fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming RutledgeThe Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge may be the ideal critic of The Lord of the Rings. An ardent student of English literature, an orthodox (Episcopal/Anglican) priest, and a gifted writer, she brings to bear impressive resources in analyzing an often- or over-analyzed work. In doing so, she builds an impressive case in support of a seldom-heard conclusion: Tolkien’s masterpiece is a masterpiece not only of storytelling, but also of theology and, perhaps, evangelism.

In making this case, Rutledge relies not only on her careful reading of the text (including its prequel, The Hobbit), but also on Tolkien’s letters (as indicated by extensive and informative footnoting). In particular, she challenges commonly held ideas about the epic, including but not limited to the following: (1) it is a tale of pure good versus absolute evil; (2) it occurs in another world; and (3) it lacks a divine presence. Other repeated topics include rational inferences as to how Tolkien would feel about modern cultures and wars and Rutledge’s juxtaposition of the text and Peter Jackson’s film trilogy.

Rutledge’s writing is clear and often striking. That said, the book is slightly more repetitive (and thus longer) than it needs to be, and on occasion, it feels like Rutledge is reaching for an appropriate Biblical verse or analogy. Nevertheless, this is a serious, thorough, and important study of the epic — structured not thematically, but parallel, to the narrative — that future students and critics cannot afford to ignore.  And as for Christians who enjoy fantasy literature, this is essentially a collection of essays and sermons focusing on one of fantasy’s great works. (For this latter group, this would be an ideal birthday or Christmas gift.)  Highly recommended for either group.  4-1/2 gleaming elven jewels.

The Battle for Middle Earth: Tolkien’s Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings — (2004) by Fleming Rutledge. Publisher: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has long been acknowledged as the gold standard for fantasy fiction, and the recent Oscar-winning movie trilogy has brought forth a whole new generation of fans. Many Tolkien enthusiasts, however, are not aware of the profoundly religious dimension of the great Ring saga. In The Battle for Middle-earth Fleming Rutledge employs a distinctive technique to uncover the theological currents that lie just under the surface of Tolkien’s epic tale. Rutledge believes that the best way to understand this powerful “deep narrative” is to examine the story as it unfolds, preserving some of its original dramatic tension. This deep narrative has not previously been sufficiently analyzed or celebrated. Writing as an enthusiastic but careful reader, Rutledge draws on Tolkien’s extensive correspondence to show how biblical and liturgical motifs shape the action. At the heart of the plot lies a rare glimpse of what human freedom really means within the Divine Plan of God. The Battle for Middle-earth surely will, as Rutledge hopes, “give pleasure to those who may already have detected the presence of the sub-narrative, and insight to those who may have missed it on first reading.”


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.