Saturday, 13 October 2012

My Amazon review of The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge


From 7 November 2009 - Awarded three out of a possible five Stars

The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge. William B Eerdmans, 2004

This is a frustrating book because it is well worth reading - and perhaps could have been a classic of Tolkien criticism; but for the fact that that the author's self-indulgence introduced so many jarring and embarrassing anomalous elements.

The basic theme is very strong, and the line of argument about how divine providence or fate permeates Tolkien's world (and his world view) is extremely well argued.

But the author gives the impression of being one of those people who likes the sound of her own voice and airing her passing opinions. So the book is too long, and the superb insights concerning the underlying religious theme of Lord of the Rings are swamped by mere chit chat, or are padded out with other very dubious, trivial or idiosyncratic Christian parallels to the Tolkien.

The very striking and brilliant points, of which there are many, need to be mined out from the dross.

Worst of all, the book was written in the early 2000s during the throes of Bush-Derangement Syndrome (BDR) - in which `reality' for a female US Episcopalian 'priest' comes filtered through the distorting lens of the New York Times and National Public Radio - which are treated here as having quasi-Biblical authority.

From her repeated use of example, she really seems to believe that the USA under George W Bush, the response to 9/11 and the behaviour of the US/UK allies in the Iraq war, is a reasonable routine comparison with Sauron and Saruman, and with the temptations and moral failings of the heroes.

By contrast, Liberals, Democrats and their like are exempted from any except positive mention. The political partisanship is truly stunning, and indeed strikes me as pathological.

The author is utterly in thrall to Political Correctness, which means that all (so far as I could tell) of the (ridiculously over-pressed) examples she uses to draw parallels between the evils of the Lord of the Rings and the evils of everyday life are examples of the evils of US Republicans and Conservatives; and all of the virtues of modern life are of people and incidents which are approved by the Politically Correct.

She is also either a Pacifist, or very close to being one; and to read LotR from a pacifist perspective is to misunderstand it. Tolkien, like most people, was anti-war - but he was not a pacifist; and indeed understood that pacifism led to war and often to defeat - as with the appeasement of Hitler.

The distortion is bad, because JRR Tolkien was himself at the opposite pole from Political Correctness in his personality and in his work: he was so Conservative that his views were even extreme for the early 20th century and before the victory of Progressivism.

Tolkien was indeed so Reactionary that his views are simply off the chart in today's political climate. And he was of course a genius of intellect, insight and creativity. So these views should not be ignored and cannot lightly be dismissed without serious distortion: when the reader finds that he disagrees with Tolkien, there is a distinct possibility that it is Tolkien who was correct and the reader who is wrong, and that Tolkien simply sees deeper.

So Rutledge's, book is worth reading for the serious Tolkien scholar - but must be skim-read and unfortunately cannot be fully enjoyed. However, if a second edition is ever on the cards, this deeply-flawed book could be made into a superb one; simply by the liberal use of a blue pencil to shorten it by half, remove all contemporary references, and rein-in the garrulousness.


Note - In this version I have added scare quotes around the word Priest, for reasons of conscience. I did not realize three years ago that the flaws of this book are intrinsic to its having been written by a US Episcopalian Priestess. Although I gave it three stars, I have never (yet) gone back to re-read - which is very unusual for me in relation to Tolkien - so I would probably have to downgrade its rating to two stars, on reflection. 


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