. . . examples of serious and thoughtful Tolkien and Lewis criticism.
This book is a 2006 re-issue of a 1974 release in which the author, a professor of philosophy (and novelist in his own right) addresses themes of good and evil, religion, the proper role of fantasy in literature, and other key issues from a sympathetic, yet profoundly professional standpoint. Unlike many Tolkien and Lewis "critics", the author is well aware of the deep non-fiction academic work of both men and is able to integrate that work into his comments. The author is also able (in the opinion of this reviewer) to clearly distinguish the theological differences between Tolkien and Lewis -- and how those differences "played out" in their respective fictional writing.
I give this book 5 stars because I truly believe that it stands with Jared Lobdell's "England and Always" as the best, most authentic literary criticism in the subject that I've read. This being said, as a long-time student of both Lewis (30+ years) and Tolkien (25+ years) there are a few comments that I'd like to make.
* To me, at least, the book's dedication page notwithstanding, the author demonstrates considerably more knowledge of CS Lewis than of JRR Tolkien. As a result, more of the text in this book is dedicated to Lewis' writings. This is not particularly a criticism, merely my personal observation.
* When the original edition of this book was published, JRR Tolkien had just died and the publication of "The Silmarillion" was still three years off. In the 2006 edition, the author substantially expanded his "Chapter Six" to include material and analysis from "The Silmarillion" -- but in my mind, he could have (and should have) gone much further than he did, especially with the publication by Christopher Tolkien of the twelve-volume "History of Middle-Earth". There's some good stuff in "Morgoth's Ring" that would have substantially added to the author's good, if brief, analysis.
* For the record, I really liked the author's supplementary essay on "That Hideous Strength". To my mind, this is one of Lewis' most important books; one that is under-appreciated in some circles; and which needs to be far more widely read. I've used it in two college courses I've taught.
* The essay on whether Lewis lost his faith was also very good (as was other material designed to defend Lewis from truly unfair attacks.) I will confess, having seen both versions of "Shadowlands" that I did not take nearly the negative attitude about Lewis' faith that apparently many others did.
* The bibliographic material could have been greatly strengthened. The CS Lewis collection at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College was mentioned -- but not the JRR Tolkien collection in the archives of the Raynor Memorial Libraries at Marquette University -- not 100 miles from Wheaton! I found this odd! I strongly disagreed with the inclusion of Joseph Pearce's books on Tolkien -- I've found Pearce to be (at least on Tolkien) unoriginal at best. And I do wish that some of the good biographical material on both men had been included: "Tolkien", "The Inklings", and "The Letters of JRR Tolkien" by Humphrey Carpenter; and "Jack" by George Sayer would have been noteworthy inclusions.
(As a side note -- I noted with great interest and appreciation, the author's passing reference to Robert Farrar Capon as a modern-day theological writer who had not forgotten the concept of "Joy"! Capon's "The Supper of the Lamb" had been published six years prior to the original edition of this book, and I couldn't help but wonder if this was possibly the book to which the author was referring!)
Overall, very, very highly recommended!!!!!