The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter A must read for all serious lovers of Middle-earth! A treasure trove of insight from the Professor’s heart and mind, as he contemplates his life and sub-creation. I love especially what he has to say about Frodo, but there are so many other wonderful insights to enjoy too!
The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings by Fleming Rutledge A wonderful, in-depth treatment of the grace that abounds in the Red Book. There is so much to enjoy and think about. One of my very favorites!
Toward the Gleam – T. M. Doran What a fun book! Lovers of The Lord of the Rings, of which the author is definitely one, will enjoy this tale the most. The main ‘character’ is Tolkien himself, under the alias of John Hill, which he took from the one used by Frodo. It concerns primarily his discovery of a mysterious box seemingly made of silver but much brighter than any silver we know (mithril, anyone?) Contained within in an unknown tongue is an even more mysterious ancient manuscript that Hill is able to translate. He is convinced it’s a chronicle of events that actually took place thousands of years ago. I felt the same awe he did as I looked over his shoulder as he opened the box for what he has found is the Red Book itself, as well as Bilbo’s translations of the tales we know as The Silmarillion. There are scattered references that those who have eyes to see will understand: the Necromancer, the Traitor, the Burglar, the Hero, the Hero’s faithful companion, the Grey Pilgrim are all so named, the ring (small r) is mentioned and a Seeing Stone is hinted at. A chapter early on about Tolkien’s time at the battle of the Somme is vividly presented. The Tolkien children and Edith are all there, as well as Lewis and Barfield of the Inklings and other famous figures of the time, referred to only by first name or nickname. I really enjoyed it and am sorry that it is over.
The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth by Ralph C. Wood This is another of my very favorites, and the first one I read through after I started to seriously pursue the spiritual themes woven into the history of Middle-earth. I love it so much I have read it twice! It starts out with much on the The Silmarillion and the creation through song of much good and also evil. It continues to the War of the Ring and the effects of the evil that have been present since the beginning of the world. It includes one of the best descriptions of Sam and Frodo’s pure, unbreakable bond, calling it holy and comparing it to the `knitted souls’ of Jonathan and David in the Bible. There is also a discussion of “The Debate of Finrod and Andreth” about the Incarnation that is still thousands of years in the future. This is another great book that addresses many of the themes that make the Red Book something to return to time and time again and learn something new each time about it and ourselves. Seek out Professor Wood’s articles scattered throughout the Internet, for he loves Middle-earth and those who inhabit it. Thank you, Professor! God bless you!
Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World, Revised Edition by Verlyn Flieger This book centers on The Silmarillion and on the idea of language. It speaks of Feanor’s creation of the Silmarils, what happened because of that and his inability to let go of his possession, just as later Frodo was unable to do. It also speaks of Beren and Thingol and much else in the immensely detailed tapestry of the early history of the Elves, Dwarves, and Men that Tolkien worked on for decades. It has also in the later chapters much of interest to say about Frodo and how he was “broken by a burden of fear and horror – broken down, and in the end made into something quite different,” as the Professor wrote in one of his letters. “Filled with clear light” he was to become, though we see but the beginning of this transformation and can only guess that it continued after he went West. There is also an analysis of “The Sea-Bell” poem, which is my favorite due to its association with Frodo. I also like A Question of Time, but Light is my favorite of hers and among my very favorites of all Tolkien-related books. If you only read one of hers, read this one!
On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis by Louis Markos This wonderful book shows how we can live moral lives following the example of Middle-earth’s littlest citizens. It also gives examples from the world of Narnia, including my favorite, Reepicheep, a most Tookish mouse if there ever was one! As soon as you are done with this, read the next guide below.
The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith This marvelous book proves that practically all you need to know about how to live a moral, happy, and fulfilling life you can learn from hobbits and other inhabitants of Middle-earth. Smith points out the many things that have gone wrong with our lives and our world and then shows us how we can heal the wounds by living more like hobbits. We can replace selfish ambition with selfless service, greed with contentment and simplicity, lust with love, betrayal with faithfulness, despair with hope, fair weather friends with true friends who will remain at our side even if we travel to hell and back. We desperately need all these virtues and the many other ones that hobbits and others illustrate. Let us hearken to and shout out the rallying cry of Smith, “The Shire lives!” like rallying to the Horn Merry blows in the Shire to stir up his fellow hobbits to oust the ruffians. Let us prove we believe in such values the hobbits live and breathe and so transform our world into a culture of life and hope that creates light rather than the one of death and despair that currently enshrouds our planet like the darkness of Mordor. The Shire lives! The Shire lives!
