Wednesday, August 1, 2012

J.R.R Tolkien by Mark Horne

J. R. R. Tolkien by Mark Horne is part of the Christian Encounters series through Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is a book that I have had on my desk to read for almost a year. For one reason or another, this book kept getting pushed to the back of the pile of books to read. But while I was on vacation last week, I was able to get through most of the book in one sitting. As I have been thinking about what to say about this book, I think it best to review it through two lenses: The Good Parts & The Remaining Questions.

The Good Parts:
If you are looking for a very basic treatment of the life of one of the greatest writers of all time, this would be a good start. It is a very short biography. I would bet that most readers could get through the 130 pages in a day or two. Mark Horne's biographical writing style is fairly easy to read and moves along at a good pace.

Tolkien is one of the greatest writers in the 20th Century. He is most famously known for writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Horne's background information on each of these books helped to put the books into some historical background. I found it intriguing that there are several parts of these books that contain references to his friends, family, or acquaintances throughout his life.

Horne refers to Tolkien as one of the most creative writers ever. If you have ever read those books, you might agree that it is an understatement. He wonders whether the creativity that existed in Tolkien was related one way or another to the tragedy that he went through as a child. His father passed away when he was young and then his mother died while he was still in school. He says,
"The fact that Tolkien lost his father at a young age seems to have significance not only to him as a person but also as a creative writer. Interesting studies show that people who have lost one or both parents are highly represented among creative people" (6).
Horne does a good job in this book at showing the perfectionist tendencies of Tolkien. In fact, he originally did not want to publish any of his writings. If the book were to be published, then it was finished and the creative process would have to be finished. It seems as though he continued to work on his writings time and time again. But, I think, we are all thankful that he did finish them.

The Remaining Questions:
I have always heard that Tolkien became a believer in Christ after the Lord of the Rings were published. According to Horne, that would not be true. He became a Catholic early in his life when his mother converted to Catholicism. But the remaining questions I have after reading this book primarily have to do with his relationship to Christ. I kept wanting to know more about his stance with Jesus and was continually left empty. Maybe Tolkien never expressed a relationship. Maybe he didn't have one. I just do not know after reading this book.

No matter what people say, I have no assurance that The Lord of the Rings has any spiritual implications at all. In fact, it seems as though Horne believes that Tolkien didn't like hidden meanings or moralization of messages. At the end of the book, Horne states:
"While one can rightly read The Lord of the Rings and all of Tolkien's epic fiction as a saga about war and good and evil, it applied just as well to the courageous heroism required of every man and woman to simply live in the world with all its splendor and ugliness and the struggle between. Tolkien's use of his own private experiences in creating his epic fantasy give us more evidence that the key to his success lies in his humility in refusing to moralize to his readers. He did not wish to dominate his readers because he wanted them to be free to see their own lives in the adventures that he described. Even though world war and Tolkien's experiences in the face of real battles are part of what created his story, one does not need to experience life during wartime to relate to, learn from, and use Tolkien's fiction. The loves and losses that we all experience in peacetime as well as in wartime are more than sufficient to make his imagined world relevant to ours. His enduring impact on the world shows us how a Christian artist can be most effective when he offers himself rather than when he tries to 'help' others see the truth. While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations--some of which are unavoidably confrontational--we can learn from Tolkien that sometimes a mere story can change people's lives" (130).
So many Christians want to find so many spiritual truths in these books, when in fact, they are probably just a good story about good and evil. But then again, I felt like Horne leaves me hanging in fully answering that question. I wish he would have included more.

In the end, I did enjoy the book, and it made me eager to the end of this year when The Hobbit will be released in theaters. For what it might be worth to you, here is the official trailer for the movie that is still several months from coming out. If you go, you can contribute to keeping Tolkien's estate as one of the top money making estates in the world. It just goes to show you that if you are a creative writer, the sky's the limit.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://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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