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Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien

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As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants—and provides valuable As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants—and provides valuable insights into the author's aims and methods. Ranging from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion and beyond, Master of Middle-earth opens the door to a deeper and richer appreciation of Tolkien's magnificent achievement. Inside you will discover • Why Aragorn is the most misunderstood character in The Lord of the Rings . . . and its true hero. • The origin of Sauron—and the nature of evil in Tolkien's universe. • The opposing forces of destiny and free will in Frodo's quest. • The Cosmology of Middle-earth—is it our world at an earlier time, or does it exist in a fantastic Elsewhere? • How Tolkien's ideas of morality, religion, and social order underlie every aspect of his life's work. Plus a fascinating look at such lesser-known works of Tolkien's as "Leaf by Niggle," "Smith of Wootton Major," and many others!


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As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants—and provides valuable As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien's masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants—and provides valuable insights into the author's aims and methods. Ranging from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion and beyond, Master of Middle-earth opens the door to a deeper and richer appreciation of Tolkien's magnificent achievement. Inside you will discover • Why Aragorn is the most misunderstood character in The Lord of the Rings . . . and its true hero. • The origin of Sauron—and the nature of evil in Tolkien's universe. • The opposing forces of destiny and free will in Frodo's quest. • The Cosmology of Middle-earth—is it our world at an earlier time, or does it exist in a fantastic Elsewhere? • How Tolkien's ideas of morality, religion, and social order underlie every aspect of his life's work. Plus a fascinating look at such lesser-known works of Tolkien's as "Leaf by Niggle," "Smith of Wootton Major," and many others!

30 review for Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    According to my bookmark, I was a chapter from finishing this when I finished my essay and never looked at it again. Oops. And, for some reason, I don't recall referencing this book at all, even though actually it would have been useful -- it makes some handy links and the author understood Tolkien's work and aims very well. I think at the time I actually preferred this to Shippey's accounts, which is probably blasphemy in the world of Tolkien mania. I love that Tolkien never wears thin under According to my bookmark, I was a chapter from finishing this when I finished my essay and never looked at it again. Oops. And, for some reason, I don't recall referencing this book at all, even though actually it would have been useful -- it makes some handy links and the author understood Tolkien's work and aims very well. I think at the time I actually preferred this to Shippey's accounts, which is probably blasphemy in the world of Tolkien mania. I love that Tolkien never wears thin under investigation, only yields more. I was tempted to reread LotR again straight after I finished my essay, and flicking through this book again makes me really want to do that. Hmm...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    “Tolkien was an ecologist, hater of ‘progress,’ lover of handicrafts, detester of war long before such attitudes became fashionable.” Extraordinary literary criticism. I wish I read this book forty years ago. (Published in 1972, before many of Tolkien’s extended Middle-Earth stories, like The Silmarillion.) Though I have read most of Tolkien’s canon and many books about him, I gained many insights. “Probably every writer making a secondary world … hopes that the peculiar qualities of this “Tolkien was an ecologist, hater of ‘progress,’ lover of handicrafts, detester of war long before such attitudes became fashionable.” Extraordinary literary criticism. I wish I read this book forty years ago. (Published in 1972, before many of Tolkien’s extended Middle-Earth stories, like The Silmarillion.) Though I have read most of Tolkien’s canon and many books about him, I gained many insights. “Probably every writer making a secondary world … hopes that the peculiar qualities of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality or are flowing into it. The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth.” Tolkien Kochler explores the story behind the stories of Tolkien. Helpful without being didactic. Many insights into Tolkien’s worldview and the development of his fictional setting. His discussion of Tolkien’s concepts of “glimpses” and “recovery” will add all readers. “Anyone who uses coercion in even the best of cause is using an evil means to a good end and thereby corrupting the end—and himself.” Recommendation: before you read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings again, read this book and read Tolkien’s’ essay “On Fairy-Stories,” found in The Tolkien Reader. This book is out of print, but available. (For a certain generation a Brothers Hildebrandt cover is de rigueur for Tolkien books, and the original Star Wars poster.) “Tolkien is not hopeful about our age. The elves have left us, and we have not mourned to see them go.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Wow! I wouldn't have thought there was more to say about Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings after Shippey's structural analysis and Stratford Caldecott's brilliant essay, "Over the Chasm of Fire". But the measure of a great work of art is how many facets it has. Mr. Kocher writes clearly and respectfully, and his analysis opened my eyes to aspects I hadn't considered before. I hadn't been aware of "Imram" or some of Tolkien's other short poems, for example. And Kocher's analysis of Aragorn and Wow! I wouldn't have thought there was more to say about Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings after Shippey's structural analysis and Stratford Caldecott's brilliant essay, "Over the Chasm of Fire". But the measure of a great work of art is how many facets it has. Mr. Kocher writes clearly and respectfully, and his analysis opened my eyes to aspects I hadn't considered before. I hadn't been aware of "Imram" or some of Tolkien's other short poems, for example. And Kocher's analysis of Aragorn and his role in the story is masterful--so much so that I wondered if Viggo Mortensen had read this chapter before taking on the role. There's also intelligent discussion of Eowyn and Arwen, of the races of Middle Earth, of free will, and much more. If you love Tolkien's world and have any taste for literary criticism, you will enjoy this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Regitze

