The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings

The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings

Posted by jack_miller | Published 7 months ago

With 109 ratings

By: Peter Kreeft

Purchased At: $16.95

While nothing can equal or replace the adventure in reading Tolkien’s masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, Peter Kreeft says that the journey into its underlying philosophy can be another exhilarating adventure.
Thus, Kreeft takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into the philosophical bones of Middle earth. He organizes the philosophical themes in The Lord of the Rings into 50 categories, accompanied by over 1,000 references to the text of Lord.Since many of the great questions of philosophy are included in the 50-theme outline, this book can also be read as an engaging introduction to philosophy. For each of the philosophical topics in Lord, Kreeft presents tools by which they can be understood. Illustrated.

For decades I put off reading Peter Kreeft thinking the major writers I return to again and again are inexhaustible. Big Mistake. Kreeft is a major philosopher and writer whose insights across the seeming whole wide spectrum of human existence are profound. And he has the added gift of bringing the loftiest of his insights down to the level of any reasonably educated person. Whether one is a believer or an outright atheist Kreeft is a feast or challenge not to be overlooked. This work on JRR Tolkien's philosophy and world view, together with its excellent insights into the nature of philosophy itself as well as fantasy, myth and legends, is priceless. So Tolkien fans who are only concerned with Tolkien will not be disappointed. It is a must read if you love Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works and want to learn more about why it was ever written at all. Five Stars.

- deandre_chavez

This author is a SUPER fan of Tolkien. I thought I was a fan of Tolkien and knew more than most, but I'm just a casual compared to this author.
I was very happy to find a book filled with Philosophy from Lord of the Rings and Christianity, and was more excited to find that there were many things that I didn't know and new ideas for me to think about. There were many moments I had to put the book down and simply try to absorb and think about the ideas presented in here. It was a great time.
I was teetering between a 4 or 5 star review for this book, because there are some ideas presented in here that were a bit odd, probably most notably the section, "Are Elves Real?". Interesting idea, but it made me question the author for a while.
Overall though I was delighted with this book and would recommend.

- zachary_williams

This book has been on my reading "wish list" since it came out a few years ago. I finally made time to read it, and I'm so glad I did!

As Kreeft -- a Roman Catholic theologian and a professor of philosophy at Boston University -- points out in the introduction, The Lord of the Rings is widely considered the greatest book of the twentieth century, though not all literary critics agree. Of course, I would certainly have to join the ranks of those showering accolades upon Tolkien's masterpiece!

This book is exactly what you might expect from its title: a study of the philosophical themes and underlying worldview behind the story of LOTR. Many authors have attempted similar books seeking to cash in on the story's popularity, but few have done it well. Thankfully, Kreeft has given us an outstanding work that is both educational and enjoyable; academically substantial yet easily accessible. At times, his wit and humor even had me laughing out loud!

The format of the book is simple: Fifty philosophical questions are separated into 13 categories. Kreeft explains the meaning and importance of each question, and then shows how the question is answered using quotes from LOTR, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. Tolkien's thoughts on the matter are further explored, making use of his other writings -- most notably letters he had written, as well as an essay entitled On Fairy-Stories. Each question's section ends with a quote from the writings of C.S. Lewis -- Tolkien's closest friend and fellow Oxford professor -- which directly states the same philosophy. The two had great influence on one another, and throughout this book we see how closely they paralleled one another due to what Kreeft calls their "common familiarity with and respect for the same sources in the great tradition, that is, pre-modern Western literature, philosophy, and religion."

As someone not particularly well-versed in the academic field of philosophy, I enjoyed very much this foray into the method of investigating philosophical issues. Indeed, "an introduction to philosophy" is one of the four uses of this book suggested by its author, though that is not the reason I initially chose to read it. Still, while some of the questions asked in this book are particular to LOTR, most are broad in scope, and could be applied to any religion, cultural artifact, or work of literature. At many points in the book, Tolkien's views are compared and contrasted with those of history's great philosophers, from Plato to Satre to Nietzsche.

Kreeft's logic is impeccable, and the systematic progression of thought in this book presents a very strong case for his conclusions. Though I do not wish to spoil for you the joy of discovering these conclusions for yourself as you read through this book, I feel it won't be giving too much away to say that Kreeft concludes that Tolkien's philosophy is unabashedly Christian, and specifically Catholic -- something Tolkien himself has claimed in so many words. While Christ (or religion itself, for that matter) is nowhere explicit in the text of LOTR, Christianity is implicit throughout the story in the philosophical worldview which undergirds it.

