An Interesting Book Review
This review of the book, Defending Middle-Earth -
Tolkien: Myth & Modernity, by Patrick Curry as reviewed by Sarah
Wells will give you some insight on what the contents of Lord of the Rings
is designed to depict. I hope you find it interesting and worthwhile
as you takes these concepts with you in your mind to see John Ronald Reuel
Tolkien's recently released film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings - The
Two Towers, in the movies and the Fellowship of the Rings on Cable
Defending Middle-Earth - Tolkien: Myth & Modernity.
Floris books, Edinburgh, 1997
£15.99. (Hardback now out of print.)
£7.99 Paperback HarperCollins 1998
Review by Sarah Wells
This review originally appeared in Mallorn 35, 1997.
Defending Middle-Earth started life as a paper for the
1992 Tolkien Centenary Conference, but (as with all the best books) once
Curry had started he found he couldn't stop. Each thought provoked more
questions, paragraphs lengthened into chapters and eventually this book
Curry seeks to answer the riddle of why a book that
consistently sells well around the world, is amongst the most popular
borrowed from libraries and has repeatedly been voted "best book of the
century" or indeed "of all time", should be so slated by critics? What are
the readers getting out of it?
Many of the literary critics may be written off as
literary snobs, who have written off all stories as being for children and
the emotionally immature, lack the imagination to understand speculative
fiction, or are simply obsessed with being, as one is described here, the
Adult in the room. Dismissing the shallower critics, however, is easy, and
no real answer. What is it about The Lord of the Rings that has led
the book not merely to stand the test of time, but to grow steadily in
One of the commonest criticisms of The Lord of the
Rings is that it is reactionary. Curry argues that it is instead
anti-modernist, anticipating the modern Green movement rather than looking
back to the Luddites. He is perhaps oversimplifying the case when he
suggests that modern scientific rationalism was invented by Descartes and
had few detractors until first Ruskin, and then Tolkien came along to herald
the rise in our own generation of ecological awareness. In his definition of
Modernity, Curry also lumps centralized government together with capitalist
finance and heavy industry, neglecting to consider the ways that differing
forms of power and greed have always been aligned.
He is on safer ground when suggesting that Tolkien was
helping to restore a sense of Wonder, which is all too frequently lost in
the bustle and confusion of everyday city-dwelling life. Curry compares the
way the Shire is embedded in the wider world to differing levels of
awareness of the world around us. The Shire to him represents the social
realm, embedded in the natural world of Middle-earth, which is in turn
surrounded by the Sea (Spirituality). As we move from the Shire towards the
sea, so we grow in awareness of our surroundings, at first physical, later
spiritual. The happier and more moral of the races of Middle-earth are
firmly rooted in their environment - consider the elves of Caras Galadhon or
the Ents of Fangorn Forest.
Conversely, evil is shown as springing from a love of
power and a callous disregard of life for its own sake. The level of
destruction of our countryside that Curry describes is deeply disturbing. He
cites one example, no doubt dear to all our hearts, that of mushrooms.
European species are now extinct, and a further 600 are now getting scarce.
There are no easy solutions to our problems, but Tolkien's books at least
give us hope that an answer exists, and remind us of the importance of
striving to find it.
Curry also considers responses to Tolkien's depiction of
good and evil, and the conflict between them. Many of the critics who have
been most strident in accusing Tolkien of oversimplification have, Curry
shows, themselves demonstrated an extreme inability to accept the existence
of evil. He cites one example of a critic who cannot use the word Evil, even
when talking of the Dunblane massacre or the Holocaust. As with the
destruction of the environment, there is no simple solution to the problem
of evil, but The Lord of the Rings at least gives us reason to
This book is essential reading as a counterblast to
Tolkien's critics, and effectively demolishes their weaker and ill
thought-out arguments. In his description of the modern Green movement,
Curry is much weaker, depending on an overly shallow summary of its history
and occasional woolly thinking.
However, this is not a political tract and wisely does
not attempt to be. What Curry does, and does extremely well, is demonstrate
why environmental activists have adopted Tolkien as their own, and give us
at least some understanding of why The Lord of the Rings has been
so repeatedly voted Book of the Century.