Given that I have been thinking–sometimes non-stop–concerning the wonderful guy since 1978 or so, this really is about the maximum praise I can offer. Not only have I read everything Tolkien wrote, but I have read most of everything–especially the novels and many of the posts –which were written around him, around him, and near him over the last 40 years.
Yet in various brilliant and innovative ways, Ordway cuts through so much of the cultural debris and intellectual mathom which has come to surround not only Tolkien but his functions. Since Ordway makes fairly clear, the majority of this flotsam and jetsam which has accrued over the years came from the ancient (indeed, premature) biography written from the late Humphrey Carpenter. Carpenter was the very first and only authorized biographer of both Tolkien, the editor–combined with Christopher Tolkien–of the sanctioned and invaluable Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, also also writer of the very first major and extensive collection biography of the Inklings. Others, such as Charles Moorman, Chad Walsh, and R.J. Reilly had dealt with the Inklings, but in a topically focused manner, not offering a biography. This means, obviously, that Carpenter–especially given that the timing of his novels, all coming out roughly concurrent with Tolkien’s posthumous The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales–radically, basically, and radically shaped the planet’s perspective of the great man.
In his various works–edited and original –Carpenter made four falsehoods around Tolkien. First, he held that Tolkien loathed modern literature and was trapped, at least in terms of taste, in the Middle Ages. Second, Carpenter held little sympathy for his subject, and his edited volume of letters makes Tolkien seem”impatient, defensive, and uninterested in whatever modern.” Third, despite the huge differences between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis about everything out of tastes in literature into the playing sports, Carpenter conflated the two guys, making them a kind of combination figure. And finally, he presented Tolkien as anti-modern in his attitudes not just concerning the present world and its problems (when he paid attention to them whatsoever ) but also, especially, about its technologies. Carpenter, it appears, created Tolkien a kind of eccentric, irrational, Luddite crank.
With the fire as well as the tools of a modern debater and lawyer, Ordway not only challenges these four myths concerning Tolkien, she utterly destroys them. Every chapter is an intense debate about this or that matter, and each ends with a list decision of this debate just made. Tolkien’s Modern Reading, so, comes around on a single level as an amicus brief and onto the other as a reference manual. In her writing, she’s wonderfully and captivatingly ferocious, and I found myself participated without the need for relief from the opening paragraph of this book to the last. Really, seldom have I been immersed in a job as I was in such a one. It is quite good that Word on Fire Academic press set some money to the bodily sturdiness of this quantity, as I constantly called this endnotes, leaping back and forth from the text as I read with a certain fury. A lesser grade book would have disintegrated from my madness.
Within her countering of Carpenter, Ordway closely provides a much better story of Tolkien. First, Tolkien read every thing –early, medieval, and modern–and he did so voraciously. Second, Ordway approaches Tolkien from a standpoint of sympathy and sees him not as a fuddy crank, but instead as a kindly incorporated person with strong and educated views on himself and around the entire world around him. Third, no matter how close Tolkien and Lewis became friends, Ordway shows that they were basically different individuals, different minds, and unique souls. Tolkien relished everything that was English about England, however, Lewis, basically, remained an Ulsterman to the conclusion of his days. In the end, while Tolkien distrusted technologies as a product of fallen man, he had been no Luddite. Instead, in a humane and Catholic way, he feared that fallen man may be doubly dropped with technologies. Technology itself, even though, can obviously be used for good as well as for evil. In this, Tolkien was a rather mainstream Christian stunt, sounding very similar to Romano Guardini or T.S. Eliot.
“Tolkien’s catholic taste in literature can be , we might rather say, however, a manifestation of his Catholic religion: extensive, expansive, inclusive. Holly Ordway, Tolkien’s Modern ReadingIn addition to composing with a nice pen, Ordway has done–and from the structure of this book and her debate had to do–something unique with her sources. Having done my own work on Tolkien and Lewis–frequently quite intense–over the last two decades, I had prided myself on getting collected every known main and second source concerning the Inklings. However, Ordway showed up me, repeatedly. She finds crucial insights in the most improbable places. I was especially taken with Ordway’s use of a few of the most significant but strangely failed primary sources, Clyde Kilby’s Tolkien & The Silmarillion. Kilby was a professor of English at Wheaton College, and he also spent a summer in the 1960s trying to assist Tolkien gain The Silmarillion to a publishable state.
When there’s a complaint about Tolkien’s Modern Reading–and, believe me, it’s quite a trivial one–it’s that Ordway’s sources serve simply to establish her argument: that they exist to simply pull down Carpenter. This, clearly, is as it needs to be, however, it leaves out something that could’ve made this publication the first book on Tolkien. For instance, Ordway references all of Jane Chance’s edited works on Tolkien, however, she excludes her major monographs on Tolkien. She references 2 of Joseph Pearce’s functions on Tolkien, but not his seminal Tolkien: Man and Myth. And, there is no mention to important Tolkien authors such as Matthew Dickerson, Marjorie Burns, and Fleming Rutledge. These criticisms are minor, but a detailed bibliography might have rounded from Ordway’s book well. Let us hope she corrects this in the second edition.
It would also be a disservice to suggest that Ordway is merely hard Carpenter. She does this in spades, but she’s so with many excellent affirmations, not merely negations. Throughout the book, Ordway shows that Tolkien’s hearing preferences were wide in appreciation, that one has a difficult time narrowing him down to any 1 genre. Since Ordway explains,”Tolkien’s catholic taste in literature can be also, we might rather say, however, a manifestation of his Catholic religion: extensive, expansive, inclusive. Instead, she’s”we’ve noticed that Middle-earth does not emerge onto the page ex nihil, however, from a remarkably broad range of texts, assimilated and transformed into something distinctively inclusive, detailed, diverse, and incorporated.”
One must also mention that the book is attractively laid out, for which Word on Fire Academic is to be praised. Not only is that the font readable along with the examples really descriptive, but Ordway managed to include a vital dining table within an appendix,”A Comprehensive List of Tolkien’s Modern Reading.” Like anything else about the publication, Ordway has provided us with magnificent and difficult to receive detail.
Ordway has attained something grand. This book is not merely for Tolkien fans, but for anyone curious about modern literature and its enormous influence on our culture. If you chance to be a Tolkien fan and also a lover of modern literature, subsequently Ordway has blessed you double. If you happen to love each one these things and admire good writing and research, subsequently Ordway has blessed you four occasions. Tolkien’s Modern Reading is not simply a serious achievement, it’s a thing of immense beauty.