Dusting off the Tolkien legacy

Diane Evans (MCT)

You won't believe who has a new book coming out in May. It's J.R.R. Tolkien - even though the creator of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" series died in 1973.

The Tolkien Library Web site reports that the new book is an extensive retelling of "The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun," a story derived from the Volsunga Saga from Norse mythology. According to publisher U.S. Houghton Mifflin, the book will include an introduction by Tolkien and notes by his son, Christopher Tolkien.

J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novels have sold millions of copies. Tolkien began "The Hobbit" on blank pages at the end of students' exams, and he then read those stories to his children at bedtime. That was the start of the epic fantasy "The Lord of the Rings," published in Great Britain 1954-55.

The Web site notes that "The Lord of the Rings" went into a pirated paperback version in 1965. A copyright dispute resulted in millions of Americans discovering Tolkien's work. According the the Web site: "By 1968 'The Lord of the Rings' had almost become the Bible of the 'Alternative Society.' This development produced mixed feelings in the author. On the one hand, he was extremely flattered. ... On the other, he could only deplore those whose idea of a great trip was to ingest "The Lord of the Rings" and LSD simultaneously."

At that other end of the spectrum, you can find scholarly commentary on Catholic thought within Tolkien works. The National Catholic Register published an essay in 2003 on "Why Tolkien Says Lord of the Rings is Catholic." The Register quoted Tolkien as saying the fact that he was a Roman Catholic Christian was "really significant" to his work.

Dozens of books and academic papers have been published on Tolkien's life and the layers of meanings in his stories. You'll also find blogs devoted solely to news and information about Tolkien. An example is Tolkien News and

In our sound-bite culture, we find depth in nooks and crannies. As such, the fraternity of Tolkien can claim diversity going from Jesuits to junkies. That one author can speak to so many is a measure of greatness. It's also why a new Tolkien title is significant.

I'm not a die-hard Tolkien fan. But "The Lord of the Rings" caused me to search out commentary on what Tolkien meant to say. One message sticks in my mind: It's that in life, we know who our obvious enemies are. But in addition to those who clearly mean us harm, there are some who are near to us who will lead us astray if we let them. And if that's not enough, we also have to resist our own urges to sabotage ourselves. Remember the temptation to put the ring on? Tolkien's genius was his ability to tell such epic truth under the cover of fantasy.

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