Monday 24 January 2022

J.R.R. Tolkien: His life, Work and Faith - Raymond Edwards - CTS Biographies

J.R.R. Tolkien: His life, Work and Faith
Raymond Edwards
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860828270
eISBN 9781784694678
CTS Booklet B750

I bumped this way up my reading list after reading C.S. Lewis Apostle to the Sceptics by Walter Hooper from the same series. I have read several books by and about Tolkien. I have also read several by Dr Raymond Edwards from the Catholic Truth Society. I have read over 250 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society over the last handful of years. I was greatly surprised by this booklet and have recommended it to a few friends whom I know are fans of Tolkien and his works, both Catholic’s and non-Catholics. And I have added Edwards longer work on Tolkien to my ‘to be read’ list. But back to this booklet, the description of it is:

“J.R.R Tolkien (1892-1973) is best known as the author of the enduringly popular fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, now made into a series of well-regarded blockbuster films. He was also a world-renowned scholar of ancient language, who married the childhood sweetheart who inspired his stories, and was father to four children. He was also a devout Catholic whose faith was central to his writing. This booklet shows how an orphan from Birmingham came to write books that forever changed the way we read.”

And the chapters are:

The Making of a Philologist
The Young Scholar
Oxford and Storytelling
A Wilderness of Dragons - Beowulf and The Hobbit
The Lord of the Rings
Last Years
Posthumous Publications
Tolkien the Catholic
Further Reading

This volume was published in 2012 and the eBook edition released in 2017. This volume begins with two quotes from Tolkien’s Letters, it stated:

 “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste - or foretaste - of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

“The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.”

These quotes are from the volume The Letters of JRR Tolkien, pp. 53-54, 338-339. And they set the tone for the work that follows. Having read several works by Dr Edwards I had high expectations for this volume, they were met and exceeded. The introduction begins with these words:

“It is late in the year; under the vast domed Great Hall of the new University of Birmingham, rows of temporary beds are set up, filled with sick men, most newly back from France. One of them is writing in a small school exercise book.

The year is 1916, and he has been some months with his battalion on the Somme. Already many of his school and university friends have been killed. Compared with them, he is lucky; he has been struck down with a debilitating persistent fever, spread through the trenches by the ubiquitous lice. He is getting better, now, although still weak and exhausted and unfit to return to his unit. Soon, he will be discharged, and able to go to a Staffordshire village to stay with the wife he had married only eight months ago, two months before he was sent to France. Meanwhile, he is writing: stories of an age of myth, of elves and dragons and love and despair and hope lost and renewed. His name is Ronald Tolkien.

The stories he wrote at this time were not published for another seventy years; but the themes and characters he described in them gradually found shape and led directly to his famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Here, whilst first recovering in hospital, then on a series of home service postings, began his life’s work: a corpus of imaginative writing whose overmastering theme, he declared late in life, was Death.”

This book does an amazing job of examining the life of Tolkien and doing so through his own faith and devotional practices. It looks at the successes and the failures, the highs and lows, and his struggles personally and professionally. It examines his and his wife’s health issues and the impact they had upon is output. And it does a good job showing us his riff with C.S. Lewis It is easily read in a sitting or two. 

This is a great read for fans of Lewis, Tolkien and the inklings. It is excellent for those who appreciate Tolkien’s fiction, or even just fans of the movies. Well written, engaging and entertaining. It presents a man of great intellect, deep faith, sincere devotion. And a man who struggled with confidence in his works, and who did so many different things, some of what he wanted to do it started was never finished. A great read in an excellent series from the Catholic Truth Society. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Biographies series click here.

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