Book Review: Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues

If simplicity is a virtue, then living simple lives and cherishing simple pleasures are all that is required for our lives to have value. We need not feel guilty when we suspect we should be doing more for God’s kingdom, for when he needs us he will call us, and until then we can be content to husband our strength, put down roots and enjoy the good things that have been given us.

Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues, pg 20

This darling book was gifted to me by my momma several years ago. It has been sitting on my “Tolkien shelf” along with many other collected-but-unread books by/about J.R.R. Tolkien. After trying to begin it twice in the past, I brought it with me to the beach this week and read the entire thing in less than twenty-four hours. It was a light read, a long deep sigh of fresh air as I was still processing the previous book.

Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues: Exploring the Themes of The Lord of the Rings by Mark Eddy Smith is a reflection on essential lessons for day-to-day life taken from my favorite fictional work. While I do not completely agree with Smith’s theology, I appreciate his musings and perspective on how Tolkien’s trilogy is full of applications for us.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book, and why I finished it so quickly, is because though it is one-hundred-forty-one pages long, there are thirty very short chapters. The way Smith broke up his thoughts and very quickly shares the point of the chapter made Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues easy to read and comprehend. He also divided the chapters by book number – Fellowship of the Ring: Book One and so on – so that together we walk through the story, learning along the way.

Each chapter is a “virtue,” such as generosity, community, mirth, hope, and courage. Smith primarily uses The Lord of the Rings to illustrate each virtue, obviously, but he also includes verses in most of the chapters. I do think some of these verses were applied in a way that may not actually be how they were intended in the Word of God, but the fact remains that much of what is written in this book is truthful and beneficial to my life.

Pulling out this book was like returning to visit old friends. I feel as if I know Sam and Aragorn and Eowyn and everyone so dearly. Reading about their perseverance, sacrifice, and other virtues made me smile from ear to ear. This book was interesting because it was both fiction and non-fiction. Obviously Frodo and Gollum and Gandalf are not real (although the author often refers to them as if they are). However, Tolkien’s descriptions and depth of characters open our eyes to ways we can become better – even more Christlike. Mark Eddy Smith took the time to write it down for us in a very concise, purposeful way. And for that reason, I’m excited to pick up The Lord of the Rings again with new eyes.

As I get older and learn more of what sort of person I am and continue sojourning in the rich soil of the Shire and the high tower of Minas Tirith, I discover that many of my notions of what is good and right and noble in this world have their source in that one [tale].

Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues, pg 11-12

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