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Book: Tolkien and the West: Recovering the Lost Tradition of Europe (The Modern Scholar) by Michael D.C. Drout. Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
A great book if you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien (like me).
I read 10+ J.R.R. Tolkien books already. I really like the descriptive way of writing and the whole fantasy world he created. I also read some other books that are not related to middle earth.
With that said, it was amazing to me to find so much that was not explicit in the story. I know Tolkien was also a professor at Oxford and many of his studies influenced (or were influenced by) his fiction, but this book brought much more context to it.
I was also aware of part of Tolkien’s context but I could not relate the background of some characters to some of the real-world “problems” we have/had. I cannot confirm all references for this book but I have to say that everything makes sense for me.
I have to admit that I did not have big expectations for this book and it surprised me in a good way. If you like Tolkien’s work, I would definitely recommend it.
Here are my raw notes about the book:
- The west for Tolkien was more related to happiness. Considering his geography, it’s more related to wales than Germany (consider world war II)
- When Thorin dies, he says that he will leave a ton of gold and silver behind but wants to part in a friendship with Bilbo, which he calls “children of the west” at that moment.
- Bilbo is a “child of the west” because of Western culture valuing more food and drink than hoarding gold. It’s not that he doesn’t value gold, but he prefers to spend it to be happy instead of just sit and look at it
- Thorin was part of the “heroic” world while Bilbo was part of the western world. Tolkien tries to show that some acts of the west side can change the heroic side. The violence to conquer everything.
- Tolkien did not criticize nationalism but tried to show something through his stories
- Smaug is the biggest example of a creature who just sits (literally) on top of its fortune and don’t produce or spend wealth on anything
- Merry, the thoughtful and educated guy ended up with Rohan, the non-hierarchical and non-structured people. While Pippin, the impulsive guy ended up with Gondor, the high hierarchical and structured people
- The way Théoden dies is a reference to the northern courage. It’s the way barbarians fight, even if there’s no possible way of winning.
- Denethor decides to choose his own death time and method, giving up just like Romans. In essence, the Romans gave up when facing the barbarians because, in their perspective, there’s no way to win.
- Frodo knows that Gollum understands him (because he carried the ring before) while Sam cannot do that
- There was one chance that Gollum will reconsider his plans at Shelob’s lair but Sam ruins it by accusing Gollum at the wrong moment. Tolkien said it was one of the saddest moments of the LotR
- Denethor’s death was part of Tolkien’s critics of the aristocracy. Denethor only cares about himself. He likes the city because he rules it. When the city was being taken, there’s nothing to do. It’s concerning when someone can do something bad just because he/she has enough power for it. It’s even worse now with nuclear bombs.
- The fall of Numenor shows Tolkien’s thoughts that eternal life should not be pursued in the physical plan but through religion. Try to attack Valinor was a terrible mistake made by the man of Numenor.
- Most of what Tolkien wrote was related to his scholar work and his studies on old English and Anglo Saxon. His stories helped me to study topics from a different perspective because anything can be created on fantasy.