While God calls Christians to proclaim his truth in a variety of ways and situations—some of which are unavoidably confrontational—we can learn from Tolkien that sometimes a mere story can change people’s lives.
Thus ends Mark Horne’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. Throughout this work Horne presents Tolkien as an unassuming Roman Catholic that is strongly governed by his faith but does not attempt to push it down people’s throats. Instead Tolkien, using his God-given imagination, told stories that created a world of good and evil wherein the readers could make up their own minds about how these stories related to their lives.
This book is part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters Series which seems to have the intent of telling the stories of how believers live out the Christian faith in the context of a secular world. You will not find in this series a biography of a renowned minister, but instead you will read of how Jane Austen’s faith directed her writing, how Galileo’s Catholicism encouraged his discoveries despite his trials brought on by the Catholic church, etc. etc,. This biography of Tolkien follows the same format.
Honestly, at the end of this book I do not feel that I have a greater grasp upon how Tolkien’s faith directed his work. Perhaps, it did not as much as we would have liked. If so, I have to ask what then is it doing in the Christian Encounters series? Perhaps, Horne wanted to emphasize the formation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Tolkien’s most famous work). If so, I have to ask why is this work in the Christian Encounters series?
If made to stand on its own as an introduction to Tolkien and more narrowly how Lord of the Rings came to be, then Horne does a fine enough job in this novel to merit a read. However, if the intention of this book is to explore how Tolkien’s faith influenced his life, and how his faith relates to Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other writing, then I have to be honest and say that I find this biography lacking.
I have not read other Tolkien biographies so in some sense I feel unqualified to offer a thorough critique of this work. I can only offer my assessment as someone that is new to the world of Tolkien, but as one that has read a good amount of Christian biographies.
As a Christian biography I found myself wanting to know more. What type of Roman Catholic was Tolkien? How much did his faith influence Lord of the Rings? We are told that his faith influenced the conversion of C.S. Lewis, but are there more details?
As a Tolkien biography I have no idea how it stacks up against others. I would like to read a few more works on Tolkien. One great benefit to this book is the helpful appendix at the end which highlights and comments on several Tolkien works and biographies.
Honestly, unless I had made a prior commitment to Thomas Nelson to read and review this book in exchange for a free copy, I probably would not have done so. It was a pleasant read, and it especially shined in exploring Tolkien’s childhood. Perhaps you would benefit from this book as an introduction to Tolkien. If so you can purchase it for under 10 bucks.