I nearly wore out the pen I was using to underline memorable and thought-provoking lines from the book. Time does not allow me to share all of the truly great insights Kreeft provides (another reason why you should buy and read it yourself!), but there was one thing that especially caught my interest. This was where Kreeft pointed out Tolkien's portrayal of the Old Testament pre-figuring of the Messiah as prophet, priest, and king, represented by Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, respectively. Not allegorically, of course, but in the sense that each of those characters was something of a "Christ figure" (down to the fact that all three had apparent deaths and resurrections in LOTR), exemplifying lives of self-sacrifice and virtue, albeit in very different manners.

If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you will greatly enjoy and benefit from this book. It will give you a brand new understanding of what may well be your favorite story... not to mention an itch to read the trilogy again! Now where did I put my copy of The Fellowship of the Ring?

- ivan_wright

Peter Kreeft adroitly weaves together the rich tapestry of writings of C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, Plato, and Scripture into a discernible image of the true, good, and beautiful. I am delighted to venture forth again into the world of Middle-Earth but with new eyes to discover what was hidden but now discernible with the help of a guide to life's 50 great philosophical questions. Thank you!

- grace_lee

Excellent guide to the philosophy and theology behind Tolkien’s work

- jay_wood

Die Tolkien-Begeisterung des Autors

Wer das Buch „Der Herr der Ringe“ öffnet, steigt in eine reale Welt ein. Wie C. S. Lewis sagt, liefert ein Mythos all die Dinge, die wir kennen, mit ihrer reichen inneren Bedeutung. Sie lüftet den „Schleier der Vertrautheit“ Kein Wunder ist „Der Herr der Ringe“ in weltweiten Umfragen zum besten Buch des 20. Jahrhunderts gewählt worden. „Gewöhnliche Leute glauben immer noch an eine wirkliche Moral, an einen realen Unterschied zwischen Gut und Böse; an eine objektive Wahrheit und die Möglichkeit diese zu erkennen; und an die Überlegenheit des Schönen über das Hässliche.“

Die fünf Kennzeichen eines grossen Werkes

Kreeft nennt fünf Charakteristika:
1. Ein guter Handlungsverlauf, eine grosse Tat, ein gutes Werk, etwas das sich zu tun lohnt.
2. Grossartige Charakteren oder zumindest ein genialer Charakter, mit dem/denen sich der Leser identifizieren kann.
3. Ein interessantes Setting, eine anziehende Welt
4. Ein erhebender Stil
5. Eine Weltsicht, die Einsicht in uns selbst, unser Leben und unsere Welt bietet.

Der Aufbau des Buches

Die Literatur spricht, argumentiert und überzeugt durch konkrete Handlungen, während Philosophie dasselbe auf einer abstrakten Ebene tut. Gott hat sich in der Bibel grösstenteils über Erzählungen von Ereignissen offenbart.

Kreefts Buch ist didaktisch aufbereitet. Der Frage folgt jeweils eine kurzgefasste Antwort aus Sicht der (neo-thomistischen) Philosophie. Dann zitiert Kreeft kurze Abschnitte aus Tolkiens Werk (Silmarillion, Hobbits, Herr der Ringe), aus seinen Briefen sowie aus dem Werk von C. S. Lewis.

50 Leitfragen für die menschliche Existenz

Es lohnt sich, die 50 Fragen aufzuführen. Sie können als Wegweiser durch die wesentlichen Fragen unseres Seins dienen.

1. Metaphysik
1.1 Wie gross (umfassend) ist die Realität?
1.2 Ist das Übernatürliche real?
1.3 Sind die Platonischen Ideen real?

2. Philosophische Theologie
2.1 Existiert Gott?
2.2 Ist das Leben Gegenstand göttlicher Vorsehung?
2.3 Ist unser Leben vorbestimmt und wir trotzdem in unseren Handlungen frei?
2.4 Können wir durch Religion Beziehung zu Gott aufnehmen?

3. Engel
3.1 Gibt es Engel?
3.2 Haben wir Schutzengel?
3.3 Gibt es Wesen zwischen Engeln und Menschen wie z. B. Elfen?

4. Kosmologie
4.1 Ist die Natur wirklich schön?
4.2 Haben Dinge Persönlichkeit?
4.3 Gibt es Magie wirklich?

5. Anthropologie
5.1 Ist der Tod gut oder schlecht?
5.2 Ist Romantik aufregender als Sex?
5.3 Warum haben Menschen Identitätskrisen?
5.4 Was wünschen wir uns am tiefsten?

