A Brace of Tolkien Posts #TolkienReadingDay

March 25th is Tolkien Reading Day! I have just hit the halfway point of The Silmarillion–my first time successfully reading it all the way through. Often I would start, enjoy the mythic material, then as the legendary stories of the races of Middle Earth begin, get lost. Other times I would just cherrypick the cooler stories. But I am motoring through, now. I am about one-third of the way through Tolkien’s Letters–reading it as an occasional book (about a page a day). And I am reading Return of the King to my son. We are in the sixth book, and Sam has just determined to rescue Frodo from the midst of the orc horde.

In honour of Tolkien Reading Day, I thought I would update the catalogue the Tolkien posts featured here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. I hope you enjoy the great selection of guest bloggers and feature posts, filling out your Tolkien reading and inspiring you to widen and deepen your Tolkienaphilia.

Frodo, Sam and Gollum in IthilienTolkien’s Ideas

Tolkien’s work is rich with reflection on the world around us. In posts like “Let Folly Be Our Cloak: Power in the Lord of the Rings” and “Affirming Creation in LOTR,” I explore themes related to ideas that are central to Tolkien’s beliefs. The latter idea, creation and good things green, is covered also with Samwise Gamgee here and with Radagast the Brown here. One of the ones that resonates long after reading is the theme of providence, which I explore in “Accidental Riddles in the Invisible Dark.”

One surprising connection was “Simone de Beauvoir and the Keyspring of the Lord of the Rings“–a pairing that many would find unusual and includes some great old footage. Guest blogger Trish Lambert rounded out the discussion with “Friendship Over Family in Lord of the The Rings.” Author Tim Willard talks about “Eucatastrophe: J.R.R Tolkien & C.S. Lewis’s Magic Formula for Hope.” And you can follow Stephen Winter’s LOTR thought project here.

My most important contribution, I think, is my Theology on Tap talk, called “A Hobbit’s Theology.” It is one of the ideas I am struggling with most specifically in my academic work. And one of the more popular posts this year was a very personal one, “Battling a Mountain of Neglect with J.R.R. Tolkien.” Though I am still not sure if I should have written that post, it continues to connect with readers.

lord of the rings tolkien folioTolkien as Writer

I remain fascinated by Tolkien’s development as an author, and spent some time of late exploring the theme. The most popular of pieces I wrote was the coyly titled, “The Shocking Reason Tolkien Finished The Lord of the Rings.” The reason is, of course, not all that shocking, but could be helpful for the subcreators amongst us. Two more substantial posts on the topic are “12 Reasons not to Write Lord of the Rings, or an Ode Against the Muses” and “The Stories before the Hobbit: Tolkien Intertextuality, or the Sources behind his Diamond Waistcoat.”

C.S. Lewis took an interest as well in Tolkien’s formation (see “Book Reviews” below). You can read more about it in Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Bandersnatch, and in this blog post, “‘So Multifarious and So True’: The C.S. Lewis Blurb for the Fellowship of the Ring.” Lewis’ support for Tolkien did not go unrewarded. Besides the great joy of Tolkien’s work, there was a time when Tolkien interceded a time or two on Lewis’ behalf. Friendship goes both ways.

Film Reviews

When the teaser trailer of the third film, The Battle of Five Armies, was released, I wrote “Faint Hope for The Hobbit.” Although it is clear in the trailers that this is a war and intrigue film, I still had some hope I would enjoy it. The huge comment section shows in that post shows that not everyone agreed it was possible!

My review of An Unexpected Journey captures the tug back and forth I feel about the films. I called it, “Not All Adventures Begin Well,” and it is a much more positive review than many of the hardcore Tolkien fans or academics. And it gives this cool dwarf picture:

What Have We Done?” These words are breathed in the dying moments of the second installation of The Hobbit adaptation, The Desolation of Smaug. In this review I think about what it means to do film adaptations. While I do not hate this Hobbit trilogy, I think that Peter Jackson just got lost a bit.

When I finally got to The Battle of 5 Armies, I decided it would be fun to do a Battle of 5 Blogs. 5 other bloggers joined it, making it a Battle of 6 Blogs! But the armies are pretty tough to count anyhow. I titled my blog, “The Hobbit as Living Text.” It was a controversial approach to the film, I know. Make sure you check out the other reviewers link here. Some of us chatted about the films in an All About Jack Podcast, which you can hear here and here.

While these aren’t substantial reviews, I featured two indie films: a documentary on Tolkien’s Great War, and a fictional biopic recreating Tolkien’s invention of Middle Earth called Tolkien’s Roadboth inspired, perhaps, by John Garth’s work.

Book Reviews

There was no greater friend of The Hobbit in the early days than C.S. Lewis. In “The Unpayable Debt of Writing Friends,” I talk about how, if it wasn’t for Lewis, Tolkien may never have finished The Hobbit, and the entire Lord of the Rings legendarium would be in an Oxford archive somewhere. Lewis not only encouraged the book to completion, but reviewed The Hobbit a few times. Here is his review in The Times Literary Supplement.

