(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.

Link for the book @ Amazon

Link for the book @ Barnes and Noble

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.


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