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2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
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on August 20, 2003
This book, despite the ostentatious title which Tolkien himself might've disavowed (he might humbly have thought that the Bible and other works, not his own books, were the true "books to rule them all"), is well worth reading.
It covers many aspects of philosophy and thought, including Plato, Nietzche, existentialism, Eastern religion, etc., which do not always receive the discussion vis-a-vis Tolkien that they deserve.
One of the best essays is Alison Milbank's "'My Precious': Tolkien's Fetishized Ring", an analysis which resembles Brenda Partridge's (in)famous 1983-or-so essay "No Sex, Please, We're Hobbits: The Construction of Female Sexuality in The Lord of the Rings", in its commentary on Shelob's scary voracity. Milbank also mentions Karl Marx's "commodity fetishism" as a factor in Tolkien's work (and the Ruling Ring is certainly one hot commodity in Middle-earth, even before Frodo "gives Gollum the finger" on Mount Doom and the action heats up a bit)...though Milbank notes that Tolkien probably had no "People's Republic of the Shire" in mind when writing Lord of the Rings!!
Another standout essay is "Happy Endings and Religious Hope: The Lord of the Rings as an Epic Fairy Tale" by John J. Davenport. Of all the essays, it perhaps draws most deeply on a variety of Tolkien's works, including the Silmarillion and Tolkien's influential essay "On Fairy-Stories". Davenport, whose essay is the last in the book (and, significantly, at the end of the "Ends and Endings" group of essays), poses the hope that "Day will come again" ("Aure entuluva" in the Elvish spoken at a desperate battle in the Silmarillion) not only in Middle-earth but also on our own earth, at least from Tolkien's Christian point of view which hopes for eventual reward for those who strive for right throughout their lives.
Davenport ably invokes the Beowulf epic, the tales of King Arthur, and the Tolkien-favorite medieval story of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" in showing how Tolkien's goal of finding "joy, poignant as grief" is forwarded through The Lord of the Rings' combination of epic narrative with "eucatastrophe", Tolkien's brilliant term meaning more-or-less "a catastrophe of good" or "a surprise turn for the better, such as found in fairy tales". And indeed, as Davenport notes, the various "eucatastrophes" in Tolkien's trilogy do leave one with a taste of hope for something better in our futures, dark as the interim may be.
Back to the book as a whole: although the still photo of the resurrected Gandalf from the Two Towers film gracing the cover looks a little cheesy (though still impressive), the light-from-above in the picture does remind us that there is something gleaming or "eternal" caught in the mesh of Tolkien's work, not mere idle fantasy. Though lacking the coherence and focus that a book-length piece would have, as opposed to the various scattered and short essays in "One Book to Rule Them All"--and I was sorely tempted to give only 4 stars for this book, because of this scatteredness--, "One Book" does a fine job of reminding us of the genius of Tolkien not only for entertaining narrative but also for offering serious thought about the meaning of life, and "One Book" does so all the better by its drawing on his fellow geniuses throughout the millenia to illustrate or complement his points.
Two thumbs up (and any ring-fingers left on one's hand).
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on February 22, 2004
the most disappointing so far in the 'popular culture and philosophy' series, these essays have little to do with either LotR or Philosophy in the traditional sense, instead attempting to cover everything from environmentalism to narrative structure. As a general format, the authors state their intentions to mold Tolkien's world to their own pet ideas and quote profusely while saying little that convinces. One of the essays even admits that the Buddist parallels it's spent the last few pages proposing are clearly "superficial" - why waste the print, then? Another oddity here is a collection of quotes by various noted philosophers that have nothing to do with either the themes in LotR, or, in many cases, the topics the essays address. Extremely discouraging.
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on December 29, 2003
I'll admit that I haven't finished this book, but it's also worth noting that I don't intend to. The essays I've read so far were not very interesting (or, for that matter, very well-written), and I have little hope for the remaining ones. What I had hoped for was a book that would use Tolkien's Trilogy to illustrate philosophical themes. What I got was more like a bunch of writers reviewing the boks in question, and occasionally commenting on some "(not-so) deep meaning". It just got too boring after a while.
I tried to stick with it. I really did. But sometimes the only way to preserve your sanity is to quit.
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on October 18, 2003
Fans of Tolkien and Middle Earth who have more than a passing interest in the topic will relish Lord Of The Rings And Philosophy, a collaboratively compiled compendium by Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson of seventeen young philosophers who examine the myth, symbolism and philosophical foundations of Middle Earth. Applications to everyday living provide a seasoned assessment of insights on good, evil, freedom and basic issues raised in the course of the Lord of the Rings. The lively tone makes Lord Of The Rings And Philosophy completely accessible to academic scholars and non-specialist general readers alike.
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on December 29, 2010
This is the second in the ...And Philosophy series I read and I was very disappointed.

Unlike Seinfeld and Philosophy, this book barely contains any philosophy in the serious Western traditional sense. The philosophy it looks at is of the subjective "my life philosophy" kind. It's: What's Tolkien's philosophy about life and death and religion? not: How does Tolkien's philosophy about life and death and religion compare to Kierkegaard's or Russell's?

This is more of a fireside chat about Tolkien than it is about philosophy. It has no business in the ...And Philosophy series.
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on January 14, 2004
This book is definately a great book for people who have read the books and want a bit more. I recommend this book ONLY to people who have read the books. I got a friend of mine to start reading a bit of a certain chapter and she was completely bewildered. If you know enough to understand what they're talking about then this book is wonderfully enlightening. After reading the chapter about the elves, I felt a kinship with Galadriel that I had not felt before. This book is a great read that gives The Lord of the Rings much more meaning.
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on October 3, 2003
In this Popular Culture series, this is one of the better editions. The mix of approaches to Tolkien gives a broad range of ideas, and most of them are well thought out and presented. The intent here is not scholarly exegesis, which you can get in many other books. This is Tolkien looked at from a more general viewpoint, which is still a valid way to approach the books of Middle-earth. I don't have any problem recommending this collection of essays.
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on January 1, 2004
Horrible book. This series only superficially mentions philosophy. It is a waste of money. For a better study of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth by Bradley Birzir is much better, though still not teriffic, as there is no great study on Tolkien in print yet.
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on December 20, 2003
If I were a junior college lit instructor who gave the assignment, "Write a paper on the philosophical implications of The Lord of the Rings", and received these papers, I'd give most of them solid B's. They're diligently researched, competently written, and show that the authors have grasped the nature of the problems they discuss. But the authors aren't college freshmen, they're professors themselves. They shouldn't look like children next to the scholars in "Tolkien the Medievalist", "Tolkien's Legendarium", or "J.R.R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances", but they do. One expects them to do better than this, and to integrate their two subjects with subtlety instead of undergraduate bland awkwardness. One author who'd not get a B is Scott A. Davison, who completely messes up his summary of Tom Shippey's subtle but clear perspective on the nature of evil in Tolkien, as expressed in his "The Road to Middle-earth" and "J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century", thus unfairly making Shippey out to be an idiot.
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on September 15, 2003
These esssays make no attempt to ask challenging questions or provide stimulating answers.
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