The Tolkien Reader

The Tolkien Reader - J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter S. Beagle This is a collection of shorter pieces by Tolkien and an essay "Tolkien's Magic Ring" by Peter Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn. The Beagle essay on Lord of the Rings is decent, the sort of thing you see in introductions to books, even if I didn't find it particularly insightful. "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son" is a short verse play by Tolkien inspired by an Old English poem, "The Battle of Maldon." I found Tolkien's afterward on that poem and the mindset of the Anglo Saxon nobility more interesting than his play itself, if again, not memorably brilliant. "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" are ballads based on the character in Lord of the Rings. By and large I loved that epic, I've read it through three times and watched the film based on the trilogy about as many times. But this embodies what I disliked most in it, both the poems sprinkled throughout which I found uninspired and tedious, and the character Tom Bombadil, for whom I felt the same. Yes, I get it--he's a force of nature and thus the one being uncorruptible by the ring, but I wanted to put a spork through my eyes when reading about him and Goldberry. That leaves two pieces that I think alone do make the book worth buying and reading. First, there's "Tree and Leaf"--an extended essay about fairy tales and a short story written by Tolkien in the genre, "Leaf by Niggle." The essay was... interesting, and shows Tolkien's resemblance to his fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis in how it deals with mythology and Christianity and the nostalgia for a rural, pre-Industrial Britain. "Leaf by Niggle" read more C.S. Lewis than Tolkien actually, because it's so obviously Christian allegory, despite the fact that in one foreword to Lord of the Rings Tolkien claimed not to like allegory. And that leaves what I find the prize of the book, "Farmer Giles of Ham" a whimsical and charming tale of knights, giants and dragons with more in common with the spirit of The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings.