© 2011 Thomas Nelson, Nashville
I have not historically been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. It took four or five starts with The Hobbit before I could make it past chapter 3. I have never been able to make it through a reading of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have, however, enjoyed the movies based on the trilogy, and I am aware of Tolkien’s contribution to modern literature and the fantasy genre. I also have a high respect for his writing whether I can sit through it or not. So when I had the opportunity to read Mark Horne’s short biography (written with a special attention to Tolkien’s faith, according to the series) I thought I might enjoy learning more about the creator of Middle-Earth.
From the packaging and the cover information, I expected the book to be more or less a work targeted for young adult readers who were interested in the subject’s contribution to literature with a Christian slant. And for what it’s worth, Horne develops a fairly good life-sketch of Tolkien from birth to death, with particular attention to the man’s writing. This is after all, the main contribution Tolkien had. Periodically, Horne makes a point to highlight Tolkien’s Roman Catholic faith, as well as his influence toward C.S. Lewis’s conversion.
If the work is aimed at reaching young adult readers, it falls short simply because the scholarship used in writing it leans towards the academic. That said, this same scholarly research tends towards the research paper style and at its very best the book reads more like a term paper rather than a well-oiled biography.
In regards to the Christian Encounters series (of which this is the only volume I have read, but which includes works on notable historical figures from St. Francis to D.L. Moody, from Churchill to Buckley and a whole list of others), if all of the biographies treat the Christianity of their subjects as this volume did, I fail to see the point of emphasizing Christianity in the title.
To say I was disappointed hits the mark on a variety of levels. Did I learn some things about Tolkien? Of course. Was the book one which will stick in my memory? I doubt it. I’d grant one and one-half reading glasses to this effort and hope that the other volumes in the series find their mark better.
—Benjamin Potter, August 10, 2011
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