Thursday, September 21, 2017

"The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power" by Jane Chance

There are several different places in this book where I wrote "mind = blown" because the nuances Jane Chance teased out of Tolkien's storytelling were so amazing.

I'm serious.  She brought up things I never, ever thought of, and I'm on my seventh reading of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm trying to find words to explain all the wonderful things I learned from this book, and I'm falling so short.  I'm going to have to re-read it again and again to really internalize and remember a lot of what I learned, but I'll share a couple of the things I found most interesting.

How about the fact that Denethor and Theoden's names are basically mirror images of each other?  Den-e-thor.  The-o-den.  And that their "leadership styles" are also mirrors -- one is a kind and loving leader who "commands through respect and love," and the other is a "tyrant [who] commands his followers by edict, rule, law" (p. 90).  HOW did I never notice this?

Or how about the fact that, while Gollum calls the Ring his "birthday present," it literally is Frodo's birthday present because Bilbo left it to him (along with Bag-End) on their shared birthday?  I mean, dude.  So amazing.  And again, now that I see it, that's so totally obvious, but it's not anything I ever thought of.

My favorite chapter was probably the one at the end, "Heroic Narrative and the Power of Structure."  I love studying the structure of myths and epics, also called the "hero's quest," and how they get used over and over in new and interesting ways.  I'd previously identified a lot of things in LOTR that draw from the classic myth structure, but I had never before noticed that "[i]n each of the three volumes, Tolkien matches the heroic structure of the initial book to that of the second book" (P. 19).  Which means for instance, that in book 1, everyone's at a great gathering at the beginning, Bilbo's party.  At the beginning of book 2, they're at the Council of Elrond.  In book 1, Frodo and friends go down into the valleys and encounter an ancient being who consumes some of them, Old Man Willow.  In book 2, they go down into Moria and encounter an ancient being who drags Gandalf away, the Balrog.  And on and on it goes.

Just fascinating stuff that I not only never noticed myself, but that I, as a writer, would never have come up with!  My appreciation for Tolkien as a writer and storyteller have grown so much while reading this book.

But this book is probably not for everyone.  If you don't enjoy analyzing texts, looking for deeper meanings, and somewhat scholarly pursuits like that, you probably wouldn't enjoy this book.  Certainly you can understand The Lord of the Rings without it.  But if you're like me and have read the trilogy quite a few times and enjoy peeling away layers to see the wordcraft and deeper meanings below a book's surface, I definitely recommend you try this book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some discussions of things like violence.  No bad language or anything like that.

I wrote this review as part of this year's Tolkien Blog Party.  If you haven't yet, check out the blog tag and giveaway and other posts for the party!

This is my eighth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.


  1. Sounds interesting. :)

    Dad loaned me his copy of a book about Lewis, Tolkien, and how the Great War influenced both their writing, but I have yet to read it.

    1. Does it have a red cover? Cuz I have one called something like "The Hobbit, The Wardrobe, and the Great War" that's been on my TBR shelf for like a year.

    2. Ooh, can I jump in on this real quick? I just recently read "A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War," and I LOVED IT. It's not so "in-depth" or "scholarly" as some other books on the subject, but it was fascinating to read about the social and political happenings that shaped Tolkien, Lewis, and their respective writings. And I learned a good bit more about WWI in general, and how devastating it really was. So, anyway, I'd definitely recommend that one to Tolkien/Lewis lovers! :)

      Also, great post, Hamlette! You've definitely sparked my interest on this one. I'll have to watch for it!!

    3. Olivia, I've read soooo many good things about that book -- which is why I got it for Christmas, hee. Now I just need to read it! Planning/hoping to get to it before the end of the year.

      And thanks! I hope you can find this.

  2. This book sounds great! I'll definitely check it out! (I didn't put my email on The Giveaway post. It's

  3. The TBR list just got longer. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. The most interesting part of the books, like the movies, is probably Gollum, I think!

    1. John Smith, interesting! Gollum does have a fascinating journey. This book has some cool stuff to say about him, especially regarding the end of LOTR. For instance, was his biting off Frodo's finger not entirely a selfish action? Was some part of him in fact trying to carry out Frodo's command that the ring be destroyed by preventing Frodo from keeping it? There was a LOT of thought-provoking stuff about him in this.


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