“To those who participate in them, these stories provide not only models of virtuous and vicious behavior but a sense of purpose – a sense that our lives and our choices are not arbitrary but that they are ‘going somewhere’”
– Louis Markos
The above quote, of course, refers to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia. I have read each of these somewhere between five and ten times, and I wouldn’t have thought I could appreciate them any more than I already do. Well, I was wrong. Lou Markos’s book, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, is an eye-opener. He delves into the values and virtues of these amazing stories with the mind of a scholar and the enthusiasm of a true appreciator of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s work.
There was a time when stories were more than fun and fantastical tales told at bed time or read to children. They have always been fun and fantastical, but in recent decades they have lost their meaning, their significance. What once were primary tools for communicating virtue and vice, good and evil, have been relegated to nurseries and judged as juvenile. This should not be so, as Markos states:
“No hard and fast distinction was made between children’s literature and adult literature, fairy tales and ‘serious’ fiction; all drank from the same narrative well. The creating and telling of stories could be as much a vehicle of truth as science or math or philosophy.”
Through the classic stories of Tolkien and Lewis, Markos guides the readers’ eyes and mind to the heights of virtue and depths of evil and helps them to see that, while they are not less, they are far more than enjoyable tales.
“The purpose of this book is to enter, to embrace, to engage. Not to study, but to learn from, not to judge but to be challenged by, not to analyze but to love.”
What is so evident in these pages is Markos’s love of the stories themselves. It is as if he revels in them even as he lays out their great riches. He is a scholar, yes, but one that wants all readers to see the transcendent in the stories they consume.
On the Shoulders of Hobbits is an exceptional work. It made me wish I could enroll in Markos’s literature courses starting tomorrow. It also spurred me to re-read those great stories again because there is so much there I hadn’t seen before. And, the greatest compliment I can give a book, this one helped me know God and His character more fully than before I opened it. I cannot recommend On the Shoulders of Hobbits more highly.