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Autumn 2004 | Volume 27, Number 4 | Books & Film

Volume of Essays Provokes Discussion of The Lord of the Rings and Western Civilization

THE ESSAYS IN Celebrating Middle-earth: The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization (Inkling Books, 2002) grew out of presentations made at a conference hosted by Seattle Pacific University’s C.S. Lewis Institute in 2001. The event not only drew 600 attendees from throughout the United States, but it also resulted in a provocative volume that is still being discussed by Tolkien fans and scholars.

“The intent behind the conference and the book was not primarily Tolkien appreciation, or to enter into the minutia of Middle-earth,” explains SPU Associate Professor John West, who edited Celebrating Middle-earth. “It was to get people to grapple with the truths expressed in Tolkien’s story and to ask themselves what difference those truths ought to make to their daily lives and to the world around them.”

West, a political scientist who has also published books on C.S. Lewis, religion, and politics, opens Celebrating Middle-earth with his own essay “The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization.” Other essay topics range from “Theology and Morality in The Lord of the Rings” to “Wartime Wisdom: Ten Uncommon Insights About Evil in The Lord of the Rings.” Contributors are Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College; Joseph Pearce, writer-in-residence at Ave Maria College; Janet Blumberg, emerita professor of English at SPU; Kerry Dearborn, associate professor of theology at SPU; and Phillip Goggans, associate professor of philosophy at SPU.

Since its publication, the book has received praise in interesting places, including from actor John Rhys Davies, who portrayed Gimli the dwarf in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. In New Zealand, which has been declared by Jackson to be the closest equivalent to a real “Middle-earth,” a Christian radio station has broadcast recordings of the presentations multiple times.

West invited Rhys Davies to campus last January for a film and lecture event on The Lord of the Rings. Though West acknowledges that Jackson’s acclaimed films were “a labor of love,” he says that the movies “eviscerated many of the moral truths contained in Tolkien’s original story. Jackson really seemed out of touch with the moral depths of many of Tolkien’s characters.” West names Aragorn, Faramir, Theoden, and Saruman as “pale imitations” of Tolkien’s characters.

While some critics are uncomfortable with the cultural and historical interpre-tations of Tolkien’s work found in Celebrating Middle-earth, West responds: “If the essays misstate or twist Tolkien’s views or characters, then that’s a serious criticism. I suspect that the real problem here is that some of these critics don’t like Tolkien’s worldview. So the last thing they want is a book that tries to apply the ideas Tolkien articulated to the here and now.”

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