Elf_Maven writes: Here is the review I wrote for this new Tolkien-related book, ‘The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “the Lord of the Rings”‘

Although I haven’t finished this book by Fleming Rutledge, I think it’s going to be one of my favorites. The title is ‘The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in “the Lord of the Rings”‘.

Here is some background to her approach, in the author’s own words:

Tolkien did not intend his story to be about Good vs. Evil with clearly defined boundaries. It is significant that in his letters he often puts “good” in quotation marks as if to say “supposedly” good. The book is about the way that evil (understood as power over others) has the capacity to insinuate its way into the hearts and souls of absolutely everyone. Not even Gandalf is immune. That, for me, is the greatness and the subtlety of [LOTR].

My own conviction is that the theological structure of the book (what I call the “deep narrative”) pervades the entire work and is subtly disclosed by Tolkien by [his use] of the passive form of the verb in sentences (“Frodo was meant” to have the Ring) and the frequent references to “some other will.” The observant reader will gradually come to feel an overpowering sense of the presence of God, or — in an honored theological term now unfortunately less used — Providence. Tolkien uses the passive the way the Bible does, to indicate the active, shaping presence of God (“their eyes were opened,” “the rocks were split”).*

Tolkien calls God Eru, “The One,” or Ilúvatar, “Father of All.” In his own words, the One “intrudes the finger of God” into the plot at various identifiable points. It is this One whom Tolkien calls The Writer of the Story, quoting with obvious approval the words of a reviewer who referred to “that one ever-present person who is never absent and never named.” **

What seems especially impressive to me is that the author developed most of her understanding and insight simply out of her own love of LOTR. It wasn’t until after she had sketched out her book that she read some of the secondary materials. “I came upon Tolkien with virtually no presuppositions. . . . I had a hunch that I had uncovered something in the book that had not yet been sufficiently celebrated.”

Rather than break down her commentary into separate chapters with different themes, since she is tracing a single “theme” throughout all of LOTR, Rutledge has chosen to present her material as part of a running “retelling” of Tolkien’s pertinent plot points, moving from chapter to chapter in sync with Tolkien’s original six books. She tells us in the Introduction: “Instead of identifying various themes and then analyzing them, I have chosen to be guided by Tolkien’s own professed trust in the revelatory power of narrative. This power is well known to all who have responded to Tolkien’s exceptional skill as a storyteller; it is part of the mystique of the beloved tale. In my discussion, I wanted to hold on to Tolkien’s narrative momentum, because it seemed to me that something of fundamental importance was being conveyed precisely through that momentum.”

Inter-cut with the commentary and adding further richness to her insight are wonderful quotations from various other sources. This author is obviously well-read and well-rounded herself, and she elaborates on her discussion of LOTR with citations from numerous diverse sources: from Shakespeare to Joseph Conrad, from historical documents to poetry, from the Bible to George Orwell.

One of her reviewers commented: “Fear not! Fleming Rutledge has carefully avoided reducing Tolkien’s thrilling stories to doctrine or his characters to typology.” No, she has reduced nothing. She has expanded and enhanced and revealed depths I had only vaguely suspected.

Rutledge has said it is her hope that Battle will “give pleasure to those who may already have detected the presence of the sub-narrative, and insight to those who may have missed it on first reading.” Whether you fall into one of these categories or not, if you love reading not only what Tolkien has written but also what others have written about him and his works, I recommend that you add this book to your collection.

*Excerpt from roundtable discussion about Return of the King posted on belief.net 12/03.
**From the Introduction to Battle.