Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

101—The Non-Reactionary Tolkien—Holly Ordway

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 29, 2021 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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J.R.R. Tolkien is commonly perceived as a reactionary who totally rejected the modern world, and whose literary influences began and ended with the Middle Ages. Holly Ordway’s new book, Tolkien’s Modern Reading: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages, debunks that view of Tolkien’s life and work.

Ordway begins with an invaluable critique of the sources of this misconception, especially the official biography written by Humphrey Carpenter, who admitted his own bias and desire to portray Tolkien as an uptight fuddy-duddy.

She then proceeds to examine the works of modern literature we know Tolkien read, gleaning insights about how he may have been influenced either by acceptance or rejection of what he found in those works. In this interview we focus on Tolkien’s reading of the father of modern fantasy, William Morris, the adventure writer H. Rider Haggard, the now-unknown religious romance John Inglesant, and even literary modernists like James Joyce and Roy Campbell, and realists like Sinclair Lewis.


Tolkien’s Modern Reading

Daphne Castell interview with Tolkien

Diana Glyer’s books on the Inklings:

The Company They Keep


Some of the many books enjoyed by Tolkien mentioned in this episode:

William Morris, The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains

H. Rider Haggard, She

Joseph Henry Shorthouse, John Inglesant

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Andrew Lang’s fairy tale collections

Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books

E.A. Wyke-Smith, The Marvellous Land of Snergs

John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps and the other Richard Hannay books

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Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: stan.sienkiewicz3391 - Apr. 05, 2021 2:30 PM ET USA

    This was an excellent interview. I learned a good deal more about Tolkien and his background. Appreciate the links and references to other works that Tolkien enjoyed or used in his writing. Look forward to more material from Holly and just began reading her WOF book. One item left hanging was what Tolkien science fiction writers or books he enjoyed. Thank you! -stan