Celebrating Middle-Earth

The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of WesternJohn G. West

Six talented writers and Tolkien scholars describe the role that J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has in the literary, political, and religious traditions of Western civilization. Chapters include “The Lord of the Rings as a Defense of Western Civilization” by John G. West; “Wartime Wisdom: Ten Uncommon Insights about Evil in The Lord of the Rings” by Peter Kreeft; “The Literary Backgrounds of The Lord of the Rings” by Janet Leslie Blumberg; “True Myth: The Catholicism of The Lord of the Rings” by Joseph Pearce; “Theology and Morality in The Lord of the Rings”; and “The Lord of the Rings and the Meaning of Life” by Phillip Goggans.


“The book is too original and too opulent for any final judgement on a first reading,” declared C.S. Lewis soon after publication of The Lord of the Rings. “But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men.” Lewis added that he had “little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables.”

Tolkien was not so sure, worrying that modern readers would find his imaginary history of Middle Earth unappealing. Years later, Tolkien remained astonished that anyone else would find value in what he wrote: “I have never had much confidence in my own work, and even now when I am assured… much to my grateful surprise… that it has value for other people, I feel diffident, reluctant as it were to expose my world of imagination to possibly contemptuous eyes and ears.”

Yet it was C.S. Lewis’s confidence, not Tolkien’s diffidence that proved prophetic, at least as far as the reading public was concerned. Tens of millions of readers found themselves enthralled by The Lord of the Rings, making it arguably the most beloved work of twentieth century English literature. Today millions of additional people are being introduced to Tolkien’s tale for the first time through director Peter Jackson’s lavish film adaptation of the story.

While the public has heaped praise on Tolkien’s work, many critics have been less enthusiastic. Regarding the The Lord of the Rings as an exercise in escapism and nostalgia, they treat the story’s popular acclaim as proof of its shallowness. The critics’ disdain for The Lord of the Rings probably has less to do with any actual deficiencies of the story than with the story’s underlying point of view. The problem is not that The Lord of the Rings lacks a profound message; it is that critics often regard its message as profoundly wrong.

Tolkien was both a devout Christian and a dedicated scholar of Western intellectual and literary traditions, and his love for Christianity and the West stand at the core of his narrative. Far from being simple escapism or blind nostalgia, Tolkien’s saga actually confronts many of the idols of modernism and post-modernism. In the face of contemporary moral relativism, The Lord of the Rings teaches the existence of an absolute moral law binding on all times and cultures. In the face of scientific materialism, The Lord of the Rings gives voice to the transcendent spiritual reality behind ordinary life. In the face of an ever larger (and ever more controlling) welfare state, The Lord of the Rings searingly depicts the consequences of absolute power, tyranny and totalitarianism. In an age where art is dominated by cynicism and the anti-hero, The Lord of the Rings revives the traditional view that good art is more than mere technique—to be truly admirable, it must somehow extol the good, the true, and the beautiful. Tolkien’s saga also supplies insight into the permanent limitations of human nature, and it leads readers back into the riches of the Western artistic tradition by drawing afresh on literary forms and conventions of the past millennium. The purpose of this book is to explore some of the many ways that Tolkien’s book may be read as a defense of these rich legacies of Western civilization.”

Editorial Reviews

This little book is a great introduction to Tolkien and LOTR study that seems to follow Tolkien closely reviewer

While all six essays in this slender volume will prove of interest to the reader seeking more background on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic story, I found the essay by Janet Blumberg, ‘The Literary Background of The Lord of the Rings’ especially valuable. Prof. Blumberg not only explains the influences of Anglo-Saxon literature such as ‘Beowulf’ and High Medieval literature such as ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ on elements in LOTR, but also offers a credible explanation for one of the most remarked about elements in the books: the absence of any overt religious practice or worship. This essay alone makes this slender volume a valuable addition to the library of any Tolkien fan. reviewer

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.