Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages

Tolkien's Modern Reading: Middle-Earth Beyond the Middle Ages

By Holly Ordway
Product Code: 9781943243723
★★★★★ ★★★★★ 5.00/5 Stars. (1 Review)

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Tolkien's Modern Reading refutes the assertion that Tolkien "read very little modern fiction, and took no serious notice of it." This allegation, made by one of Tolkien's first biographers, has contributed to the generally held belief that Tolkien was disdainful of modern culture, and that the inspiration for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was inherently medieval and nostalgic.

In fact, as Holly Ordway shows in this substantial rebuttal, Tolkien appreciated a wide range of contemporary works, engaged with them in detail and depth, and even cited individual titles as sources for and influences on his creation of Middle-earth.

Ordway demonstrates how Tolkien admired authors as diverse as James Joyce and Beatrix Potter, Rider Haggard and Edith Nesbit, William Morris and Kenneth Grahame, using rigorous archival research. She looks at the work of people like S.R. Crockett and J.H. Shorthouse, who are now forgotten but had a big influence on Tolkien. He even read Longfellow and Sinclair Lewis as Americans, integrating what he read in uniquely complex ways, both as good example and as influence-by-opposition.

Tolkien's Modern Reading not only clarifies Tolkien's epic, but it also sheds light on his ideas on technology, women, empire, and race. Tolkien's creativity was not simply retrograde: it was closely connected with contemporary literature and preoccupied with the themes and crises of modernity. Ordway's groundbreaking research indicates that Tolkien brought to the workings of his extraordinary imagination a deep understanding of both modern realities and fictions.

This is the first book in Word On Fire's new academic imprint series.

Hardcover | 392 pages.


“This is a work of the first importance. Holly Ordway’s painstaking scholarship, her close reading of primary sources in their proper context, challenges, and thoroughly revises, the image of Tolkien as someone who took no interest in contemporary culture. Ordway also offers a fine critical understanding of why and how Tolkien drew on those sources, an understanding that will enrich anyone’s experience in re-reading the legendarium. Her book is itself highly readable, devoid of jargon and presented with real elegance and wit, a delight for the general reader, but also a groundwork for future Tolkien studies.”

—  Malcolm Guite, Fellow of Girton College, Cambridge, and author of Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination

“A distinguished work of detailed literary scholarship that is enjoyable and accessible for all readers. Ordway has undertaken a careful, sometimes combative, psycho-bibliography that shatters any sense that Tolkien was simply a clueless and nostalgic curmudgeon. Rather, she gives us a portrait of a nuanced thinker and reader who was generous and aware, Catholic and conscientious, creatively engaged with, but not bound by, his own culture.”

—  Michael Tomko, Professor of Humanities at Villanova University and author of Beyond the Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Poetic Faith from Coleridge to Tolkien

“In this important book, Ordway enhances our notions of influence and enriches our understanding of Tolkien’s life and work. Supple prose; a strong, clear voice; inspiring breadth; genuine insight. Tolkien's Modern Reading addresses and corrects a multitude of misguided and outdated notions. It is a welcome, even remarkable, achievement.”

— Diana Pavlac Glyer, Professor of English at Azusa Pacific University and author of The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community

"As a medievalist myself, I am well aware of how crucial Tolkien’s own primary field of the Middle Ages was to him as both scholar and artist. But he was also well and widely read outside that area and this has long seemed to me insufficiently appreciated. Holly Ordway in this well-researched study focuses on another important area, the modern era in which Tolkien himself lived, and shows how he engaged with the fiction, poetry, and drama in English of his contemporaries which he can be shown to have read. This is a valuable addition to Tolkien scholarship covering much little-known material and showing how the modern authors under consideration contributed to the artistic development of one of the major authors of the twentieth century.” 

— Richard C. West, author of Tolkien Criticism: An Annotated Checklist

“Holly Ordway’s Tolkien’s Modern Reading is a much-needed study that fills a noticeable gap in Tolkien scholarship. This is a well-written, interesting, and engaging read that is thoroughly researched and clearly communicated. Ordway challenges the common assumption that Tolkien was not interested in modern literature, demonstrating that he was a man who loved the riches of the past and yet engaged with his own time. This may be the first extensive work on Tolkien’s modern reading, creating a foundation for a new path within Tolkien scholarship. Indeed, this will become the starting point for any literary scholar wanting to engage Tolkien’s modern reading.” 

— Lisa Coutras Terris, author of Tolkien's Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth

About the Author:

Holly Ordway is Fellow of Faith and Culture at the Word on Fire Institute and Visiting Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is a Subject Editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies.

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★★★★★ ★★★★★
5.00/5 Stars out of 1 Review
Tolkien's Modern Reading
| March 6th, 2021
An excellent in-depth study of Tolkien's post-1850 sources and influences.



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