Lewis is not the only significant reviewer of The Hobbit. When he was 8, my son Nicolas published his review, just as the first film was coming to the end of its run. When I was posting Nicolas’ review, I came across another young fellow–the son of Stanley Unwin, the first publisher to receive the remarkable manuscript of The Hobbit. Unsure how children would respond, he paid his son, Rayner, to write a response to the book. You can read about it here: “The Youngest Reviewers Get it Right, or The Hobbit in the Hands of Young Men.”

I realize as I do this survey that I haven’t written a review of any of Tolkien’s key Middle Earth texts. I did, however, feature the Father Christmas Letters in our last season of advent.

The Read-Aloud Hobbit

One of my first digital exchanges was participating in The Hobbit Read Along–you can still see the great collection of posts online. As I was doing this shared project, I was reading The Hobbit to my 7 3/4-year-old son. It was a great experience, but I made the mistake of doing accents to distinguish characters early on in the book. That’s fine when you’ve got oafish trolls or prim little hobbits. But a baker’s dozen of dwarfs stretched my abilities! You can read about my reading aloud adventures here.

In reading aloud I was really struck by the theme of providence in The Hobbit. I’m sure others have talked about it, but “Accidental Riddles in the Invisible Dark (Chapter 5)” is a great example of that hand of guidance behind the scenes.

Hobbit and Art

I am fascinated by Tolkien’s own artwork. In some of the Tolkien letters we find out how his humble drawings came to be published with the children’s tale. I decided, though, that I wanted to explore it a little more, and so I wrote, “Drawing the Hobbit.”

There have been many other illustrators since–including Peter Jackson, whose work as a whole is visually stunning, even for those who don’t feel he was true to the books. One of my favourites was captured in this reblog, “Russian Medievalist Tolkien“–a gorgeous collection of Sergey Yuhimov’s interpretation of The Hobbit.

With the great new editions of unpublished Tolkien by his son, we also get to see some of Tolkien’s original art. I continue to be fascinated by this dragon drawing. What an evocation of the Würme in medieval literature!

radagast-the-brownTolkien’s Worlds

I would like to spend more time thinking about the speculative universes of J.R.R Tolkien. Meanwhile, I would encourage you to read Jubilare’s reblog of the Khazâd series. It’s just the first of a great series, but shows you a bit of the depth of Tolkien’s world behind the world. In reading up on the Wizards of Middle Earth–the Brown, the White, the Grey, and the two Blues–it struck me how relevant Radagast the Brown is to us today. I take some time here to put a comment that Lewis made about Tolkien’s work in the context of other speculative writers, especially J.K. Rowling.

You can also check out the work of people like the Tolkienist, the links on the Tolkien Transactions to catch what kinds of conversations are about these days, or the academic work of people like David Russell Mosley. And, of course, we are all interested in Tolkien’s work on Beowulf. I have it at my bedside table in preparation for a free SignumU three-lecture class with Tom Shippey.

And Just For Fun….

Because I can, and because some things are entirely meaningless, I will leave you with a quiz: What Character in the Hobbit Are You? You will not be surprised that I am Thorin Oakenshield!

Plus this. Or this!

What are you reading on Tolkien Reading Day? Feel free to tell us by linking this post on twitter, sharing on facebook, or telling us in the comments below.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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12 Responses to A Brace of Tolkien Posts #TolkienReadingDay

  1. Ocean Bream says:

    Hey I had no idea today was Tolkein reading day! We are a Tolkein family, and funnily enough I was reading the Hobbit today 🙂 What a lovely appreciation post. Thank you for sharing all the links!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    What a handy overview – leaving me thinking I have a fair bit of catching up and/or rereading to do!

    I lately became acquainted with a very enjoyable, fairly lengthy abridged audio version of The Hobbit for Argo Records in 1974 by the late Nicol Williamson, kindly made available to those of us far from great public libraries replete with old LPs by someone in One of The Usual Places (and not yet hunted down, assuming it runs that danger…) – intriguing to compare with your observation, “I made the mistake of doing accents to distinguish characters early on in the book”! (I am only left regretting that it was abridged at all, however generous the portion provided!)

    In her 25 March post, A Clerk of Oxford notes, “the medieval church considered 25 March to be the single most important date in history, at once the beginning and the end of Christ’s life on earth: it was the date of the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the eighth day of Creation, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the sacrifice of Isaac, all profoundly meaningful events in the carefully-crafted divine story of salvation history. Its resonances reached even unto Middle Earth, as Tolkien aligned the downfall of the Ring to this most auspicious of dates.”


    • I haven’t listened to all of the Hobbit, but some of it with a great British audiobook reader who probably should have had someone else do the singing! (Rob Inglis, maybe?)
      Is that true about the March 25th super awesome medieval day? My doubts are these:
      -it isn’t Good Friday (usually)
      -is there that much agreement in the Medieval church?