    Some of the conclusions in this book are so weird and evidently wrong, perhaps due to the early date of the book. Still, some of the author's thoughts and perspectives were quite interesting and I'll most likely use them.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    4.5 stars https://blog.hennethannun.net/2019/11...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    This is the second book Of Tolkien commentary that I’ve read in the last year, or at least the second book which digs into the Lord of the Rings in order to understand the epic critically. Unlike Tom Shippey, who’s "Author of the Century" made a foundational criticism from which later Tolkien scholars and fans would begin their defense and validation of the “old professor’s” work, Kocher it seems has not had the same level of success. And I’m not sure why this is. Kocher’s book is a marvelous This is the second book Of Tolkien commentary that I’ve read in the last year, or at least the second book which digs into the Lord of the Rings in order to understand the epic critically. Unlike Tom Shippey, who’s "Author of the Century" made a foundational criticism from which later Tolkien scholars and fans would begin their defense and validation of the “old professor’s” work, Kocher it seems has not had the same level of success. And I’m not sure why this is. Kocher’s book is a marvelous companion material to The Lord of the Rings, because of the way the man manages to dig into the material of the novels and try to gleam some lovel of serious critical insight. Rather than look at the inividual books however Kocher looks at elements of the texts dedicating chapters to the various races and organisms, Sauron and the very quality of evil which exists in the novels, the character of Aragorn, and the precursor novel The Hobbit. Each of these chapters provides a general body of material before it digs into the analyses, and it’s to Korcher’s benefit that I never got tired of hours writing. Unlike some commentary books, where authors become wrapped up and overly immersed in their criticism and analysis, Kocher keeps his writing approachable. Anyone who has read the books, or even just heard of The Lord of the Rings could pick this up and understand his work. For this reason alone Korcher’s text is a valuable addition to Lord of the Ring studies. I should note that I gave the book four stars however because the last chapter ends on an analysis of the poems associated with Tolkien’s character Niggle rather than another element of the trilogy. The last chapter isn’t terrible, but it distracts from what had been an amazing book up to that time. Korcher, much like Michael D.C. Drout and Tom Shippey before him gave me a new perspective in which to observe Middle Earth and the characters I’ve spent my entire life immersed in. This book was marvelous.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matthijs Krul

    Although published before The Silmarillion and the materials collected in Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle Earth became available, it is a testament to his excellent critical analysis of major themes and characters in Tolkien's lifetime published work that Paul Kocher's book even now remains one of the best secondary monographs on Tolkien available.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Hickman Walker

