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J R R Tolkiens Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle Earth Hardcover – November 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The past year has brought a bumper crop of spirituality-of-Tolkien books, no doubt fueled by the heightened interest generated by the new film series. Birzer's book differs somewhat from recent volumes on the Christian themes to be found in The Lord of the Rings, including Mark Eddy Smith's Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues and Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware's Finding God in the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's spirituality, says Birzer, was not generically Christian but specifically Roman Catholic: the lembas that sustains the company represents the Eucharist; Galadriel and Elbereth exemplify traits of the Virgin Mary; and the company looks to the restoration of a kingdom similar to the Holy Roman Empire. The best chapter of Birzer's study explores how Tolkien's "sanctifying myth" was informed by such Roman Catholic beliefs; Tolkien told a Jesuit friend, for example, that the trilogy was "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision." Other chapters place Tolkien more generally within the usual canon of 20th-century Christian humanists, including his on-again, off-again friend, C. S. Lewis. Birzer is a fine writer who does a wonderful job of integrating primary sources such as letters, reminiscences and journals into his text; he also includes glimpses of unpublished materials, such as a scuttled LOTR chapter about Sam, as well as Tolkien's little-known attack on Lewis, "The Ulsterior Motive." This is, overall, a fine tribute to the man who, Birzer suggests, "resuscitated the notion that the fantastic may tell us more about reality than do scientific facts."
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Tolkien said that The Lord of the Rings is a Catholic book, but commentators have shied away from writing about its Catholicism. After all, he also said it wasn't an allegory, so you don't need to know the Catholicism to understand it--right? Perhaps, but Tolkien hoped the book would prove a stealth evangelizer, arguing a Catholic worldview in its setting, characterizations, and plot. Birzer reveals The Lord's Catholicism in five riveting chapters. Middle-Earth is a subcreation, he says, resembling real Creation so that a salvific myth of heroic virtue triumphing over dire evil may be played out in it. The sapient beings (hobbits, elves, etc.) in it form a hierarchy surmounted by God, and evil in it is, as in classical Christianity, the result of willful separation from God. When evil is finally vanquished, Middle-Earth will be paradisaical, but as God's handiwork, it is already profoundly good, and its pastoralism rebukes the secularism, centralization, industrialism, and mechanization (only the evil build machines in Middle-Earth) that Tolkien despised. Essential reading for all Tolkien enthusiasts. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute; 1 edition (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926846
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926848
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Normally, I hold the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies and am Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Michigan. I proudly serve on the boards of the Free Enterprise Institute and The Center for Cultural Renewal. I am also happily a "Fellow" and/or "Scholar" with the Foundation for Economic Education, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, The McConnell Center for Public Policy, the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, and the Center for Economic Personalism (Brazil). In 2010, I co-founded The Imaginative Conservative website, and, in 2012, I co founded, a site dedicated to the exploration of music in all of its various forms. I also write for Ignatius Insight, Catholic World Report, and CatholicVote. In 1990, I earned my B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and, in 1998, I earned my PhD from Indiana University. I have had the great privilege to study with such excellent scholars as R. David Edmund, Bernard Sheehan, Russ Hanson, Anne Butler, Walter Nugent, Greg Dowd, and Marvin O'Connell. I am author of several books (please see below) and scholarly articles. Currently, I am completing an intellectual biography of Russell Kirk to be published by the University Press of Kentucky under the editorship of Steve Wrinn. Most importantly, though, my lovely wife (Dedra) and I have seven children and two cats.

For the 2014-2015 school year, I have the wonderful honor of being the "Scholar in Residence" and "Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy," University of Colorado-Boulder. I'm thrilled.

I have lots of loves: human liberty and dignity; baking; cooking; playing Legos with my kids; hiking and backpacking; good writing; Christian Humanism; Panera bagels; Apple products; and progressive rock and progressive jazz.

