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J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth Paperback – November 1, 2003
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"The second movie installment of Lord of the Rings should generate yet further interest in the question of what J. R. R. Tolkien thought he was up to with that remarkable tale. And that, in turn, should generate interest in Bradley J. Birzer's new book, J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth."
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For those seeking a quick read grounded in good scholarship, an explanation of some of the sources behind the Middle Earth world, and a good deal of biographical material on Tolkien (including on his relationship with CS Lewis), I would highly recommend this book.
For those seeking a more meaty, scholarly approach, the standard is Shippey's "Tolkien: Author of the Century." I think if I were teaching a 3-hour course on Tolkien alone, the Shippey would be the best choice (though it completely ignores Tolkien's religious position, a serious flaw, I think). But for an elective course, for a broad yet somewhat educated audience, the Birzer is excellent. A great place to begin your Tolkien studies.
When I first approached this title, I was afraid it might be like "The Parables of Peanuts," the well-known work that grafted more symbolism than Charles M. Schulz probably ever intended onto his classic tales of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Or, even worse, that book (the name of which escaped me years ago) which tried to interpret "Star Wars" as a Christian allegory: Luke Skywalker = Protestant Christians; Han Solo = Catholic Christians; and so on.
Imagine my relief to discover that Dr. Birzer's work is richly grounded in Tolkien himself ... both his published works and his unpublished notes, manuscripts, and private letters. Much more than Birzer's own interpretations, what we get here are *Tolkien's* own meanings, interpretations, and intentions. That makes reading this a richly rewarding experience.
In my experience, the best books are the ones that I complete having compiled a new list of other titles I need to read too. "Sanctifying Myth" definitely fits into that category. It's a pointed reminder of all the other Christian Humanists I need to read, not to mention the (*ahem*) parts of the Tolkien bibliography itself I haven't yet read. And Dr. Birzer himself being a fine stylist as well as scholar, his name is on my list too.
Whether you're a Tolkien fan looking for new windows into a beloved world ... a Christian wondering whether hobbits and Elves are compatible with a Biblical worldview ... a literary critic seeking new insights ... a skeptic wondering what all the fuss is about ... or any combination of the above, I predict you'll find this a satisfying, even eye-opening read. I sure did.