An excerpt appearing in latest issue of the NEW OXFORD REVIEW from a forthcoming book from ISI Books: Bradley J. Birzer, Sanctifying Myth: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Nature of Sub-creation (ISI Books, Fall 2003).
“Why Tolkien remains so popular is a legitimate and serious mystery in and of itself. In religion, Tolkien was a Roman Catholic and Christian Humanist. In his cultural views, he was an anti-modern. In his politics, he was a Chestertonian agrarian-Distributivist. In his philosophy, he was an Augustinian and a Thomist. Certainly, none of these traits should have propelled him to the top of literary popularity for either the critics or the average reading public.
Far from “airy but strangely simplified,” however, Tolkien tapped into the longings and misgivings of modern man. Rooted deeply in the western Judeo-Christian ideas of sin, pride, justice, and right reason, his stories remain timeless. He did, though, despise the twentieth century and modernity, especially its killing fields and socialist wars. As political scientist R.J. Rummel has uncovered, Communist and fascist governments murdered over 169 million of their own citizens between 1901 and 1987. Another 35 million more died in state-sponsored wars. When someone makes the final count for the twentieth century, adding those slaughtered in Africa, the former Yugoslavia, and China since 1987, the former figure may easily reach 200 million. The numbers are so vast, they render us numb.
Overwhelmed by modernity, Tolkien confronted in his works the twentieth century and its deadly machines of war, industrialism, and nationalism.”