I've also been an customer since the fall of 1997.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What I am going to write is going to be long and may sound like ramblings to some people, but it is something that I feel must be expressed. It has something to do with Tolkien's position as a theologian and a writer, and is meant to be an answer to the undergraduate's review below.
First off, his review seems to focus mainly on a vilification of Tolkien's faith as a Catholic. Here, I think it is only right to clarify the influences on Tolkien's Catholicism. Tolkien never got to know his father who died shortly after his birth. It was his mother who brought him up and was both a teacher and a guardian to him. It was little wonder that he soon grew attached to his mother. When his mother reverted to the Catholic faith, her Protestant relatives were horrified and severed all ties with her, even refusing to help out financially when it was necessary to save her life during her last illness, Tolkien's mother being a sufferer from diabetes. And since his mother was Catholic, he was sent off to a monastery where a Catholic priest took care of him, and played an important role as a foster father to the young Tolkien, he being only 12 years of age at that time. Vowing to keep the memory of his mother in his heart, it was little wonder then that he developed a Catholic faith instead of Protestantism. And yet, there are some who attack him for that very faith that help to give him hope.
Concerning Tolkien's position as a writer, far from being a lousy one, he was a very influential one. A clear testimony would be the sale of his book right up to this very day, and its position in the list of important books of the century. Indeed, it has several times remained in the upper echelon of those lists.
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79 of 90 people found the following review helpful By John E. Rocha on December 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Children, Hippies, and Environmentalists have always read J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", but have they correctly understood the myth? No. Dr. Bradley J. Birzer completes the understanding of Tolkien as a Christian writer. Dr. Birzer presents Tolkien with a "Catholic Worldview". Based on Tolkien's own letters to colleagues and friends, we see that Tolkien lived and breathed Roman Catholicism.
Thanks to Bradley Birzer and Joseph Pearce, readers of all ages and faiths can begin to understand Middle-Earth. In Pearce's biography, we learn that Tolkien's Faith is significant in discovering the themes put before us in "The Lord of the Rings". Inferred in both Birzer and Pearce's books, the reader must have clear vision-a vision that is one with the "True Church", then and only then will your perception of Tolkien and his legendarium be clear and complete.
Dr. Birzer incorporates Pearce's thesis, but fulfills the truth about Tolkien and his writings. Birzer goes beyond "The Lord of the Rings" and offers a study of Tolkien's writings as a whole.
Viewers and readers of "The Lord of the Rings" are able to catch a glimpse of religious themes, but the vision presented is incomplete. Tolkien explicitly stated that the story was not an allegory, but part of an entire mythology. Dr. Birzer examines Tolkien's corpus and shows us how Tolkien is not just a fiction writer, a philologist, a Christian, but a Roman Catholic.
By the end of "Sanctifying Myth", we want to go back and study (yes...STUDY!), not just the trilogy, but all of Tolkien's writings. Dr. Birzer suggests that Tolkien, when properly read and studied, should be placed with other Christian Humanists of the 20th Century, such as T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis. This is true.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen on May 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I found this book fascinating, beautiful, and moving. Mr. Birzer has done a credible job of analyzing and interpreting "The Lord of the Rings" and The "Simarillion" for those of us interested in Tolkien's writings. The reader leaves Sanctifying Myth with a better understanding of the main characters--specifically Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Faramir, and Aragorn.
I especially liked the depiction of Sam Gangee as the true hero of "The Lord of the Rings." Frodo is important, of course, but he remains somewhat in the abstract as "The Ringbearer" or "The Hero on a Great Quest." I instinctively liked Sam and admired the qualities of loyalty, honesty, common sense, and affectionate humor which Sam displayed throughout all three parts of LOTR.
Gandalf is also explained very well as the saintly emissary of Eru/Iluvatar/God-a Christlike figure "dying" and coming back to life to serve Middle Earth with new powers.
I think Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth is profound and very relevant to our time of secularism, Islamic Jihad, moral distintegration, and crumbling traditional morals.
I hope everyone gets a chance to read this book.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Steven Felix on January 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Bradley J. Birzer's book is the best analysis to date of the Christian (and more specifically Catholic Christian) themes in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR). While a previous reviewer has found no reference to God or other Christian themes, this is to substantially miss the point. Great literature according to Aristotle, did not explicitly draw attention to the themes that one sought to explain. Rather, they were subtley concealed within the text so that the reader, through reason, could draw them out.
Such themes abound in LOTR. Simple examples include the character of Gandalf. He is a pure spiritual being - an Ishtari - who choses to become incarnate in order to combat evil. If this does not in part reflect a Christocentric theme what does. Also, in his fight with the Balrog in Moria, Gandalf dies, but returns to earth, no longer as Gandalf the Gray, but rather Gandalf the White. His powers are increased and all are awed in the revelation of his glory in Fangorn forest. Can one not envision the parallel to the glorified Christ after the Resurrection.
Then there is the Lembos - the Elf bread - which sustains the members of the Fellowship through their journeys. What more specific example of the Catholic view of the Eucharist does one need.
One final example is the date chosen for the destruction of the Ring - March 25th. In the Catholic liturgical calendar, this is the date of the feast of the Incarnation - the date when Christ became incarnate in the womb of Mary and the saga of the Redemption of Man began. What other event can one identify more closely with the Christian understanding of the destruction of evil than this.
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