In 1997, voters in a BBC poll named The Lord of the Rings the greatest book of the 20th century. In 1999, Amazon.com customers chose it as the greatest book of the millennium. Of course there is much more to this work than mere fantasy escapism. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote his epic -- including its prequel, The Hobbit -- during the dark middle decades of the Twentieth Century, a time when modernity appeared to have failed in one spectacle of technologically amplified bloodshed after another.
While I often inveigh against nostalgia-romanticism as a drug-habit that isn't helpful in moving civilization forward, I have always found Tolkien to be both intelligent and honest, the very best examplar of nostalgia-romanticism. (Unlike George Lucas, who has no excuse for his lobotomized attacks on modernity.) Can you blame Tolkien, who watched most of his classmates mowed down in Flanders? From the nineteen-thirties through the fifties, planet Earth fell into armed camps of starkly portrayed characters, tearing at each other in orgies of unprecedented violence. Titanic struggles, with the fate of all the world at stake. LOTR clearly reflected this era. Only, in contrast to the real world, Tolkien's portrayal of "good" resisting a darkly threatening "evil" offered something sadly lacking in the real struggles against Nazi or Communist tyrannies -- a role for citizenship, openness and a progressing civilization. Read more on this... and ponder.