Back in August, a blog hosted by the librarians of Newport Public Library in Newport, Rhode Island, published this review essay. I love this kind of overview, and I’m just thrilled when libraries notice The Company They Keep. Kudos to Meg, who made this clear, helpful info available to readers! And thank GOD for librarians.
The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s thrilling fantasy about Frodo, Gandalf, Aragon, a giant spider named Shelob, a Dark Lord named Sauron, Orcs, Elves and Dwarves, increased in popularity when director Peter Jackson created his now famous film trilogy. At the same time the movies were being produced, scholars, readers and fans were busy, too, writing about Tolkien and his fantasy masterpiece.One of the best books written recently is The Company They Keep by Diana Pavlac Glyer (2007). She talks about Tolkien in the context of The Inklings – a group of Oxford professors and other writers (including C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams) who met on a regular basis to read to each other and give and accept criticism and suggestions. Not only is this a really good portrait of the Inklings, but Glyer also sheds some wonderfully original light on the collaborative nature of the writing process, and how none of these writers would have written as they did without the support and help of the others.
By far the best biography of JRRT was written by fellow Englishman, Humphrey Carpenter, entitled simply – J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. This was published originally in 1977, but reissued in paperback in 2000. Carpenter also edited The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and reading Tolkien’s letters (especially the ones that he wrote while he was creating The Lord of the Rings) provides a fine portrait of what he was struggling with as a writer and what he was trying to express with his fiction.
Tom Shippey is often considered one the preeminant experts on Tolkien and his works. Two of Shippey’s best are J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (2001) and The Road to Middle-Earth (2003).
For a more spiritual take on Tolkien’s writings try either J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth by Bradley J. Birzer (2002) or J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality and Religion by Richard Purtill (2003).
If you just want one book that brings together many of the essays about Tolkien and his most famous work, check out Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism, edited by Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs (2004).
And finally, for a look at Tolkien’s heroes as compared to some more modern figures, try Return of the Heroes: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Social Conflict by Hal Colebatch (2003). Meg