    This was published before the Silmarillion, which made for interesting reading, as I've read the Silmarillion a few times and know a fair bit about Middle-Earth. There were some suppositions and guesses in this book that have since been answered, both by the publication of the Silmarillion and by others. I did enjoy this very much though. I particularly liked the chapter on Aragorn, which presented a way of looking at his character in a way that I've never imagined. The fact is that he is the This was published before the Silmarillion, which made for interesting reading, as I've read the Silmarillion a few times and know a fair bit about Middle-Earth. There were some suppositions and guesses in this book that have since been answered, both by the publication of the Silmarillion and by others. I did enjoy this very much though. I particularly liked the chapter on Aragorn, which presented a way of looking at his character in a way that I've never imagined. The fact is that he is the 'hero' character and would most likely have been the main character had this been written by any other author. The analysis of his character in this volume digs beneath the superficial presentation of a good man who is doing his best to fulfill his destiny and win the hand of Arwen. There are many interesting aspects to his character that I've never considered - such as feelings of frustration, desire, ambition. I've always seen him as wise and patient and, essentially, passive. The analysis of his discussion of Narsil/Anduril and his position with Boromir during the council is also well worth reading and will colour my next reading of it (Sadly, I'm already at the end of book 3, about to look into the palantir with Pippin in my current reading). The final chapter, Seven leaves, was very interesting for the simple reason that I've never considered much of Tolkien's other writing in relation to his writings on Middle Earth. It's very interesting to see the familiar imagery and parallels that pervade his other writings. Even though this is old and in some places out-dated, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in Tolkien's work.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Although first published several years before The Silmarillion, in that vasty deep time when so many of our questions remained unanswered, Master of Middle-earth remains one of my favorite critical studies of Tolkien. Kocher's chapter-long character study of Aragorn is particularly brilliant: "This is the ambitious, weary, and apprehensive prince who impatiently watches the foolish antics of the hobbits under the suspicious eyes of the crowd at the inn. To his mind the hobbits badly need taking Although first published several years before The Silmarillion, in that vasty deep time when so many of our questions remained unanswered, Master of Middle-earth remains one of my favorite critical studies of Tolkien. Kocher's chapter-long character study of Aragorn is particularly brilliant: "This is the ambitious, weary, and apprehensive prince who impatiently watches the foolish antics of the hobbits under the suspicious eyes of the crowd at the inn. To his mind the hobbits badly need taking in hand, as children who are playing games with the fate of Middle-earth....He does not make the mistake of being ingratiating; on the contrary, he starts out with a shock tactic. Because of the debacle in the common room he treats them like the children they have shown themselves to be, and proposes to give them unspecified valuable information in exchange for the 'reward' of being allowed to accompany them. The proposal is meant to be indignantly refused and when it is, Aragorn applauds." (p. 133) [First read in February 1973 and several times since.]

  10. 4 out of 5

    David

    An interesting analysis of the mindset of Tolkien in writing the Lord of the Rings. It clearly points out how an author's worldview affects his writing. In particular, Tolkien's views of morality, the freedom of choice and the nature of evil are expressed in his work. The book explores the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, as well as his poetry and shorter tales. Sauron's evil is seen in his desire that all who come under his domination do his bidding against their wills. For this reason, Tolkien An interesting analysis of the mindset of Tolkien in writing the Lord of the Rings. It clearly points out how an author's worldview affects his writing. In particular, Tolkien's views of morality, the freedom of choice and the nature of evil are expressed in his work. The book explores the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, as well as his poetry and shorter tales. Sauron's evil is seen in his desire that all who come under his domination do his bidding against their wills. For this reason, Tolkien emphasizes that the members of the Fellowship must freely choose their actions. Major chapters are on the Hobbit, Tolkien's view of the cosmic order, Sauron and the nature of evil, the free peoples, and Aragorn. The book is well worth reading to gain a perspective on Tolkien's writing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ron Mitchell

    This is very old - it predates the publication of The Silmarillion - but still very well worth reading. Lots of interesting insights, especially on some of Tolkien's shorter works that are not often much talked about.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erika Tracy

    My first introduction to literary criticism, rather young, and a painless one that taught me a great deal about literature in general. I'm rereading it now to shake loose some thoughts about writing fiction.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Norbert

    Great book, if you consider it was written well before Silmarillon or Letters were published. Most of the analyses are great (such the one about Aragorn) but there are some mistakes, usually becouse of the few data avaible in 1973. In 1973 I would have given a full 5 stars

