(Review) Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism by Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs

Publisher and Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Books. 2004.
Genre: Nonfiction. Essays.
Pages: 304.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers with an interest in Tolkien’s writings.
Rating: Very good.

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Today, March 25, 2021 is Tolkien Reading Day. You can read more information about this splendid reading day at TolkienSociety.org


Contributing authors and the titles of essays:
Neil D. Isaacs—“Introduction: On the Pleasurers of (Reading and Writing) Tolkien Criticism”
C. S. Lewis—“The Dethronement of Power”
Edmund Fuller—“The Lord of the Hobbits: J. R. R. Tolkien”
W. H. Auden—“The Quest Hero”
Patricia Meyer Spacks—“Power and Meaning in The Lord of the Rings”
Rose A. Zimbardo—“Moral Vision in The Lord of the Rings”
Marion Zimmer Bradley—“Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship”
R. J. Reilly—“Tolkien and the Fairy Story”
J. S. Ryan—“Folktale, Fairy Tale, and the Creation of a Story”
Verlyn Flieger—“Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of the Hero”
Paul Kocher—“Middle-earth: An Imaginary World?”
Patrick Grant—“Tolkien: Archetype and Word”
Lionel Basney—“Myth, History, and Time in The Lord of the Rings”
Jane Chance—“The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien’s Epic”
Tom Shippey—“Another Road to Middle-earth: Jackson’s Movie Trilogy”

These essays cover a period of 50 years. They are considered the best in Tolkien criticism.

My Thoughts:

My goal in reading this book is to understand a broader view of Tolkien’s writings. The authors have a deeper comprehension than I do. Their field, at least in part, is studying Tolkien.

My take-aways from the book:
1. The book includes responses to the negative criticism on Tolkien’s Middle-earth world. For example, the first chapter by Neil D. Isaacs.
2. The group of contributors are an eclectic group. Some examples: W. H. Auden was a poet. C. S. Lewis was a fantasy and nonfiction author. He taught English literature at Oxford. Lewis also knew Tolkien as a friend. Rose A. Zimbardo taught English literature at several universities. Tom Shippey is considered a leading scholar on Tolkien.
3. One of my favorite chapters is written by Edmund Fuller. He explains important key words in Tolkien stories. The word Fairy is altogether different than the cutesy definition that’s usually attributed. Faerie “means enchantment.” Page 17. Elven people, Half-elven people, wizards, evil creatures, and hobbits are explained. The conflicts in the stories are examined. Fuller touches on Christian themes. Some readers have dismissed these themes. He states, “Grace is at work abundantly in the story.” Fuller examines the Christian approach from both sides. I appreciate this.
4. Rose A. Zimbardo is astute at discerning the creatures of Middle-earth.
5. I love Verlyn Flieger’s analysis of Frodo and Aragorn.
6. The last essay is by Tom Shippey. This chapter is on recreating the stories to film.

I am a big Tolkien fan. It’s fun to read Tolkien stories and fun to read what other people think about Tolkien stories.

(Review) The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others’ Eyes by C. S. Lewis, edited by David C. Downing and Michael G. Maudlin

Publisher and Publication Date: HarperOne. 2019.
Genre: Nonfiction.
Pages: 192.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of C. S. Lewis. Readers who enjoy reading about the joy of reading.
Rating: Very good.

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Clive Staples Lewis, 1898-1964

The Reading Life is a collection of pulled material from C. S. Lewis’s books, essays, reviews, and letters. They all have the subject of his reflections and views on reading.

The book is divided in two sections:
Part One: On The Art and Joy of Reading.
Part Two: Short Readings on Reading.

The pulled material for this book is from several sources. I have all the references listed and the number represents how often it is used: An Experiment in Criticism (4), Of Other Worlds (5), Present Concerns (2), God in the Dock (2), Surprised by Joy (4), George MacDonald: An Anthology, Studies in Worlds, On Stories and Other Essays on Literature (2), The Four Loves, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (2), Selected Literary Essays (3), “Letters to Arthur Greeves” (10), The Weight of Glory (2), Christian Reflections (2), Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (2), “Letter to Ruth Pitter”, The Four Loves, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays (2), Mere Christianity (2), “Letter to Warfield M. Firor”, “Letters to Rhona Bodle” (2), “Letter to Sarah Neylan”, “Letters to Dom Bede Griffiths” (2), Rehabilitations and Other Essays, and Reflections on the Psalms.

My Thoughts:
I feel it is important to list all of the references for two reasons.
1. The Reading Life doesn’t have an index or notes section. The source is given with each reference at the quote, but it is not in complete for a one stop reference .
2. It is important for the reader to know if the book uses too many references from the same source and not enough from others.

I feel The Reading Life has complied a solid collection for the single volume book. I see a few repeaters, but not heavy with them.

My favorite take-away from the book is learning Lewis had a fantastic memory. If a student began to say lines from Paradise lost, Lewis picked up where the student stopped and continued by memory. It didn’t matter where in the book the lines were spoken, Lewis knew the book in its entirety by memory. He also had a strong memory from all the books he’d read. So, not only was he an avid reader and writer, but had a strong memory.

“Why We Read” and “How To Know If You Are A True Reader” are my favorite chapters. These are actually the first chapters in the book.
I know the reasons why I read, but I enjoyed Lewis’ wordy explanation of why I read. It sounds much better coming from him.
I already know I’m a true reader, but one of the reasons has never dawned on me. I re-read books. Lewis states this as the first reason for a “true reader.”

A funny chapter is on murdering words. “Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways.” Page 81.

And, because I am a Tolkien fan. I enjoyed reading Lewis’s reviews of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The Reading Life is small, and I dislike. I’d prefer a large volume on Lewis’s quotes on reading.