Monday, August 01, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien Christian Encounters, a Review

The Christian Encounter series is a biographical series from Thomas Nelson Publishing House.  The purpose of this series is to highlight the faith of each person presented.  I am not a fan of biographies, having only read one my entire life (Bob Dylan) and not planning to read another.  But then came along the chance to review the Christian Encounter book on J.R.R. Tolkien.  Since the book was small and about someone I had more than a passing interest in, I decided to give it a go.

Mark Horne does an admiral job of highlighting Tolkien's life in just over 120 pages.  The focus of the biography is to present readers with insight into Tolkien's life and the eventual development of his seminal works in the fantasy genre.  Horne is quick to remind us that Tolkien was a believer in the Faith, but he never ventures more than that.  Personally, I thought I would get to see more of Tolkien's faith in action, or at least some idea of how he believed.  Instead, I'm reminded (more than once) that Tolkien was a "sincere" Roman Catholic, that he forced his wife to convert from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and that he raised his children in the Catholic church.  One is left wondering what type of faith Tolkien really had.  No doubt he believed, and Horne includes how Tolkien shared his faith with C.S. Lewis in hopes of convincing Lewis to abandon skepticism, but this about as much of the action as we get to see.

Instead, this brief biography spends a handful of pages for each era of Tolkien's life and reads like a Wikipedia article.  We learn of his upbringing and his orphaning at an early age.  We then follow Tolkien's examination process to gain entrance to school, and then further studies to become a professor at Oxford.  We read about the Great War and its affects on Tolkien, and then suddenly we're diving through publishing and finishing his works.  All in all, if one is not looking for depth (and truly, I can't say that I was), then this little book is great for a casual Sunday afternoon read.  Its brevity is testament to that.  But if one is looking for a more thorough examination of Tolkien's life, there are definitely more available biographies of the man out there.  (Horne cites these quite often, and lists the books in the back of his work for further reading.)

All in all, it was an interesting experience to read about J.R.R. Tolkien.  I'm still not much of a fan of biographies, but I didn't expect to be won over by this, either.  If you're looking for some lite-Tolkien bio, Mark Horne's J.R.R. Tolkien in the Christian Encounter series is it.  Otherwise, look for something deeper.

*FTC Thingy: This book was provided free of charge.  Yep, I didn't have to pay for it.  All I had to do was read it and write an honest review.  I'm required by law to post this FTC Review Thingy for tax purposes or something.  So I like to change it up every time I tack it onto the books I receive.  I also like requesting baked goods, but as of yet, no one's obliged.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very interesting read!

mom said...

I think you would really enjoy the biography of C.S. Lewis. His is very interesting not to mention deep.

logankstewart said...

@celawerdblog: Thanks for stopping by! It was interesting, at least in parts.

@mom: I'm not sure if I'll be reading anymore biographies. But if I do, Lewis is one that I may have to consider.

Carl V. said...

That sounds pretty disappointing. I've read some really good books about Tolkien over the years. I would recommend:

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carter.

For something challenging but really very good:

The Road to Middle-earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology by Tom Shippey.

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez is a good one about their relationship, the triumphs and the struggles.

And a good book about Tolkien and thoughts about the environment, modernism, etc. is:

Defending Middle-earth by Patrick Curry.

The great thing about all these bios/studies of Tolkien is that they reveal so much more about the incredible thing he created with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Jonboy said...

I must confess that I admire you tremendously for sticking with this blog, not to mention the stories you've been working on as well. in the world do you find the time to do it?!

Between your newborn, a wife, video games, books, a job, your bible studies...I really do admire it.

I have so many thoughts swimming in my head I would love to write down, but by the time I get home from work, I'd rather sit down and "veg out" playing a video game than sitting down to write. I'm hoping you have some secret technique to inspire me...haha.

Remember what Pat wrote in my NOTW book? Maybe I need to try that, lol.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Thanks for the list, though I'm not sure if I'll venture into any more bio-style stuff for a good, long while.

@Jonboy: Thanks, friend. Honestly, it takes some effort, but I love writing, and blogging helps me keep my mind and thoughts in order. I kept a journal for years growing up, and my blog is basically an extension of that, now.

Yeah, definitely do Pat's suggestion. That'll produce results... Hahaha.

Carl V. said...

No problem, just wanted you to know that there is some cool stuff out there. There are also a couple of small press books: People's Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien and More People's Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien which are a collection of essays about the works and about the films done by a handful of founding members of the big One Ring dot Net site. I've read one and part of the other and they are really good, thought-provoking essays. I don't always agree with their point of view, but that is part of the fun.