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark Singer

    Execellent collection of essays on the works of JRR Tolkien, first published on the early 1970s. I found the chapter on Aragorn to be the best of the lot, and worth the price of the book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    More readable than the Silmarillion. Well done and informative.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    Kocher is clearly a big Tolkien fan. Quite adorable how much he gushes over every story the fantasy author has ever written. This book provides a good general analysis of Tolkien's oeuvre, in order to understand the why and how of the long list of LotR-related stories, before and after the trilogy, and the overall literary value of those stories. The only remark I would have is that I wished some of the analyses were a bit more thorough. It seems as if Kocher barely scratches the surface. But Kocher is clearly a big Tolkien fan. Quite adorable how much he gushes over every story the fantasy author has ever written. This book provides a good general analysis of Tolkien's oeuvre, in order to understand the why and how of the long list of LotR-related stories, before and after the trilogy, and the overall literary value of those stories. The only remark I would have is that I wished some of the analyses were a bit more thorough. It seems as if Kocher barely scratches the surface. But maybe the reason for that lies more in the inexhaustible source that is Tolkien's writing and less in Kocher's capability as a literary critic.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    This book had many interesting themes, but overall, it just made me want to read The Lord of the Rings again. The chapter on Aragorn good, painting him as the hero, literally giving up his love and his life for all other races. Parts of the section on the good races made interesting points. The discussion of Leaf, By Niggle was the best of the seven summaries of other works by Tolkien.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Pwl

    Not a run of the mill overview of the over examined genre

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    I'm a Tolkien fan, but not a Tolkien buff. I'm working on it, though. I've read various Norse and Old English sagas over the years, and when teaching Beowulf, I can casually refer to Professor Tolkien's groundbreaking essay on it, the essay that launched the poem from obscurity into the English canon (all without mentioning that I haven't actually sat down and read the damn thing yet). So when I came across this title, I ate it up. I've always had the same problem with Tolkien that I've had with I'm a Tolkien fan, but not a Tolkien buff. I'm working on it, though. I've read various Norse and Old English sagas over the years, and when teaching Beowulf, I can casually refer to Professor Tolkien's groundbreaking essay on it, the essay that launched the poem from obscurity into the English canon (all without mentioning that I haven't actually sat down and read the damn thing yet). So when I came across this title, I ate it up. I've always had the same problem with Tolkien that I've had with writers like Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft: their stories and worlds are fascinating, but yeesh! look at how they write! But Kocher points out quite a few things about The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that I must admit never occurred to me. He refers to the religious themes of the novels as pre-Christian, which suits me--I never did like adding to the plethora of Christ-reference arguments piling up all over the English canon--but that's just the beginning. He points out geographical and astronomical data to pinpoint a timeline for the events of Middle Earth, and then explains why to investigate too closely makes the entire work fall apart. He raises the question of Free Will over Fate (a must for the Anglo-Saxons), and goes even further when asking whether or not orcs are really evil, since they don't seem to have any further say in the matter. He traces the lineage of Free Peoples and plays them off each other thematically. He makes an argument for the beginning of the world. He points out how the character of Aragorn is neglected overall, partly due to bad writing on Tolkien's part, partly due to the hobbit-fixation of the 1960s. He ends with a discussion of Tolkien's other works (which I but browsed). Good literary criticism. The best part about it for the casual reader: it doesn't even look like literary criticism.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    From the title, I'd thought this book would be a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, so I was little disappointed when I sat down to read it and realized that it was more of a literary analysis of Tolkien's works. Still, after I accepted it for what it was, I found it to be quite an enjoyable book. It reads rather like a series of seminar lectures - what you might hear from a (rather entertaining) professor if you signed up for a class on Tolkien. (The author was a professor, so this is not surprising). From the title, I'd thought this book would be a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, so I was little disappointed when I sat down to read it and realized that it was more of a literary analysis of Tolkien's works. Still, after I accepted it for what it was, I found it to be quite an enjoyable book. It reads rather like a series of seminar lectures - what you might hear from a (rather entertaining) professor if you signed up for a class on Tolkien. (The author was a professor, so this is not surprising). As might be expected, some of the observations are rather obvious, but others are quite insightful, and indicative of well-done research. Kocher obviously loves and respects Tolkien's work, but not to the point of sounding 'fannish.' The book was published in 1972, so some of Tokien's posthumously published works are not spoken of, but overall, I have to say this book is worthwhile for any Tolkien fan.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Similar in depth to Shippey's Author of the Century, Kocher delves into Tolkien's work and delivers a lot of satisfying insight. What is especially impressive is the fact that he wrote it while Tolkien still lived and long before the "Tolkien Renaissance" of the early 2000s. Kocher looks at several topics though, that Shippey does not, including an entire chapter on Aragorn, which I found to be the most intriguing part of the book. He restates some of the common criticisms of contemporary lit Similar in depth to Shippey's Author of the Century, Kocher delves into Tolkien's work and delivers a lot of satisfying insight. What is especially impressive is the fact that he wrote it while Tolkien still lived and long before the "Tolkien Renaissance" of the early 2000s. Kocher looks at several topics though, that Shippey does not, including an entire chapter on Aragorn, which I found to be the most intriguing part of the book. He restates some of the common criticisms of contemporary lit critics (philistines all) and explains why they seem to have all missed the point. Plus the chapter on Aragorn went a long way in illuminating just how wrongly the Lord of the Rings movies portrayed him. I highly recommend this for any Tolkien fan and if you aren't much of one, this book will change that.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    This book is kind of a collection of essays analyzing Tolkien's writings surrounding the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It was very interesting to look at a scholars take on these classics of literature. My favorite section was the one on Aragorn in which he describes in great detail why Aragorn is one of the most key players in the series. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to die-hard Lord of the Rings fans. I will admit that I did not read the last section in which the author This book is kind of a collection of essays analyzing Tolkien's writings surrounding the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It was very interesting to look at a scholars take on these classics of literature. My favorite section was the one on Aragorn in which he describes in great detail why Aragorn is one of the most key players in the series. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to die-hard Lord of the Rings fans. I will admit that I did not read the last section in which the author describes several of Tolkien's writings that I was not familiar with.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Berslon Pank

