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Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues : Exploring the…
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Tolkien's Ordinary Virtues : Exploring the Spiritual Themes of the Lord of… (2002)

by Mark Eddy Smith

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233275,154 (3.76)1
  1. 00
    Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (waltzmn)
    waltzmn: To find the spiritual themes in the work of J. R. R. Tolkien doesn't require a study of the books; it requires a study of Tolkien himself, Catholic, conservative, and ever so slightly mystic. Even though it is the first, Humphrey Carpenter's is still probably the best biography, and it will teach Tolkien's thinking in far greater fullness than a mere study of spiritual themes.… (more)
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Nice idea, lousy implementation.

You might think, from its title, that this is a book about the personal virtues of J. R. R. Tolkien. You would be wrong. Apart from the fact that Tolkien was Catholic, you will learn almost nothing about his personal life. The book doesn't even look at his First World War service, in which he came to understand and admire the strengths and virtues of the enlisted men who served under him -- "ordinary virtues" indeed.

Or you might think that this is about all of Tolkien's writings, from The Hobbit to The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun." You would again be wrong. There are a few mentions of The Silmarillion, nothing at all of Tolkien's lesser works. It's all about The Lord of the Rings, which it approaches with a breathless sort of praise, almost as if it were a semi-inspired work -- a patristic writing to be interpreted in the light of canonical scripture.

The approach is very superficial. It goes through The Lord of the Rings part by part, picking out incidents and relating them to one or another Christian virtue. But the analysis has no insight into Tolkien's own views. There is no mention of what Tom Shippey calls Tolkien's "Theory of Courage," for instance.

This is not to deny that Smith finds valid virtues in Tolkien. His examples are mostly good. But you could get the same ideas simply from reading the Bible or any random inspirational work. He finds nothing unique in the books. By studying Tolkien's life, and his other works, it would be possible to find much greater riches: the "Theory of Courage." The "trouthe" that Tolkien felt toward his wife. The "seeking beyond the world." Or, to put it another way, fortitude in the face of despair. Loyalty without hope of reward. A restless seeking for something better.

With dozens of chapters, most of only a few pages, Smith had touched lightly on many virtues. I cannot help but think he would have taught us much more had he gone into real depth about a shorter list. ( )
  waltzmn | Oct 1, 2013 |
Challenging insights. Read again with the books. ( )
  PleasantHome | Jul 6, 2013 |
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Dedication
In loving memory of
my great aunt,
Marion Edith Smith,
who gave me my first copy of

The Lord of the Rings
in 1978, as a birthday present.
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Introduction
 
The Lord of the Rings!
Frodo Baggins, at the council of Elrond, saying, "I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0830823123, Paperback)

With insight, humor, and a good deal of personal passion for his subject, Mark Eddy Smith offers glimpses into the deeper spiritual meaning of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings by looking at 30 virtues exemplified by its characters throughout the tales. He then invites readers to embrace these virtues for themselves. Using a persuasive, conversational style, Smith offers reflective commentary, sometimes with a direct call to action: "Are there not enough heroes left in the world? Become one yourself." Tolkien aficionados will appreciate such attention to detail as Smith's note that he uses the Ballantine paperback edition, 95th printing, for references. The author writes that he has found in Middle-earth "a training ground, a place where I can apprentice to those whose gifts of charity, wisdom, kindness, mercy, love and faithfulness far surpass my own." Readers who love the Tolkien tales will be challenged to make changes to their own lives through Smith's gentle, thoughtful prose. --Cindy Crosby

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:23 -0400)

The Lord of the Rings offers us essential lessons in living. Here we discover ordinary virtues like generosity, pity, and hospitality. We meet extraordinary people like Bilbo, Gandalf, Tom Bombadil, and Glorfindel. We learn about the roots of destruction in pride and betrayal, and we find the ingredients for success, such as community and sacrifice. Each of us, even the most simple, is called to a journey. We may be asked to leave behind everything we have grown dependent on. And when this is the case, the tale of Frodo and his friends offers hope that we will be given the strength and the help we need to overcome every obstacle and defeat every foe. This book is meant to help you find the way.… (more)

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