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J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century Hardcover – March, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Julian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
"Julian Fellowes's Belgravia" by Julian Fellowes
From the creator and writer of Downton Abbey comes a grand historical novel, with hugely exciting twists and dramatic chapter endings. Learn more | See author page
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a wonderfully readable study aimed at not just the Tolkien fan but any literate person curious about this fantasy author's extraordinary popularity, British scholar Shippey (The Road to Middle-earth) makes an impressive, low-key case for why the creator of Middle-earth is deserving of acclaim. (Recent polls in Britain have consistently put The Lord of the Rings at the top of greatest books of the century lists.) Having taught the same Old English syllabus at Oxford that his subject once did, Shippey is especially well qualified to discuss Tolkien's Anglo-Saxon sources, notably Beowulf, for the elvish languages and names used in the fiction. The author's theory on the origin of the word hobbit, for example, is as learned as it is free of academic jargon. Even his analyses of the abstruse Silmarillion, Tolkien's equivalent of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, avoid getting too technical. In addition, Shippey shows that Tolkien as a storyteller often improved on his ancient sources, while The Lord of the Rings is unmistakably a work of its time. (The Shire chapters, like Orwell's 1984, evoke the bleakness of late-'40s Britain.) In treating such topics as the nature of evil, religion, allegory, style and genre, the author nimbly answers the objections of Tolkien's more rabid critics. By the end, he has convincingly demonstrated why the much imitated Tolkien remains inimitable and continues to appeal. (May 16)Forecast: With the long-awaited part one of the Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, due for movie release later this year, this, like all Tolkien-related titles, will benefit from hobbit fever.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Shippey, an expert on Old English literature and the author of The Road to Middle Earth, has written a critical appreciation of the popular creator of The Hobbit and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The subtitle refers to Tolkien's ability to write about concerns of the 20th century (evil, religion, etc.) in stories that at first glance seem to be mere fantasy. Shippey examines Tolkien's published and many unfinished works (such as The Silmarillion), as well as the shorter poems and stories. He convincingly argues that Tolkien deserves to be ranked as a major literary figure. Shippey also castigates those critics, the so-called literati, for their vituperative and ill-informed attacks on Tolkien's reputation and achievements. This study is definitely not an introduction to the "Rings" books; because of the detailed readings on the major and minor works, it should be read by those who have already enjoyed the titles surveyed. Recommended for all public libraries, especially in the wake of the upcoming film version of "The Lord of the Rings"; undergraduate academic libraries will also want to obtain this fine work of criticism. Morris Hounion, New York City Technical Coll. Lib., CUNY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061812764X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618127641
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In this excellent volume of criticism on Tolkien's work, Tom Shippey seeks to explain just what made Tolkien tick, and what made his stories the way they are. Tolkien shunned the idea of a biography, but I think this book is probably more along the lines of what he would have agreed to, since he believed that the best way to get a look inside an author's life was to examine his works. This book does just this.

The bulk of this book, of course, centers around Tolkien's stories of Middle-Earth: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Shippey attempts to explain why Tolkien wrote these stories the way he did, and the result is very insightful. Shippey explains why he wrote archaically, how the more modern hobbit society, with its postal system and manners, fits in with the rest of Middle-Earth, and how to classify the various cultures and nations (like Rohan and Gondor) appearing in the works, to name a few. The rest of the book deals with Tolkien's other, lesser-known works, including the two semi-autobiographical ones. For true fans of Tolkien, the criticisms of these shorter works are an invaluable resource.

