Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Philosophy of Tolkien, by Peter Kreeft

Peter J. Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, 2005 Ignatius Press, San Francisco

Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft draws attention to the Christian worldview that we encounter in the works of the great scholar and fantasy writer J.R. Tolkien. He demonstrates how Tolkien's writing can aid our understanding of metaphysics, angelogy, cosmology, politics and ethics. The chapter on angelogy was very valuable. I particularly appreciated his drawing attention to the fact that the character Galadriel is inspired by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Galadriel was my favorite character in Lord of the Rings even before I became a Catholic.

Where this book falls down really badly is in the complete absence of any critique of Tolkien's work. Kreeft might have discussed the pessimistic tone of the Middle Earth stories; the lack of any eschatological hope. He might have made some comment on the presence of reincarnation in Tolkien's writing. Maybe that is not a problem in a work of fiction, but he could at least have made mention of it. One difficulty I have with Tolkien as a thinker is that he is fundamentally a dreamy, other-worldly figure. He is someone completely at unease with the modern world, thus raising questions about his relevance. His thoughts on politics were hopelessly romantic, a combination of anarchism and monarchism, with no realistic hope of implementation in the real world. Rather unfortunately, Kreeft speaks positively of the idea of Distributism, an economic theory that makes absolutely no sense in terms of real world economics.

I do like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but I am not sure I like the way Tolkien has become a pin-up boy for Catholics. It might have been worth acknowledging that as imaginative as Tolkien was, he was not a brilliant writer and much of his work is deathly dull to read.

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