On the esoteric continuum, Peter Kreeft’s The Philosophy of Tolkien: The worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings is about medium. Of course, everyone knows about The Lord of the Rings – you’d have to have lived under a rock to not be aware of the international release of the Peter Jackson films – and much has since been written about how Tolkien’s Catholicism shows up in the story.
Before that though, The Lord of the Rings was a quiet classic, knowledge of Middle Earth passed by word of mouth, and commentary was infrequent. I first read The Lord of the Rings the summer I was 19 and it’s been a large influence on my thinking as an adult. My first interest that summer was the action of the storyline and I literally skipped the background and songs. I went back a second and even third time before the panoramic view was clear.
With subsequent readings, the Scripture similarities began to filter through. “Stewardship” had been just a word until the part with Denethor clarified how one is a good steward or a poor steward. The kingdom split into northern and southern parts was another similarity. The battle between good and evil, the spiritual journey, the “writing straight with crooked lines” aspect: all illuminated Scripture for me.
Whenever I looked at books that claimed to describe Tolkien’s philosophy, I always felt something was missing. Kreeft’s discussion has a completeness and comprehensiveness that is greatly satisfying.
The book’s structure is 50 questions with headings such as Metaphysics, Philosophical Theology, and Ethics. I’ve never taken a philosophy class, formal or otherwise, and my first reaction to the listing of 50 questions was, “Oh, this is going to be dry and boring.” Fortunately, it hasn’t been. It’s the most painless introduction to philosophy I could imagine. One reason is what Kreeft describes as “four tools for understanding each of the philosophical issues:
- an explanation of the meaning and importance of the question;
- a key quotation from The Lord of the Rings showing how Tolkien answered the question …
- a quotation from Tolkien’s other writings (usually a letter) that explains or comments on the theme…
- a quotation from C. S. Lewis, Tolkien’s closest friend, showing the same philosophy directly stated.” (p. 11)
The Philosophy of Tolkien is definitely a good read.