Tuesday, July 19, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series), by Mark Horne


A decent--if unimpressive--biography of Tolkien, ostensibly focused on his religious beliefs and the impact they had on his life and work. Based on this account, however, it seems that Tolkien, though a Christian, was less affected by his faith than by his relationships--with his wife, his children, and his various friends and colleagues. Horne portrays Tolkien as a gifted man (to the surprise of no one), but also conveys the idea that, as with many geniuses, he was irritatingly idiosyncratic and at times quite infuriating to those around him. The end result is a complex and full-bodied picture of a literary legend.

I was honestly surprised by the lack of information on Tolkien's faith, though that may not be the fault of the author. Horne identifies Tolkien as a Catholic, but his loyalty to that faith seems to have largely resulted from what he perceived as his mother's martyrdom and his close relationship to the priest who served as the guardian for Tolkien and his brother after their mother's death. It seems that it was this relational loyalty, rather than any particular theological conviction, that lead him to pressure his future wife to convert to the Catholic faith prior to their marriage.

However, I was encouraged to read about some of Tolkien's more annoying attributes (geniuses--they're just like us!), and was struck by his wife's patience with the man--first converting to Catholicism (a faith she never fully embraced) and then living and moving in academic circles (another source of discomfort for her) and enduring the 12 year wait for Tolkien to finally finish his three-part opus. While Tolkien may have referred to her as the Lúthien to his Beren (a romantic idea, to be sure), it had to be frustrating to deal with the day-to-day challenges of living with the man. This welcome glimpse into the reality of Tolkien's life and personality invigorated an otherwise unexceptional biography.

[NOTE: For more information on Tolkien, his life, his work, and the effect he's had on fantasy literature, I recommend The Modern Scholar's audio lectures Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature, by Michael D.C. Drout.]

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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