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Celebrating Middle-Earth: The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization Paperback – Jan 6 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 107 pages
  • Publisher: Inkling Books; 1st edition (Jan. 6 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587420120
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587420122
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 22.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #893,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is a short collection of essays given as papers at a conference at Seattle Pacific University. The conference was sponsored by a C.S. Lewis Institute, and some contributions are reminiscent of the aggressive polemical style of that author's apologetics. The opening two essays, by the editor and Peter Kreeft, are not concerned with discerning Tolkien's views of western civilization, but with using Tolkien to buttress their own views, a distinctly different approach. And their definition of western civilization, for the purpose of their essays, is strictly confined to Biblical morality, with dire references to September 11 as proof of the reality of evil, and plenty of random bashings of anti-Tolkien critics, moral relativists, and other harbingers of the bad. Kreeft claims that Theoden's virtue lay in avoiding Denethor's sin of acquiring too much knowledge, and that Gollum speaks in the plural because the singular, as in "I Am That I Am," is associated with God. Some may find such claims seriously off-base: I certainly do, and had to grit my teeth through both his and West's essays.
The third and longest essay, by Janet Leslie Blumberg, is a quiet discussion of the literary influence on Tolkien of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English literature. Three very brief essays conclude by taking a more specifically theological and sacramental approach to Tolkien's morality. Of these, Phillip Goggans follows Kreeft and West, but Joseph Pearce and Kerry L. Dearborn are more interested in exploring Tolkien's views than in using Tolkien to defend their own. They and Blumberg provide workmanlike essays which, though they only skim the surface of their topics, can be useful as introductions.
This book is a thin softcover with large print, narrow margins, and numerous typographical errors.
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Format: Paperback
To keep this review short and sweet, I'll get right to the point: the sub-title of this book should, in my opinion, read "The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Christianity." Not that defending Christianity is necessarily a bad thing; but I, for one, was led to believe (both by title and by the [non-user] reviews given on this site) that this was an explication of the pro-Western views (whether of culture, or religion, or morals, or war, etc., etc.) embedded within Tolkein's texts. Instead, a substantial portion of the book was dedicated to a rather pedantic style of critique wherein lines of quoted material were trotted out and then favorably compared to Christian idea(l)s, preceded or followed closely by the particular author's hearty agreement with said material, and possibly supported by their own personal brand of apologetics.
However, I should hasten to add: all of this is not to say that "Celebrating Middle-Earth" is not informative or otherwise valuable to the Christian philosopher or apologist, or even to the non-theist Tolkien fan...because it is. Though not a Christian myself in the traditional American sense, I have nevertheless learned a good deal here about the motifs behind the story and the mind-set behind the man, and have enjoyed doing so. But, again, as I've implied: if your preference is for a purer form of literary critique, or for a slightly more "neutral" analysis of Tolkien's themes, then look elsewhere.
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By A Customer on July 19 2004
Format: Paperback
Some may "grit their teeth" (as one disgruntled reviewer said below) through these essays, but readers more in line with Tolkien's own philosophy will be pleased to find these kindred spirits.
Virtually every political and cultural movement of the past forty years, from free-spirited hippies in the '60s, to strident environmentalists in the '70s, to Christian conservatives in the new millennium. has tried to co-opt Tolkien books as emblematic of their particular concerns. It is a testament to the richness of his work that people from such disparate viewpoints see therein a reflection of their notions.
Those from the left side of the political spectrum sometimes refuse to acknowledge this, but their wishful thinking aside, the truth is that Tolkien was a staunch conservative, in every sense of the word. He attended Mass almost every single day of his life, and he frequently bemoaned liberal ways of thinking.
These essays are largely written by like-minded people who understand Tolkien's point of view. If you're interested in learning what really made Tolkien tick, read this book. Peter Kreeft's essay alone is worth the price. Tolkien was by no means a racist (he famously said in his valedictory speech at Oxford, "I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones" -- many years before that view became fashionable), but he didn't see the defense of Western civilization as synonymous with racism. He didn't love war, but he understood well the folly of burying one's head in the sand. (See the debate between Gandalf and the Saruman-enchanted Theoden in "The Two Towers" for a startling parallel to contemporary argument.)
If you're a liberal pacifistic atheist, you may not agree with what you read here. But then, Tolkien wouldn't agree with your point of view either.
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By Carol A. Aronoff on May 26 2003
Format: Paperback
While all six essays in this slender volume will prove of interest to the reader seeking more background on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic story, I found the essay by Janet Blumberg, "The Literary Background of The Lord of the Rings" especially valuable. Prof. Blumberg not only explains the influences of Anglo-Saxon literature such as "Beowulf" and High Medieval literature such as "Sir Gawain and the Green knight" on elements in LOTR, but also offers a credible explanation for one of the most remarked about elements in the books: the absence of any overt religious practice or worship. This essay alone makes this slender volume a valuable addition to the library of any Tolkien fan.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
New Insights May 26 2003
By Carol A. Aronoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While all six essays in this slender volume will prove of interest to the reader seeking more background on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic story, I found the essay by Janet Blumberg, "The Literary Background of The Lord of the Rings" especially valuable. Prof. Blumberg not only explains the influences of Anglo-Saxon literature such as "Beowulf" and High Medieval literature such as "Sir Gawain and the Green knight" on elements in LOTR, but also offers a credible explanation for one of the most remarked about elements in the books: the absence of any overt religious practice or worship. This essay alone makes this slender volume a valuable addition to the library of any Tolkien fan.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
kindred spirits July 19 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some may "grit their teeth" (as one disgruntled reviewer said below) through these essays, but readers more in tune with Tolkien's own philosophy will be pleased to find these kindred spirits.

