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Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce
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Tolkien: Man and Myth (1998)

by Joseph Pearce

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Sometimes a flat coat of paint just won't do.

J. R. R. Tolkien was a very unusual man -- linguist, author, teacher, recluse. Few of us can ever hope to capture the whole essence of the man.

Unfortunately, Joseph Pearce seems to think that, just because others can't see all of Tolkien, he can. He rejects psychological studies (with, it must be admitted, some justice) -- but then starts digging into Tolkien's brain in his own way. The result places most of its attention on Tolkien's Catholicism.

This is important, and Pearce is right that we cannot understand the Middle-Earth cycle without seeing it through a Catholic prism. But Tolkien's world has many facets: His languages, his religion, his ethics, his personality. Trying to squeeze everything through one filter just won't work.

The result is sometimes rather tedious, and it isn't a true biography; it's a strange mix of literary criticism and biography. It is a useful book -- but certainly not the place to start when studying Tolkien. The best biography is probably still Humphrey Carpenter's, and if you want literary insight, the works of Tom Shippey come close to being definitive. ( )
  waltzmn | Jul 18, 2013 |
When it comes to Tolkien's writings, religion must be considered as an important influential element. It is true that if one considers Roman-Catholicism in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the books become more profound. But the love of nature, tradition, languages and religion are merged in his works and to focus on one of them does not give full credit to these writings. Joseph Pearce also tends to be too narrow.

Pearce puts the emphasis on Roman-Catholicism, which isn't unexpected as he himself is a converted Roman-Catholic like Tolkien's mother. Putting emphasis on Christian themes, however, he neglects most of Tolkien's love for Norse mythology, mentioning it only once or twice, and The Silmarillion being a myth for his self-invented Elvish languages. By having read Tolkien Man and Myth the reader must conclude Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings out of piety, whilst religion was only one cornerstone.

This narrow view on Tolkien gives, however, more insight in the religious aspect of Tolkien's writings. By leaving the other main topics out of sight, Pearce can elaborate on the religious side of Middle-Earth. Most of the arguments cut ice and using Tolkien's letters to support himself, Pearce' biography is a sensible one. One drawback is Pearce's attention for G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, who were unsurprisingly devout Christians. Although some connections can be seen as important (especially of C.S. Lewis), one might wonder at some point the relevance of such prodigious attention to these writers.

This biography is well written, though some parts become too religious and one is advised to read Tolkien Man and Myth in addition to other biographies, otherwise the myth-adoring, nature loving, philologist and Roman-Catholic Tolkien would get less credit for what made his works extraordinary profound. ( )
  Reddleman | Aug 29, 2010 |
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When Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was voted the 'greatest book of the century' in a nationwide poll at the beginning of 1997 the critical response was not one of approbation but of opprobrium.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0898708257, Paperback)

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings took first place in a recent nationwide British poll to find the greatest book of the century. He may be the most popular writer of our age, but Tolkien is often misunderstood. This major new study of his life, his character and his work reveals the facts and confronts the myths. It explores the background to the man and the culture in which he wrote.

Tolkien: Man and Myth observes the relationships that the master writer had with his closest literary colleagues. It reveals his unique relationship with C.S. Lewis, the writer of the Narnia books, and the roots of their estrangement. In this original book about a leading literary life, Joseph Pearce enters the world created by Tolkien in the seven books published during his lifetime. He explores the significance of Middle Earth and what it represented in Tolkien's thinking. Myth, to him, was not a leap from reality but a leap into reality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings took first place in several nationwide British polls on the "greatest book of the century." He may be the most popular writer of our age, but Tolkien is often misunderstood. This major new study of his life, his character, and his work reveals the facts and confronts the myths. It explores the man's background and the culture in which he wrote.   Tolkien: Man and Myth observes the relationships that the master writer had with his closest literary colleagues. It sheds light on his unique relationship with C. S. Lewis, the writer of the Narnia books, and the roots of their eventual estrangement.   In this original book about a leading literary life, Joseph Pearce enters the world that Tolkien created in the seven books published during his lifetime. He explores the significance of Middle Earth and what it represented in Tolkien's thinking. Myth, to this legendary author, was not a leap from reality but a leap into reality.   The impact of Tolkien's great notoriety, his relationship with material possessions, and his deep religious faith are all examined at length in this biography, making it possible to understand both the man and the myth that he created.… (more)

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