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Book Review: The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft

September 14, 2010

I highly enjoyed reading Peter Kreeft’s, The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings. It was a great choice right as I restarted the series because it got be thinking about the philosophical, theological and worldview issues in Tolkien’s great story. No simple “Finding God in…” book, Kreeft is a serious scholar and philosopher himself, and while highly accessible, this book could literally serve as an introduction to philosophy textbook. Here are a couple of observations/ interesting quotes or points from the book:

On Magic in the world, and LOTR: “There are two very different kinds of magic…The magic of enchantment means entering the holy city of beauty, truth, and goodness and letting it conquer you. Ultimately it means letting God conquer you…But the magic of the ‘laborious, scientific magician’ (that is technology or man’s conquest of nature by technology) means playing God, like Sauron (Pg. 89).”

Is Tradition a Prison or a Lighthouse?: (incidentally, this one really struck my fancy. As a teacher of public school students I am constantly fascinated to see that the rejection of anything “traditional” is seen as a high virtue among this generation…even, and perhaps especially, amongst Christians. In the world of working with teenagers scorning tradition is often the only thing needed for one to be considered ‘relevant.’)

Kreeft writes, “Tolkien’s heroes are humble and therefore look to the past, to the wisdom they have been given. His villains and fools are proud and therefore scorn tradition and look only within themselves for their wisdom (Pg. 135).” For Tolkien and Kreeft, tradition is a lighthouse…I love that imagery.

Tolkien and Kreeft on the “Hard” Virtues: This was an excellent chapter. Kreeft points out that former generations were better at Hard virtues (courage, honor, duty, chastity, obedience) while our generation is better at the soft virtues (pity, mercy, humility, sensitivity).

One of the great things about Tolkien is that he reminds us of the Hard Virtues. That the ends do not justify the means. That moral absolutism is not arrogant, but humble. That duty is primarily to persons (i.e. Christ) not principles. That oaths and promises are sacred. That we must have heroes and that we must have hope and faith in something bigger than ourselves.

This is definitely a Catholic book, a fact I was reminded of at the mention of Purgatory and Frodo as a type of Mary, but Tolkien was a Catholic, so I feel like it helped me understand him better from that perspective. This one is strongly recommended. I should finish The Fellowship of the Ring tonight and then I will be on to Tolkien’s biography and The Two Towers.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Book permalink
    September 14, 2010 10:53 pm

    This entry today is one of the reasons this little blog is one cold daddy!!

    I’m sorry, I just can’t get into this kinda stuff…. My son and others of my ilk enjoy Mr. T…
    but, not I.

    So, slow as can be, he does NOT move on to Amazon………………

    (This entry is NOT a put-down!!!! It was just my twisted little humor attempt springing from one of my earlier entries RE: another author/books.)

    • September 15, 2010 1:28 pm

      I would expect nothing different from you my good man.

      Although I don’t know that I can trust a man who doesn’t enjoy Tolkien.

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