6. Epistemologie
6.1 Ist Erkenntnis immer gut?
6.2 Ist Intuition eine Form der Erkenntnis?
6.3 Ist Glaube (Vertrauen) Weisheit oder Ignoranz?
6.4 Was ist Wahrheit?

7. Geschichtsphilosophie
7.1 Ist Geschichte eine Geschichte (story)?
7.2 Ist die Vergangenheit (Tradition) ein Gefängnis oder eine Erleuchtung?
7.3 Ist Geschichte vorhersagbar?
7.4 Gibt es neben der Evolution auch eine Devolution?
7.5 Ist menschliches Leben eine Tragödie oder eine Komödie?

8. Ästhetik
8.1 Warum haben wir nicht länger Herrlichkeit oder Pracht?
8.2 Ist Schönheit immer gut?

9. Sprachphilosophie
9.1 Wie können Worte lebendig sein?
9.2 Metaphysik der Worte: Können Worte wirkliche Kraft sein?
9.3 Gibt es richtige und falsche Worte?
9.4 Gibt es eine universelle, ursprüngliche und natürliche Sprache?
9.5 Warum ist Musik so kraftvoll?

10. Politische Philosophie
10.1 Ist klein schön?
10.2 Kann Krieg edel (noble) sein?

11. Ethik: Der Kampf zwischen Gut und Böse
11.1 Ist Böses real?
11.2 Wie kraftvoll ist Böses?
11.3 Wie schwach ist Böses?
11.4 Wie funktioniert Böses?

12. Ethik: Die “harten” Tugenden
12.1 Machen Prinzipien oder Tugenden eine gute Handlung aus?
12.2 Warum müssen wir Helden sein?
12.3 Kann jemand ohne Hoffnung leben?
12.4 Ist Autorität unterdrückend und Gehorsam erniedrigend?
12.5 Sind Verheissungen heilig?

13. Ethik: Die “weichen” Tugenden
13.1 Worin besteht die Kraft der Freundschaft
13.2 Ist Demut demütigend?
13.3 Was solltest du weggeben?
13.4 Triumphiert Güte über Gerechtigkeit?
13.5 Ist Wohltätigkeit (charity) eine Verschwendung?

Die Gruppierung um 50 philosophische Fragen lässt das Buch als Konkordanz nützen. Es steigt aus einer Vielzahl von Perspektiven in die Welt von Mittelerde ein. Es passiert mit dem Leser, was Kreeft von guter Sekundärliteratur zu Tolkien erwartet: Es erfasst ihn ein Verlangen und die Freude, zur Primärliteratur zurückzugehen.

- taliyah_garcia

Great book

- hadassah_perez

I have reread LOTR many times in the last 30 years. I was looking for the worldview from this book, but found it tedious going. There is too much Christian theology. Some remarks ie "Nearly everyone in our culture believes that concrete, individual, material things, like rocks and tigers are real. (Most Buddhist do not)" or "(And according to the central, essential claim of Christianity, the Word of God is also the Son of God......)" - I ask myself what has this got to do with the worldview of LOTR.

- legacy_hall

This is not a book about Tolkien or his works. This is a book about Christianity (Roman Catholic), the various philosophical views of the Catholic Church, and how we find examples of these both in Tolkien's and C.S. Lewis' writings. From this point of view it's not a bad book; it's easy to read and can be a good starting point to knowing and understating the many subcategories of philosophy.
Why the low score then? First of all, a star was taken for the misleading concept, as I was expecting a further analysis of the Professor's works and not merely a reflection on these works of Christian's views (Lewis and the Bible are cited as much or more than Tolkien). Another because, while is perfectly acceptable to follow a Christian pre-modern philosophy, and to defend it, the autor shows a rather clear contempt (and disrespect) to all modern philosophy and its major exponents, diminishing their works as merely mistaken and casting them aside with little to no arguments, an unforgivable flaw in a book about philosophy. Last of all, one star less because the tone of the book ends up many times as that of a preacher and not an academic. The conclusion of the book talks about God and Christ much more than Frodo or Gandalf.
As I said, once you take it for what it is, it's a good enough reading, but not the great philosophical exposition most of the other reviewers would make one believe. The best you can do its to read the conclusion of the book (about 4 or 5 pages) and make your own opinion, as represents most of what the book is about.

- patricia_ruiz

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