    It was written before the Silmarillion so he just made some guess which turned out to be really wrong. Thank goodness because Tolkien wrote the better story. I also think his chapter on Aragorn isn't great. The chapter is fine, but I think his assertion that Aragorn is the true hero of LotR is off base. He's a hero, sure, but those books are about Hobbits and have hobbit heroes. You didn't need the Silmarillion to figure that out and subsequently Tolkien's letters support that. The final chapter, It was written before the Silmarillion so he just made some guess which turned out to be really wrong. Thank goodness because Tolkien wrote the better story. I also think his chapter on Aragorn isn't great. The chapter is fine, but I think his assertion that Aragorn is the true hero of LotR is off base. He's a hero, sure, but those books are about Hobbits and have hobbit heroes. You didn't need the Silmarillion to figure that out and subsequently Tolkien's letters support that. The final chapter, was a strange inclusion to a book about Middle Earth. It was a hard way to end this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Titus Hjelm

    Starts off very dry, but gets better in the middle, then dips again with the last chapter--although the reason is not so much in the analysis than the fact that the short works discussed in the last chapter fail to be as interesting to the LOTR fan. What is interesting is that Kocher is writing in 1972, five years prior to the publication of The Silmarillion and has to speculate about a lot of things brought to light in the posthumous epic. Still, a good read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

    I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this analysis of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien stories; it brought to mind a lot of interesting connections and ideas and made me interested in reading the series again sooner than expected. The only bummer is that it was published before The Silmarilion and The Unfinished Tales was published so does not pull those stories in. I would be interested in finding something similar that does. This was a quick and easy read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Roger Buck

    O John Ronald Reuel … how little did I know, when I fell in love with your Middle Earth long ago, what SACRED FIRE secretly inspired thee … It is an open secret, of course, but all the world - the English-speaking world particularly - wishes to conceal it. Well, after all these years, I discovered your "secret" which I speak of here … http://corjesusacratissimum.org/2012/...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Coa

    Definitely has great parts and some nice insights. Other bits may be a bit moot now since this book was written before the Silmarillion and several other stories were released. (And of course no movies in sight at the time either, which to modern readers may make for uncommon points of focus.) Then again, nice to see things from this perspective too. And a whole chapter on Aragorn, who's after all my favourite Tolkien character (next to Fëanor that is) so I'm not complaining!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen Floyd

    Published in 1971, while Tolkien was still alive and long before the release of the many volumes of Tolkien's unfinished writings, so some of it is a bit outdated. Good insights and analysis of some of Tolkien's then-published work.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    An interesting read. I really enjoyed some of the essays in this book. There were quite a few things shown in this book that I had never really thought about.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mae Walker

    Very interesting essays on "Sauron and the Nature of Evil", "Aragon" and "Cosmic Order" in Tolkien's works. A lot of things I had not thought of previously in the epic.

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