A few days ago we celebrated the long-awaited release of the first new Tolkien novel in thirty years, The Children of Hurin. I considered offering a reflection, a day or so later, on the campus shootings and how this epic adventure—with its power, violence, the ring, evil, redemption—might help us process the tragedy at Virginia Tech. As you know, I offered instead another piece of redemptive art, the lyric of a favorite Pierce Pettis song.
Still, I come back to the urgency of great literature, of reading, of stories and truths told in books. So I will offer just a few random suggestions, starting with a few about Tolkien’s imaginary world, moving to some others more generally about the role of literature in our lives; nothing exhaustive, of course. Books about books are among our favorites, and there are plenty.
The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-Earth Ralph Wood (Westminister/John Knox) $14.95 Many know Dr. Wood as a thoughtful Christian scholar (he teaches at Baylor), an engaging professor, and a passionate Middle Earth buff. Here, he offers his insights in a very readable, yet thoughtful book. It is the perfect, smart starter book in this whole area of pondering the theological vision of Tolkien and how we can see God’s truth in these grand stories.
Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings Matthew Dickerson (Brazos) $14.95 This serious book is very well-informed by the author’s knowledge not only of the Tolkein tale, but other epic traditions and stories; Dickerson makes a good case for this views, and shows how knowing these classic tales can enhance our enjoyment of the literature and gain deep insights about morality and truth. Again, this Middlebury professor is beloved on campus and an active Christian thinker and leader.
The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkein’s Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings Flemin Rutledge (Eerdmans) $22.00 One of the best Episcopal preachers around, an author who has published sermons preached in her New York city parish, Rutledge is greatly respected as a thoughtful theologian. Here, in Ralph Wood’s words, she “writes about the moral and theological life of The Lord of the Rings with immense verve and insight.” What grace!
Lord of the Elves & Eldils Richard Purtill (Ignatius) $15.95 The subtitle says it all: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. An important Catholic author, Purtill is well-respected and gives us a very useful account.
From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy Matthew Dickerson & David O’Hara (Brazos) $19.99 The excellent author of Following Gandalf here gives us the best overview of the significance of myth and fantasy and fairy stories that I know of. Excellent examples, with chapters on everything from Beowulf to Back of the North Wind; from Authurian legends to the “dark matieral” of Philip Pullman. Fabulous.
Rallying the Really Human Things: The Moral Imagination in Politics, Literature and Everyday Life Vegen Guroian (ISI) $15.00 This thick paperback is weighty with ideas, thoughtful, richly wise, well-written by a writer and scholar of great renown. Do you know this Loyola Orthodox professor? He shows up, as most of the best of our day do, on Ken Meyer’s Mars Hill Audio Journal from time to time, reflecting on all kinds of things (we love his little books on gardening!) Here, he uses great writers to illuminate important issues of our time. One critic calls him “a scholar of the Real.” I think the title is from Chesterton.
There Before Us: Religion, Literature, and Culture from Emerson to Wendell Berry Edited by Roger Lundin (Eerdmans) $18.00 Again, this is a collection edited by a famed evangelical spokesperson for the life of the mind, a renowned public intellectual and respected scholar. Lundin edits, here, a host of writers–many whom I do not know–writing about various aspects of the history of the interplay between faith and culture in American literature. Mark Noll writes, “From the Puritans to the era of Updike, Morrison, and Walker Percy, American literature has always been obsessed with religion. But expert criticism on that obsession, while never entirely absent, has lagged far behind. This outstanding collection…” As Dale Brown (whose named appeared here a few weeks back as I was promoting his spectacular new book on Buechner) observes, “this has reminded me of the centricity of faith issues in the lives and works of iconic American authors like Thoreau, Twain, Dickinson, and Melville…” Heavy, good, stuff.
The Language of Grace: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Iris Murdoch Peter S. Hawkins (Seabury) $13.00 Thank goodness the old Seabury imprint is back in business; Hawkins is the co-editor of the wonderful Augsburg-Fortress series of books Listening for God: Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith. He he turns his good eye to these three twentieth century novelists.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age Sven Birkerts (Fawcett) $14.00 I used to say this was one of my favorite memoirs, ever, as this good author tells of his falling in love with books, his interest in the promotion of literature (he worked at a bookstore!) and his humane concerns about the impact of the role of computers and cyberspace upon our habits of reading and writing. I love this guy, and so enjoyed this elegiac story about why reading matters.
Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books Maureen Corrigan (Vintage) $13.95 Now out in paperback, this is a book-lover’s treasure; as Bobbie Ann Mason says, “If you ever wonder about the secret life of a bookworm, this is the book that will open up the rich rewards of going around with your nose stuck n a book.” More, this reflective memoir not only helps you understand her love for books and the act of reading—and how it shapes who we are—but you learn a whole lot about a whole lot of authors, titles, books and writers.