree. Of course, I would certainly have to join the ranks of those showering accolades upon Tolkien's masterpiece!

This book is exactly what you might expect from its title: a study of the philosophical themes and underlying worldview behind the story of LOTR. Many authors have attempted similar books seeking to cash in on the story's popularity, but few have done it well. Thankfully, Kreeft has given us an outstanding work that is both educational and enjoyable; academically substantial yet easily accessible. At times, his wit and humor even had me laughing out loud!

The format of the book is simple: Fifty philosophical questions are separated into 13 categories. Kreeft explains the meaning and importance of each question, and then shows how the question is answered using quotes from LOTR, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien's thoughts on the matter are further explored, making use of his other writings -- most notably letters he had written, as well as an essay entitled On Fairy-Stories. Each question's section ends with a quote from the writings of C.S. Lewis -- Tolkien's closest friend and fellow Oxford professor -- which directly states the same philosophy. The two had great influence on one another, and throughout this book we see how closely they paralleled one another due to what Kreeft calls their "common familiarity with and respect for the same sources in the great tradition, that is, pre-modern Western literature, philosophy, and religion."

As someone not particularly well-versed in the academic field of philosophy, I enjoyed very much this foray into the method of investigating philosophical issues. Indeed, "an introduction to philosophy" is one of the four uses of this book suggested by its author, though that is not the reason I initially chose to read it. Still, while some of the questions asked in this book are particular to LOTR, most are broad in scope, and could be applied to any religion, cultural artifact, or work of literature. At many points in the book, Tolkien's views are compared and contrasted with those of history's great philosophers, from Plato to Satre to Nietzsche.

Kreeft's logic is impeccable, and the systematic progression of thought in this book presents a very strong case for his conclusions. Though I do not wish to spoil for you the joy of discovering these conclusions for yourself as you read through this book, I feel it won't be giving too much away to say that Kreeft concludes that Tolkien's philosophy is unabashedly Christian, and specifically Catholic -- something Tolkien himself has claimed in so many words. While Christ (or religion itself, for that matter) is nowhere explicit in the text of LOTR, Christianity is implicit throughout the story in the philosophical worldview which undergirds it.

I nearly wore out the pen I was using to underline memorable and thought-provoking lines from the book. Time does not allow me to share all of the truly great insights Kreeft provides (another reason why you should buy and read it yourself!), but there was one thing that especially caught my interest. This was where Kreeft pointed out Tolkien's portrayal of the Old Testament pre-figuring of the Messiah as prophet, priest, and king, represented by Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, respectively. Not allegorically, of course, but in the sense that each of those characters was something of a "Christ figure" (down to the fact that all three had apparent deaths and resurrections in LOTR), exemplifying lives of self-sacrifice and virtue, albeit in very different manners.

If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you will greatly enjoy and benefit from this book. It will give you a brand new understanding of what may well be your favorite story... not to mention an itch to read the trilogy again! Now where did I put my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring?
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The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings
The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings by Peter Kreeft (Paperback - October 1, 2005)
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