The Christian World of The Hobbit by Devin Brown This is a wonderful book detailing the presence of God in Bilbo’s world and life, his response to it and much else, including speaking of my favorite essay of Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories.”
The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft I wasn’t sure I would like this book, as I am not into philosophy or so I thought, but this book I can definitely highly recommend. This is the first book I have read that is written, not just from a scholarly point of view, but from an unabashed, joyful fan writing lovingly of the inhabitants of Middle-earth. This is by one of us! Frodo is Kreeft’s favorite and mine, which endeared this prolific author even more to me. He addresses all the big questions philosophy tries to answer about free will, fate, humility, friendship, mercy, evil, etc. and applies this to the story Frodo and Sam wrote in the Red Book. One of the more interesting points is we all know how strong evil is, but do we realize how weak it is? That is brought out here among many other things.
Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware and Walking with Bilbo by Sarah Arthur These two books are closely related and cover the same material in a wonderful way. They are chock-full not only of the spirituality of Bilbo’s journey “there and back again,” but they also offer much insight into our own journeys, and how to apply what we learn from the hobbit’s adventures to our lives. One of the most inspiring and applicable things from Finding God is the author’s view of why the Elves in The Hobbit can be so merry: “Like the Good People in Elrond’s valley, we live in troubled times. Like them, we dwell under a shadow. We are exiles in enemy territory, hemmed in on every side by darkness and despair. Terrorism and tsunamis, hurricanes and floods, war and senseless suicide bombings – such things have become defining features of the contemporary landscape. That’s not to mention the desperate and subtle wickedness that lurks in the deepest regions of every human heart. Can anyone laugh and sing in a world like ours? “The elves of Rivendell say yes. And they say so out of a context of hard-earned experience. More than any other people in Middle-earth, the elves know what it means to fail. They have fallen from grace and tasted the bitter cost of redemption. They realize what it will take to defeat the Shadow and heal the wounds of the world. And yet they are not above singing in the trees. Indeed, they understand that a certain amount of joyful abandon is essential to a life lived in harmony with the truth, however foolish it looks to small and serious-minded folk like Thorin. For to laugh in desperate circumstances and sing in the face of disaster is nothing less than an act of bold and daring faith. It’s a sign of salvation to the watching world, evidence of the hope that lies just beyond the fringes of the darkness.” This is a lesson that Frodo and Sam also teach very well, as the Ring-bearer laughs on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol and his faithful gardener and guardian sings in the Tower. The last two sentences of the book have much personal meaning for me, for this is what my own journey has been like: “…you will understand that God can and does find us almost anywhere – that He seeks us in the most unlikely places and draws us to Himself even when we’re not looking for Him. It’s a realization from which there can be no turning back.”
Walking with Bilbo brings out much of the same truths about Bilbo’s journey that can be applied to our own lives. To give just two examples of many: Bilbo was chosen to be burglar and Ring-finder, just as we are set aside by the same Creator for a particular purpose. The hobbit has to wrestle with his Baggins side, which would rather stay safe and comfortable, and his Tookish desire for adventure, just as we have to step out of our own comfort zones to fulfill our vocations. I thought of all the parallels between Bilbo’s adventures and Frodo and Sam’s Quest. There is much these hobbits can teach us if our hearts are open to their voices and the One who speaks through them.
Finding God in The Lord of the Rings by Jim Ware and Kurt Bruner I’ve read this book twice, and it is another that is full of wisdom from the Red Book that we can apply to our own lives. Especially memorable is the reflections on addiction, for we all bear Rings of one kind or another. It is beautifully written in many passages. I will quote my very favorite: “Great sacrifice was needed to defeat evil. Frodo had been chosen to carry a load none other could bear and fulfill a task none other could endure. Though Frodo was only one of many who had given up something for the greater good, none had suffered such direct confrontation with darkness or remained as faithful when tormented by the terrifying, possessing power of wickedness. Such was his role, to lose so that others might gain. And so, by completing his scene in the story, Frodo Baggins also performed its most heroic part.” Ware and Bruner then speak of the “ultimate hero of history, Jesus Christ”: “He left the respect and comfort of his rightful place for one reason: to redeem you and me from evil. He faced death to give life, endured sorrow to restore joy, confronted hate to show love. He humbled himself to the point of death on a cross to pay for our redemption. He was chosen for a burden none other could bear and a task none other could endure.” This brought to me more parallels between Frodo’s Passion and that of Jesus. Frodo is not God, but he is a suffering servant and the suffering of hobbit and God-Man are very similar in parts.