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Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings [Paperback]

By Matthew T. Dickerson (Author)
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Item description for Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings by Matthew T. Dickerson...

While the success of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is remarkable, it's certainly no mystery. In a culture where truth is relative and morality is viewed as "old-fashioned," we eagerly welcome the message of these tales: we have free will, our choices matter, and truth can be known. Matthew Dickerson investigates the importance of free will and moral choices in Tolkien's Middle Earth, where moral victory, rather than military success, is the "real" story. He explores Christian themes throughout, including salvation, grace, and judgment. Following Gandalf will delight veteran Tolkien fans and offer new fans an impressive introduction to his major works. Engaging and theologically thought-provoking, it will interest pastors, students, seminarians, and layreaders.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Brazos Press
Pages   240
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.9" Width: 5.9" Height: 0.8"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 31, 2003
Publisher   Brazos Press
ISBN  1587430851  
ISBN13  9781587430855  

Availability  0 units.

More About Matthew T. Dickerson

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Matthew Dickerson, professor and member of the environmental studies program at Middlebury College, is the author or coauthor of several books, including Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings and From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy.

Jonathan Evans, associate professor of English and director of the medieval studies program at the University of Georgia, is a member of the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program faculty. His essays on J. R. R. Tolkien have been published in J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances, Tolkien the Medievalist, and The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

Matthew T. Dickerson was born in 1963.

Matthew T. Dickerson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Culture of the Land

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Movie Tie-Ins
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > World Literature > United States > History & Criticism > Literary Theory
4Books > Subjects > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > History & Criticism

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Reviews - What do customers think about Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in The Lord of the Rings?

Gets to the heart and soul of the story!  Feb 11, 2008
This is a very well written book that really gets to what is at the heart of the story. The military battles that take place, though necessary, are not where the real victory comes. It is the spiritual battlefield that the soul fights on that determines failure or success in the war against the Enemy. The bitterest of those battles is the one going on within Frodo's soul, but it is also going on inside everyone else's, especially those who have had contact with Evil, either through the Ring or the palantirs, and how each dealt with the temptation of the Ring as it came to them. It speaks of Gandalf's hope in a bright future even as he awaits the battle of Minas Tirith and Denethor's despair at the same. It shows Faramir and Galadriel's wisdom that saving one's soul is more important than saving one's land. Both realize the latter should not be saved at the cost of the former. This warfare of the soul is the same battle that we are all engaged in and this book has much more to say about it than I report here. Highly recommended if you wish to be enlightened by the story going on beneath the surface, where battles are not decided with armies, but with individual wills and the infusion and acceptance or denial of grace and redemption. One of the better books out there on the subject.
Good stuff  Jan 28, 2005
As a long-time Tolkien reader, I enjoyed this book's exploration of some important underlying themes and attitudes in the trilogy and associated works. There's nothing nicer than seeing your own observations codified in print!

The author has obviously lectured on this subject for many years, and for some of his discussions I can just see which terms he writes on the blackboard! The college-lecture-series origin explains the repetitions that bothered some reader-reviewers. This is not really a book to read in one sitting (though it is pleasantly short).

The quibble that Gandalf is not really the major subject of the book, so he shouldn't be in the title, reminds me of a book report I wrote in 8th grade (many years ago), where I complained that Sir Walter Scott shouldn't have named his book "Ivanhoe" because the real hero was Richard the Lion-Hearted. "Following Gandalf" is a good title, concise and easily identified as being about both Tolkien and ethics.
Refreshing  Jul 14, 2004
I have read a lot of critical work on Tolkien, and this was a refreshing change of topic. As opposed to the usual linguistic/mythic examination of his work, this book examines the role of war and of moral conflict. Mr. Dickerson writes well, and has a knowledge of tolkien's works. Well worth your time.
Interesting and insightful  Jul 12, 2004
This is an interesting and insightful book on Tolkien's attitude to war, valour and heroism, and to the sacrifices and hardness war demands. However I suggest that Hal GP Colebatch's "Return of the Heroes" covers the same ground better and more learnedly. Read the two together, and you will see a lot of bad criticisms of Tolkien expertly shredded.
Intelligent and insightful, with a few major flaws...  Jul 11, 2004
_Following Gandalf_ is a thoughtful book that, somehow, doesn't quite follow Gandalf.

Dickerson's main topic is the treatment of war in Tolkien's Middle-Earth - specifically in the LOTR trilogy, with references to _The Hobbit_ and _The Silmarillion._ The book asks whether Tolkien's works glorify war and violence, and Dickerson spends a lot of time wandering around this question. Which is okay - that deceptively simple question, after all, encompasses a childhood classic, a popular trilogy, and a pseudo Old-English saga... three very different forms that require different methods of literary analysis.

Dickerson draws some fascinating, well-defended conclusions in this book. He creates a convincing argument for the existence of an absolute set of morals within Middle-Earth (granted, Tolkien establishes this in _The Silmarillion,_ but it's nice to see a critic do his homework and "prove" his thesis through analyzing the other novels); and his study of "the one ring" is quite good. I don't want to spoil the book for you, so I'll just say that Dickerson provides an excellent case for the ring's corruptive properties - there are intrinsic and extrinsic forces at work, and if you think about how the ring was brought into being in the first place, it seems rather obvious...

However, I found two things distracting or unnecessary, which prevented me from giving this book five stars. First, Dickerson relies rather heavily on Peter Jackson's film versions - only two of which had been released with the publication of the novel. His scholarly analysis is interspersed with scenes from the films, which I feel is inappropriate since Jackson's films are NOT Tolkien's books. (Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Jackson's films, but they are only "based" on LOTR, and cannot be considered the same as the source material. They are visions and revisions by someone other than the author, in a different era, for a different audience, all of which is compounded by being in a totally different medium. Sorry, but Jackson's LOTR is not Tolkien's LOTR, even if the plot and characters are the same...) I suppose if Dickerson had written a separate chapter that compared Jackson's LOTR with Tolkien's LOTR I would not feel this way; however, a discussion of Tolkien's work should not include Jackson's work. The two works are not the same. One-half point removed for inappropriate source material.

My second quibble is that the book closes with an argument about whether or not the LOTR is a Christian myth. In his introduction, Dickerson says, "In the final chapters, I return to the question of war and put much of the rest of this book, and thereby much of Tolkien's writing, into the context and perspective given to us by the [...] opening part of Tolkien's book _The Silmarillion_" (17). Dickerson does this very thing, only in the larger context and perspective of the Christian Bible - a perspective that Dickerson admits Tolkien neither wanted nor intended.

Dickerson's Christian-myth analysis is insightful, to be sure. My complaint is twofold: (1) the book is about the question of war and violence in the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, not about the Christian allegories to be found in those writings; (2) the Christian-myth section is out of place in the book - it feels tacked on, as if Dickerson had written this section years before and decided it just might "fit" in this book. It does, but badly. One half-point removed for losing sight of the "point" of the book.

The book is otherwise an excellent resource for critical study of the LOTR, though I was irritated at the lack of an index. No points lost for that omission, though it might deserve it. Also, the title is somewhat deceptive in that Gandalf is not the primary character being studied.

Last word: Good, with flaws. Grade: B-


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