J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne
I made a fairly late entrance into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the last couple of years, I’ve begun to devour some of his works and also various critical and biographical works about him and his literature. I must admit I’ve got a long way to go and I’m still learning a lot of new things. One thing that has become clear to me is that writing a book about Tolkien is a daunting task. There’s just so much already out there and there seems to be so many potential pitfalls. In some areas, there is a veritable waterfall of information and in other areas, mums the word!
In my Tolkien reading lineup, the book that immediately preceded this one was by a really cranky literary critic in the 1960′s who had what one might call a few choice words for Tolkien. And the choice words weren’t so positive. So, knowing that Mark Horne was going to deliver a more appreciative assessment of Tolkien was rather comforting to me. But I wouldn’t be satisfied with flaky and soppy hagiography either. It turns out, that my reading of this book left me very satisfied. Mark did marvelous job with this one. He mixes a warm, conversational style with simple, easy prose and a scholars attention to detail as he combs through relevant and revealing episodes and characteristics of Tolkien’s life and world. I think this is a marvelous place to begin for a person who seeking to get better acquainted with Tolkien. To be honest, I sort of wish it was the first Tolkien bio I read.
Since this is a part of the “Christian Encounters” series, one might expect this book to be very focused on reading a certain theological emphasis into Tolkien’s life works or teaching certain morals through his life. But the book is much like Tolkien’s work, it is not moralistic and not trying to make a particular theological or denominational point, but rather help its readers encounter a great author in a very human and down-to-earth way. And it succeeds at this objective. This is not to say that Mark does not point out virtues and themes, it’s just that he lets them be for what they are and isn’t driving toward a rhetorical point.
It wasn’t until I finished this book and saw the concluding bio that I realized that not only does Mark share a name with me, but we are both married to Jennifers and he and my wife went to the same college. Go figure! This book is really well-done and I must congratulate Mark Horne for doing a fine job of tackling a really hard project and giving the Tolkiensphere a great resource!
(Disclosure: I received this book for free as a review copy through the BookSneeze.com program. Apparently the FTC requires this disclaimer. The opinions I’ve expressed are fiercely independent. They gave me the book with the understanding that I would give an honest review. I would refuse to enter any arrangement where I wasn’t free to tear a book to shreds–after all, negative reviews are more fun. )