J.R.R. Tolkien, a man of faith

Apr 23, 2024 by

By Theresa Pihl, Mercator.

Book Review:  Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography by Holly Ordway | Word on Fire, 2023.

Modernity has flattened and fractured our cultural understanding of the human person. Dr Holly Ordway, Word on Fire’s Cardinal Francis George Professor of Faith and Culture, offers a refreshing counterpoint to this decline in her recent book, Tolkien’s Faith: A Spiritual Biography. Laying out meticulously researched evidence, she presents J.R.R. Tolkien as a whole man, a man whose faith enlightened his mind and his relations, a man fully alive.

 Several notable biographies explore the life and works of the famous author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Humphrey Carpenter’s authorized edition, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, first appeared in 1977, four years after Tolkien’s death. It benefits from immediacy, capturing a personality still in living memory. John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War (2003) examines a pivotal period in Tolkien’s life. Raymond Edwards’ Tolkien (2020) focuses primarily on his academic career.

But despite their merits, these biographies are incomplete. Garth intentionally limits his scope to a few years, and Carpenter and Edwards ignore a major influence in the life of this complex man: Tolkien’s Christian faith. Carpenter dismisses Tolkien’s faith as an emotional attachment related to his mother, while Edwards relegates it to an appendix. Joseph Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth (2001) engages Tolkien’s Chrisitan worldview more directly from the perspective of a literary critic, but it is Holly Ordway who adds a “whole new dimension” to our understanding of the integrality of Tolkien’s faith as “co-inherent”—to borrow a phrase from his friend and fellow Inkling Charles Williams—to all aspects of his life.

Read here.

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