“The Tolkien Reader” Critical Book Review

No one – and when I say no one, I mean NO ONE, not Robert Jordan (who greatly influenced my writing style), not Brandon Sanderson (my favorite author), not J.K. Rowling (who wrote my all-time favorite books), not even my own mother (who taught me to read) – had as much influence on my becoming a writer than the father of what we know today as the Fantasy Genre.  J.R.R. Tolkien has been my hero since I first read The Hobbit at the age of eleven, and continues to be the inspiration for everything I write now.  He created something extraordinary in Middle Earth. The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin – they’re not just stories.  They’re not just words and characters and compelling plots.  It’s a living, breathing world.  Middle Earth is a real place – a place of wonder and magic and beauty unrivaled by any creation of imagination since.

That is my ultimate goal.  If I ever can capture even the tiniest glimmer of what he did in his world, I will have fulfilled my dream.  If I can ever give just one reader the tiniest sliver of the same sense of wonder and passion and reality that he created in his tales of the dark realm of Mordor, or the agrarian peacefulness of The Shire, or the magic of Lothlorien, or the fading beauty of Rivendell, or the majesty of men in Gondor, or the might of Gondolin, or the love of Beren and Luthien or Aragorn and Arwen, or the titanic struggle of the Valar before time began – I will die totally, and completely, fulfilled.

That is the influence Mr. Tolkien has had on me, and The Tolkien Reader takes us deeper into who the man behind the Faerie Realm really was – and deeper into that perilous realm itself.

The Tolkien Reader is made up of four entirely separate sections: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, Tree and Leaf (which is, itself, made up of two separate entities), Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Adventure of Tom Bombadil.  I will, of course, cover everything separately.

The first tale told is The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, which is an original interpretation of Tolkien’s concerning an archaic Scandinavian poem of the same name.  While I enjoyed this immensely for several reasons, it is highly unlikely that the ordinary reader would find it an entertaining read.  I found it interesting because it gave me further insight into my idol, J.R.R. Tolkien, and because I find his critical translations of archaic language fascinating.  But, as I said, if you are just looking for a traditional read or aren’t looking to give your brain a massive linguistic workout, you may want to skip this one.

Tree and Leaf is actually two separate sections as well:  a short story titled Leaf by Niggle, and a (now famous) essay by Tolkien called On Fairy Stories.  This is, in my humble opinion, the best portion of the book. On Fairy Stories is easily my favorite essay of all-time.  If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and educate yourself by picking up a copy.  I’ll not lie, it’s probably a bit over the heads of the average reader, and Tolkien doesn’t pander to those who aren’t there to seriously study the material.  It’s both incredibly intellectual and study intensive.  For those who find themselves able to get through the concepts and reflect on them, it’s also highly rewarding.  This is the premiere work on fantasy stories, and, in particular, the fairy tale.

The other part of Tree and Leaf is Tolkien’s allegory Leaf by Niggle.  It is, including even The Lord of the Rings, probably my favorite story by Tolkien, which seems strange considering that it is only twenty pages long.  That’s part of its appeal, though, and it is incredible that Tolkien told such a heartfelt – and poignant – tale in such few words.  This is allegory at its very best.  I highly recommend it to any person – whether they are a reader or not, whether they enjoy fantasy or not.  If you don’t do anything with the rest of your life, read this story.  Even if you’ve only got an hour left to live, it’s well worth the time.

The third section is Farmer Giles of Ham, which is a short story (maybe novella length) about a lowly farmer who becomes the hero of the land.  This is solid, traditional fairy tale work, and good reading for any Tolkien fan or lover of Grimm tales.

The fourth section is where we dive back into the realm of Tolkien’s most famous world – that of Middle Earth – in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.  Anyone who has read The Fellowship of the Ring will immediately recognize Bombadil, who is a quirky enough character to stick out in anyone’s mind.  This is a collection of poems, not all of which are about Bombadil.  For those not interested in poetry, this isn’t your cup of tea.  If you love reading whatever you can get your hands on concerning Middle Earth, however, this is definitely for you.  One area in which I’ve always felt Tolkien never received enough credit was in his poetry work.  He writes excellent, lyrical poetry.  Some of the additions here are lovely, bringing to mind the beauty of nature among other things straight from the realm of Faerie.

In summary, The Tolkien Reader will delight fans of Tolkien, while the drier and more studious portions are likely not what the average reader is willing to dig into.  If you take nothing else away from this, read Leaf by Niggle!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s