R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth By
Bradley J. Birzer
Intercollegiate Studies Inst, Hardcover: ISBN 1882926846 PubDate Feb 2003
Review by Edward Carmien
250 pages List price $24.95
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I've written many reviews over the years. J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth is the first that has really made me wrestle with the fundamental issue of whether or not I can honestly recommend it. In the past, it has been easy to identify an item I was reviewing as being a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Not so with Birzer's book.
It has many "thumbs up!" elements. It is thoroughly researched and painstakingly cited, with more than a hundred footnotes in one chapter alone and a 26-page bibliography. Birzer's prose is accessible. The central message of his book is painstakingly detailed, with chapters on Tolkien's life and work, myth and sub-creation (an important Tolkien concept), heroism, Middle Earth and modernity, and others. Much of what he writes stands as an able answer to Tolkien critics who label The Lord of the Rings as light entertainment, or to be more honest, popular trash.
That Birzer does these things in great detail and with precision should not be doubted. What gave me pause was the fervor Birzer brings to his subject, and his aim. He intends his reader to accept, as a given, that Tolkien's masterwork is best appreciated as a representation of Christian theology. As Joseph Pearce says in the forward, "Unfortunately, those who are blind to theology will continue to be blind to that which is most beautiful in The Lord of the Rings." Birzer would make LOTR a Roman Catholic tract, a novel that highlights the ineluctable truths of that faith.
Whether Tolkien would agree with Birzer is a question that can't be debated here. This is a book review, not an essay. What can be said is one must question an author who asserts that playing the card game Magic, The Gathering constitutes practicing the occult. While much of what Birzer writes can be defended, he goes over the top with statements such as "the Fellowship represents the Church struggling through time and space against its many enemies."
I seem to have answered my own question. By and large, this is a "thumbs down" review. Roman Catholics in search of a reason to appreciate Tolkien's masterpiece would do well to read Birzer's book. Those who can't get enough of Things Tolkien should by all means find a library that carries this text and check it out. Most, by my estimate, of those who love Tolkien's work (even those who understand Tolkien's deep attachment to his faith) will not find much to appreciate in these pages.
A hammer sees all things as nails. J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth is just such a hammer. Unfortunately for Birzer, The Lord of the Rings (and Tolkien's other works) is not a nail. It's a much, much bigger hammer.
Do the physics.