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Yep, that’s Rob Inglis! (We’ve listened to the whole of his reading – and singing (!) – over and over!) Do search out Nicol Williamson, for a try. (There’s also a bizarrely frenetic BBC radio dramatization – and a very nice Dutch one, come to that – though non-Dutch-speakers probably won’t, easily: reading J.A.W. Bennett and Douglas Gray’s Middle English OHEL volume, I am struck again and again how much Middle English and Dutch seem to have had in common, which later dropped out of English.)

        As to 25 March, it’s always the Annunciation, which, as the beginning of the Incarnation, is weighty (and, in a certain sense, could be seen to include Good Friday, even when they don’t coincide).

        As to agreement, I know there were, for instance, some disagreements as to the Days of Creation (the Clerk has an interesting 18 March 2015 post touching upon this), and it would be very interesting to see how 25-March ‘items’ accumulated and who was attending to just which ones, where and when!

        The Catholic Encyclopedia article by Frederick Holweck on “The Feast of the Annunciation”, which Tolkien could have read as a schoolboy (it appeared in 1907), has some nice attention to the matter (transcribed at newadvent.org).


        • Am I right in thinking that Frisian spoken today is considered the closest to how pre-Norman English would have sounded? I found this parallel online:
          Frisian: Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.
          English: Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Fries.
          Reading that book “English: The Magnificent Bastard Tongue,” the author (a kind of linguistic gadfly) says that we focus too much on words. He turns to the celtic languages (Breton, Welsh) because of grammar. I quite appreciated the argument as someone who things that the evolution of Greek from Classical to Koine to religious recovery is too focussed on words and not enough on grammar. So you get caught on lexical loops, so meaning is determined by usage but usage is preset by meaning. So it takes a disruptive scholar to rethink a word (like baptism or justice or barbarian or Hebraic influences on Christian Greek).
          I just don’t know the calendar! I wonder, though, if an integrative faith should invest in “best day ever” kind of thinking.
          It’s cool that the whole old Catholic Encyclopedia has been online for a decade or so.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I’ve heard that about Frisian, too, and know various Frisian-speaking folk – and kick myself that I did not take Old Frisian at Oxford when I had the chance! – but just don’t know well enough to say, confidently.

            For ‘bread’ and ‘cheese’ Standard Dutch (so to call it) is closer to ‘High’ German: ‘brood’/’Brot’, ‘kaas’/’Käse’ (‘butter’ is spelled that way in German, too, and ‘boter’ in Dutch). Interestingly, in the Early English Text Society edition of Caxton’s translation of The Historie of Reynart the Foxe (1481), the editor mentions we can’t always tell in some cases if a given word was borrowed from Dutch or represents a form found in both English and Dutch at that time!

            It all leaves me with much greater admiration for someone really philological like Tolkien, who read and remembered texts in various languages and vintages and studied the histories of words widely and deeply!

            History of grammar in various languages (and comparatively) is indeed also a weighty part of the picture – about which I once more know too little, but reading more about Old and Middle English lately is sharpening my interest in things like how translating, being bi- or multiligual, and writing verse are involved. (For a lot of the time, most people who could write knew Latin, often wrote more in Latin than in their native tongue, so, probably thought easily in Latin – how does that affect grammar and vocabulary?)

            It is jolly to have so much old Catholic Encyclopedia so readily available, not least as it’s something all the Inklings could have had reasonable access to (we know Williams read some articles, because he refers to them). But I’m not sure just how complete it is at New Advent, though they’ve been building it up for years. Sometimes Wikipedia has transcriptions, too, and CatholicSaints.Info – perhaps made independently (?).

            I’m glad to be always learning more about the calendar (or, calendars of different places and times), as it was so much a part of daily life (and thought). It’d be interesting to hear more re. your wondering “if an integrative faith should invest in ‘best day ever’ kind of thinking”, sometime! Thinking in terms of Providentially purposeful connections over vast depths and reaches of time – including into the future, however fancifully some (or many!) times, is such a weighty matter…

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think I want to learn languages. If I settle into an aristocratic life, I’m going to learn them one by one. Heighten my Koine Greek with classical and religious, then Latin, then the medieval languages. 20 years should do it.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                More power to your elbow! (as my Roman-British Archaeology prof used to say). I remember hearing it took 21 years to learn to play the bagpipes, and thinking it was too late to start – and now that was about long enough ago to have done it twice over, even on those terms! (Happily, somebody in one of my choirs told me the other day he started at 59 – and now travels around with his pipeband performing at all sorts of solemn official occasions!) Languages are so delicious and fascinating, that my lunk-headed laziness in not learning more sometimes astonishes me. Oh, what people like Tolkien and Lewis (and J.A.W. Bennett) knew!

                Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Just ran into this astonishing article, which engendered the wild question, did Tolkien imagine something not unlike this, involving the generations of Cave Bear’s ancestors, in some of the most striking of his Father Christmas letters?:



  4. Pingback: Why I Don’t Write Bad Book Reviews | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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