First let me clearly state, hats off to Mr. Tolkien. The man is simply brilliant and so immersed himself in his art that I one could reasonably argue that he is the father of the modern fantasy.
If you choose to read this book, I think you’ll enjoy it if you want to understand this great author’s way of approaching his craft. If you’re just looking for another good Tolkien story, just read “Leaf by Niggle” and skip the other parts.
Tree and Leaf is composed of four parts. An essay – “On Fairy Stories“; “Mythopoeia” – a poetic response to a man criticizing myth as “silver lies”; “Leaf by Niggle”; and “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son“. I liked some of the parts much more than others.
“On Fairy Stories” shows the depth that Tolkien thought of his epic tales. He became a master at “fairy tales” aimed at the adult reader. He did this by weaving a credible world full of it’s own rules, able to stand on it’s own. The reader could not help but walk into that world and believe it in it’s whole. Throughout the essay, the details, nuances and thoughts behind what makes up proper fantasy is explored in depth. I appreciated this essay, but honestly got lost in many of his details. I was indeed impressed by his thought process and love that shines through in his explanations of this genre.
The second part, “Mythopoeia”, is a letter written from a writer of fairy tales to a disbeliever of fantasy tales. It well written in rhyme and meter as a poem. I enjoyed it more than On Fairy-Stories, but I don’t think I would go out of my way to read it. It was certainly well written and holds meaning far deeper than the rhyme that he paints on the page.
Part three was entirely a different story, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I’m glad I had read the preceding parts of the book because they gave me insight into how he would write a fairy tale. And he certainly delivered with this piece. “Leaf by Niggle” is a fantastic short story that serves as a metaphor for one man’s life (and afterlife). If the only part of this book that you read is this story, it’s well worth it.
Finally, “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son” is a follow-up on an epic tale of the Battle of Maldon. I found it interesting, but hard to follow at times, with all the foreign names. The point of the story finally clicked when I read Tolkien’s summary and contrast with other epic poems. He used his view on this work to contrast leadership qualities of its main character with characters in the epic poems of “Beowulf” and “Sir Gawain”. I found his analysis to be rather insightful.
Ultimately, upon finishing this book, I found J.R.R. Tolkien to be far more clever, insightful and dedicated to his craft than I ever thought, before. I’m certain that my next reading of his work will have deeper meaning as a result of this new understanding. While I struggled through parts of this book, I’m glad to have read it.
- The Size of Tolkien’s Reality – Peter Kreeft (payingattentiontothesky.com)