All in all, this book is very insightful--there is definitely a great deal to be learned about Tolkien's works from a man who succeeded him to his Oxford chair, and who understands Tolkien's professional field as well. If you want to truly understand Tolkien, this is a book worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
We hear a lot from Tolkien fans about how this book isn't much of a patch on the same author's earlier "The Road to Middle-Earth". (...) this book is an acute, well-argued, loving and intelligent study of one of the century's most maligned authors.
Yes, I said "maligned". Those, like me, who are not great fans of fantasy fiction as such, tend to find it a bit difficult to take Tolkien seriously. My own trajectory as a Tolkien reader has gone from utter worship (aetat 11 or so) via contempt and ridicule (aetat 24) to enjoyment and respect (aetat 31), and Shippey's book is partly to thank for this. One of his sharper insights is that a taste for Tolkien seems to be something that people have to be "educated out of" - i.e., that exposure to a modern literary studies curriculum is almost guaranteed to eradicate those more primitive parts of the imagination that respond to the kind of populist yarn-spinning that Tolkien was, almost despite himself, supremely good at. (This certainly accords with my experience.)
I say "almost despite himself" because one of the things I learned from this book was that Tolkien worked far harder on developing the mythological background to "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" than he spent on actually writing those books; indeed, that long after he'd published "The Hobbit" and was at work on its august sequel, he had to go back and revise it so as to make it fit in with the overall plan. I have a certain polite interest in "The Silmarillion" and the voluminous posthumous books of early drafts, but for me, by far the best of Tolkien is to be found in his two most famous books.
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Format: Paperback
This book analyzes many of Tolkien's works, but focuses the majority of its attention on the _Lord of the Rings_ and its two companion works: _the Hobbit_ and _the Silmarillion_. Popular polls taken at the end of the 20th century frequently place the _Lord of the Rings_ (LotR) at the top as the number one best book of the century. Many book critics look in horror at such a ranking. Shippey's book is in large part a rebuttal of this dismissal of Tolkein's work by most of the `literary establishment'. Shippey argues that LotR is quite worthy of the honor as best work of the century.

This book is academic in nature and vocabulary, but it is also fun to read. As a Tolkien fan I found the book to be quite enlightening. Shippey delves DEEP in to the text, finding many treasures that I had not yet observed. I found it true, as one endorsement on the book jacket says, that Shippey "deepens your understanding of the work without making you forget your initial, purely instinctive response to Middle-Earth."

Professor Shippey, whose academic field is the same as that of Professor Tolkien himself, mines the philological earth and finds the likely background sources of numerous middle-earth creations, such as: Beorn, orcs, Rohan, etc. He also explores Tolkien's plot development strategy. One passage that I particularly liked was Shippey's description of how Tolkien used "interlacement" (the interweaving of different story lines) to convey an important thematic message of the work: that it's never wise to give up trying, no matter how bad the circumstances may appear. The examples he describes are very illustrative; for example: Aragorn's self-doubts as he pursues (in vain he fears) the orcs who had taken Pippin and Merry.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is quite simply the seminal criticism and analysis of Tolkien's major works. Shippey is Tolkien's successor at Oxford, and in a very real sense "speaks the language" (no pun intended) that Tolkien spoke. He is able to disassemble and analyze Tolkien's writings in a way that is head and shoulders above any other similar works. His linguistic and literary analysis is the best ever made and is absolutely vital to truly understanding Middle Earth and the man that made it. Add to that a brief but very profound analysis of the religious themes, imagery, and inferences that is better than anything else out there (it completely surpasses Joseph Pearce's fine book on Tolkien, all in less than 10 pages.) Plus you'll get the most insightful discussion of the Anglo Saxon and Old Norse literary traditions and characters that would become Gandalf, Frodo, and the rest of the Fellowship.
If you truly love Tolkien's writing, then you simply must read this book. It is the first most important step in a real understanding of what Middle Earth is, where it is, where its characters came from, and what happened to them in ways that will really open your mind to the vastness and incredible beauty of Tolkien's world. After reading it, you'll have even less patience with the lunkheads who think LOTR is just another fantasy story. It's so, so much more than that.
And if that wasn't enough, you'll learn what Beowulf's name would mean in modern English. ("Beowulf" is usually the only word in the poem not translated, in case you haven't noticed.)
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