Review: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien – ed. by Humphrey Carpenter

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien – ed. by Humphrey Carpenter

What an amazing book.

Like many people I have been a fan of Tolkien since High School. I still have the battered paperback editions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on the bookshelf behind me. All three of my sons read the same editions. What has always struck me about Tolkien’s books is the depth of the characters and the world they inhabit. Now that I have a sampling of what the man was thinking and doing during the process of writing these novels, I have an even greater respect for the accomplishment.

I recommend that every Tolkien fan read this book.

The thing that made me smile the most is that Tolkien was a deeply religious and devout man, and yet he kept all such things out of these books. Even the Silmarillion, while structured like a holy text, does not preach or push a religious agenda. This simple fact shows that Tolkien was a reasoning man who understood the difference between real life and the escapism of his “fairy stories”. The kindness and goodness of the heroic characters in his works, and the simple themes of justice and strength of character are all he needs to use to define his moral and ethical grounding. He could have preached morals but he didn’t and in doing so captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of young people.

I am tempted to go into greater detail and describe how this attitude was prevalent in his day to day life, but I don’t want to spoil any of this book for the reader.

I do want to take time to discuss how I think Tolkien might have felt about the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. There are things that would have upset him I think. Not things like the elves showing up at Helms Deep, or Arwen’s expanded presence, but the contorting of character’s motives and strengths. I think he would be most saddened by the treatment of Faramir. In the books Faramir knows his quality. It is not seeking approval and love from his father that drives him, but his duty and love for his father that does so. To have Faramir drag Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath, have him desire to be his brother, and to have him question his own worth detracts from the message Tolkien was trying to convey through character: there is still good in men.

But enough with ranting on my part. Read this book full of letters written by the man himself and form your own opinions. Better yet, just read the book and see for yourself that Tolkien himself was a man of quality.


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