Virtually every political and cultural movement of the past forty years, from free-spirited hippies in the '60s, to strident environmentalists in the '70s, to Christian fundamentalists in the new millennium. has tried to co-opt Tolkien's books as emblematic of their particular concerns. It is a testament to the richness of his work that people from such disparate viewpoints see therein a reflection of their beliefs.

Those from the left side of the political spectrum sometimes seem to want to wish away the truth, but the fact is, Tolkien was a Catholic conservative, in virtually every sense of the word. He attended Mass almost daily; he was a staunch member of the Conservative Party and an anti-Communist; and he abhorred Big Government almost more than anything else.

Of course, this doesn't mean that these works cannot be enjoyed by those who disagree with these views. But surely there is room in this world for books written about Tolkien and his work by those who sympathize with his views -- which describes this particular slim volume -- just as there is room for those who don't.

If you're looking for something critical of Tolkien's core beliefs, this isn't the book for you. But if you're simpatico, or just curious and open-minded (quel surprise!) about what truly made him tick, give this collection a try. Peter Kreeft's essay alone is worth the modest price.

Tolkien may have been conservative to the core, but he was by no means a racist (he famously said in his valedictory speech at Oxford, "I have the hatred of apartheid in my bones" -- many years before that view became fashionable). He surely didn't see the defense of Western civilization as synonymous with racism, as, sadly, too many fashionably relativistic "multi-culturalists" now claim. He didn't love war, but he understood well the folly of burying one's head in the sand. (See the encounter between Gandalf and the Saruman-enchanted Theoden in "The Two Towers" for a startling parallel to contemporary debate.)

If you're an unbending pacifistic atheist, you may not like what you read here. But then, Tolkien probably wouldn't cotton to your point of view either. I'm not saying this to be critical of my friends on the left. But learn more about the man himself, and you will have to agree. This book is a good place to start.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Tolkien -- A Defender of Western Civilization +++ May 1 2010
By Kevin Kiersky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reading "Celebrating Middle-Earth" -- and before reading other commentary works on LOTR [Lord of the Rings] -- I saw Tolkien as a defender of Western Civilization -- as well as warning of excess -- such as power, greed, warfare and over-mining. LOTR [and "The Silmarillion"] is Creatively composed of some main cultural components of "The West" -- such as various Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, Celto-Nordic, Finnish, and even Amerindian aspects. This includes cultural-aspects, language-aspects -- and saga-apects of individuals making freewill choices as they venture and adventure into danger to save Middle-Earth. But, yes, "Celebrating Middle Earth" does have a strong bias towards "Christendom" -- as did "The West" until recently. "Christendom" itself is composed of various influences -- even likely some from Old Egypt -- but including many of the very same aspects as LOTR.

By all that I have seen, Tolkien did view himself as a defender of "The West" -- and was a practicing Catholic -- yet was very inclusive of those cultures already noted. This Great Author despised intolerence as noted by other reviewers. That so many folks of various backgrounds can find Inspiration via LOTR and Tolkien -- shows his rich, wide and deep aspects -- including the six authors of the chapters of this book. The very first chapter is authored by the editor, John G. West, and has the same title as the subtitle of the whole book -- "The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization" -- and makes this case rationally in detail. The front page has an explanation at bottom -- "An Examination of the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien as a Defense of the Literary, Philosophical, Political, and Religious Foundations of Western Society" -- that I hope others will verify via reading this book.

When Tolkien first studied and wrote, it was still broadly understood that "The West" and "Christendom" overlaped greatly, if not totally -- as there were Greek, Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic and Celtic variants of "Christendom". Nowadays, new variants of the old ones are developing in large parts of the world -- along with the continuing momentum, of "The West" -- which seems to do much better in a non-imperial era and way. For those that favor individualism, responsibilty, opportunity, democracy, diversity, natural and human law, "The West" and its momentum may be worth defending -- in an interlinked richly cultured world. This little book is a great intoduction to Tolkien and LOTR study that seems to follow Tolkien closely -- including his "Personal Theology" as well as other major aspects +++
20 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A decent little book--but be aware... Sept. 18 2003
By Brooks Onley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To keep this review short and sweet, I'll get right to the point: the sub-title of this book should, in my opinion, read "The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Christianity." Not that defending Christianity is necessarily a bad thing; but I, for one, was led to believe (both by title and by the [non-user] reviews given on this site) that this was an explication of the pro-Western views (whether of culture, or religion, or morals, or war, etc., etc.) embedded within Tolkein's texts. Instead, a substantial portion of the book was dedicated to a rather pedantic style of critique wherein lines of quoted material were trotted out and then favorably compared to Christian idea(l)s, preceded or followed closely by the particular author's hearty agreement with said material, and possibly supported by their own personal brand of apologetics.

However, I should hasten to add: all of this is not to say that "Celebrating Middle-Earth" is not informative or otherwise valuable to the Christian philosopher or apologist, or even to the non-theist Tolkien fan...because it is. Though not a Christian in the traditional sense, I have nevertheless learned a good deal here about the motifs behind the story and the mind-set behind the man, and have enjoyed doing so. But, again, as I've implied: if your preference is for a purer form of literary critique, or for a slightly more "neutral" analysis of Tolkien's themes, then look elsewhere.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Good but needs expansion Nov. 1 2003
By Susan Norton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a vey good book but perhaps too focussed on Christian values for the title to be fully correct. Hal Colebatch's "Return of the Heroes: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Social Conflict," which I have reviewed on its own page, does a much more comprehensive job in looking at the relationship between TLOTR and the whole of Western as well as specifically Christian values. Both, however, are full of interest and recommended.

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