With a seemingly (and thankfully) endless supply of books about J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis flowing out from every conceivable press, it is easy to overlook some hidden gems. To assist Imaginative Conservative readers with their Christmas book shopping, I have highlighted below some books about Lewis and/or Tolkien that have been published over the last five years and that likely slipped by most people’s Inklings radar. These fourteen books, all of which I have reviewed in a number of different venues, have remained in my mind and shaped some of my views of Tolkien and Lewis.
Michael Jahosky. The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-Earth. Wipf & Stock, 2020.
Tolkien’s epic, Mr. Jahosky argues persuasively, uses the same kind of parabolic structure as Jesus to proclaim the same good news. “The Lord of the Rings does not conclude with the hope that one day Iluvatar [Tolkien’s name for God] will enter his creation, for he already has in Aragorn. In other words, Tolkien’s parable, like Jesus’s parables, announces the advent of the world’s one true king and the inauguration of his kingdom and looks forward to its full consummation in the future when ‘everything sad’ will come ‘untrue.’ In short the return of the king means God is present in Middle-earth.”
Gina Dalfonzo. Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis. Baker, 2020.
Through a close reading of Lewis and Sayers’s letters to one another and a careful filling in of the context out of which they lived and wrote, Ms. Dalfonzo not only offers insight into two of the twentieth century’s greatest Christian apologists and fiction writers; she provides a model for what a healthy male-female friendship can look like.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker. Reluctant Allies: Essays on Eliot and the Inklings. Stauffer Books, 2020.
Few writers of the twentieth century have brought our biblical past into dialogue with our post-Christian present and our potentially post-human future as cogently as Lewis, Tolkien, and T.S. Eliot. In Reluctant Allies, Fr. Longenecker shows himself to be just the right person to unpack that dialogue and apply it to our daily struggles and victories.
James Como. C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2019.
Not a word is wasted as Dr. Como takes us on a breezy but incisive parallel tour of Lewis’s life and works. Though the nature of the book does not allow him to venture too much beyond the basics, Dr. Como sprinkles his book with fascinating tidbits, catching his elusive subject in a carefully constructed web of words. With balance, economy, and precise diction, he puts his finger on what was unique about Lewis as a teacher, believer, and author.
Joshua Hren. Middle-earth and the Return of the Common Good: J.R.R. Tolkien and Political Philosophy. Cascade Books, 2018.
Dr. Hren forces conservative Christian readers to resist the lure of such Enlightenment sirens as the autonomous individual, consumerism and wealth acquisition as ultimate goods, the replacement of traditional (classical and Christian) virtues with bourgeois values, and a kind of radical freedom detached from community and the common good. Tolkien was strongly aware of these dangers, and Dr. Hren’s book helps locate that awareness across the depth and breadth of Middle-earth.
Charlie Starr. The Faun’s Bookshelf: C.S. Lewis on Why Myth Matters. Black Squirrel Books, 2018.
Dr. Starr delves the centrality of myth to Lewis’s work and thought, defends Lewis’s traditional view of gender and the complementarity of the sexes, and explains how and why Lewis combined myth and history, paganism and Christianity, the Greco-Roman-Norse and the Judeo-Christian in his fiction and non-fiction.
Joe Rigney. Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God. Crossway, 2018.
Dr. Rigney lays out in lucid, accessible prose the full depth and breadth of Lewis’s reflections on how to live out the Christian life in a manner that is moral without being pharisaical and virtuous without being legalistic.
Jonathan S. McIntosh. The Flame Imperishable: Tolkien, St. Thomas, and the Metaphysics of Faërie. Angelico Press, 2017.
Just as Michael Ward, in Planet Narnia, used the seven medieval planets and their influences as a key to open up The Chronicles of Narnia, so Dr. McIntosh uses the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas, as it is expressed in his Summa Theologiae, to open up, not only the Creation story in the opening of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, but much of The Lord of the Rings as well. Although Dr. McIntosh takes up some weighty philosophical, theological, and aesthetic subjects, those who persist will find compelling, ultimately lucid arguments that offer fresh and original insights into Tolkien’s sub-creative art and Christian faith.
Philip Ryken. The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth: Images of Christ’s Threefold Office in the Lord of the Rings. IVP Academic, 2017.
Dr. Ryken, President of Wheaton College, offers both a scholarly analysis of the characters and journeys of Gandalf (prophet), Frodo/Sam (priest), and Aragorn (king) and a pastoral application of that analysis to the life of the Christian president, and, by extension, to all Christians who discern a calling on their lives.
Edith M. Humphrey. Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C.S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2017.
By meditating on Lewis from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Dr. Humphrey illuminates Lewis’s view of myth as something that, like an icon, leads us “outside of ourselves” and thus allows us to see things from a different point of view. She also affirms fully, alongside Lewis, the goodness of creation and the need for us to become sub-creators (rather than co-creators) who understand and participate in the full sacramental nature of creation. Finally, she discerns the vital distinction Lewis makes between “willful magic” done for show and true miracles that signify God’s glory as creator and incarnate God-Man—miracles that come to us as a gift from the all-powerful Trinity.
Lisa Coutras. Tolkien’s Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
Dr. Coutras argues that a focus on transcendent beauty, undergirded by the theological aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar, can serve as an interpretive lens through which to view and unpack Tolkien’s subtle but pervasive Christian worldview. Along the way, she shows how Tolkien was able to create strong female characters who, far from being the sexist stereotypes that critics claim, rise up to be heroines who embody courage and transcendent beauty.
Chris Armstrong. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C.S. Lewis. Brazos, 2016.
Dr. Armstrong challenges evangelicals to not simply dismiss the Middle Ages as, well, medieval, but to be willing, like C.S. Lewis, to learn from and be challenged by it. By so doing, American Protestants can find an antidote to “immediatism,” which Dr. Armstrong defines as our “obsession with novelty,” our “pressurized pragmatism” that seeks to find a “silver bullet solution to all social problems,” and our often intransigent belief that we can “bypass all mediating traditions and interpretations and go directly to the supposedly commonsense meaning of Scripture.”
Justin Dyer and Micah Watson. C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Because Lewis believed firmly in the imago dei, he believed we all had access, through our reason and conscience, to the Tao: that is, the natural law. Because he believed just as firmly in the Fall, he, despite his love of medieval monarchy, advocated a classical liberal view of government that bears much similarity to Locke’s view of limited government and Mill’s harm principle. In ferreting out these two aspects of Lewis’s non-systematic political views, Drs. Dyer and Watson make an original contribution to Lewis studies.
Corey Latta. C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing. Cascade Books, 2016.
Dr. Latta demonstrates that Lewis, from early childhood to the closing weeks of his life, identified himself primarily as a writer, one equally devoted to his own individual writing and to the community of writers that God put in his path. While painting a rounded portrait of Lewis the author, Dr. Latta offers plenty of sound advice on how to become a good writer.
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