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Tolkien in the Land of Heroes : Discovering the Human Spirit Paperback – August 26, 2003
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Both heroes and villains in Middle-Earth have their ancient ties. We find out who they really are, and how our Middle-Earth heroes and villains exemplify the archetypes of human culture. The author is a learned guide through the tangled webs of many paths and many stories, weaving them into a coherent whole. Her fondness (to say the least) for Tolkein is evident throughout this intelligent, clearly-written analysis.
For readers familiar primarily with "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit", this book will motivate you to read Tolkein's other works, most especially, "The Silmarillion", where all the stories really begin. Dr. Petty's carefully-crafted work is a must for all serious Tolkein fans.
The book reads like one long run-on sentence. Ideas that should have taken a few words to mention are given several paragraphs; those that should have taken a paragraph are given many pages. An example from early on: the author spends an inordinate time speaking of how Melkor's tainting of the Music of the Ainur and his eventual exile compares to the Eden story in the Judeo-Christian belief system. The author states explicitly that she assumes familiarity with the Silmarillion; anyone with such familiarity who was raised by or near Judeo-Christian folk, who also has this presumed knowledge of the Silmarillion, will find this to be obvious and nearly trivial. Instead of being a building block for a larger theme, is in itself given several pages of aimless discussion!
Furthermore, if (besides Silmarillion familiarity) the reader has anything more than a thin overview of knowledge of Greek and Norse myths, then nothing of interest can be learned here. My guess is that, like me, you'll find that you can rewrite all the useful information contained in the first 75 pages as a single paragraph, not taking even a single page, and conveying the same informational content. I wouldn't bother.
To compliment it I would recommend Hal GP Colebatch's "Return of the Heroes." This looks at Tolkien's relevance to modern mythologies.