Cover image for Following Gandalf : epic battles and moral victory in The lord of the rings
Following Gandalf : epic battles and moral victory in The lord of the rings
Dickerson, Matthew T., 1963-
Publication Information:
Grand Rapids, Mich. : Brazos Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
234 pages ; 23 cm
Epic battles -- The wise of Middle-Earth -- Military victory or moral victory? -- Human freedom and creativity -- The gift of Ilúvatar and the power of the ring -- Moral responsibility and stewardship -- Hope and despair -- Themes of salvation -- The hand of Ilúvatar -- Ilúvatar's theme and the real war.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6039.O32 L63334 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



While the success of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is remarkable, it's certainly no mystery. In a culture where truth is relative and morality is viewed as "old-fashioned," we eagerly welcome the message of these tales: we have free will, our choices matter, and truth can be known.
Matthew Dickerson investigates the importance of free will and moral choices in Tolkien's Middle Earth, where moral victory, rather than military success, is the "real" story. He explores Christian themes throughout, including salvation, grace, and judgment.
Following Gandalf will delight veteran Tolkien fans and offer new fans an impressive introduction to his major works. Engaging and theologically thought-provoking, it will interest pastors, students, seminarians, and layreaders.

Author Notes

Matthew T. Dickerson is the director of the New England Young Writer's Conference at Breadloaf - a conference where he has taught writing for many years, and teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dickerson, a teacher at Middlebury College in Vermont and devoted student of Tolkien, begins his work with a strong thematic link to the very popular The Lord of the Rings movies: epic battles. Against the criticism that The Lord of the Rings glorifies war, he argues cogently that Tolkien's original written treatment of these battles provides a very different picture than the films or spin-off video games. He demonstrates how Tolkien offers a deeply nuanced understanding of the nature of war, and how the trilogy criticizes self-aggrandizing glory in battle. As Dickerson moves into the more central, philosophical themes of the books-free will, moral responsibility and ethical absolutes-readers may lose interest, especially when he punctuates discussion of very basic concepts with obscure references from Tolkien's Silmarillion, a work that few will have read: "In contrast to subjective morality, or moral relativism, objective morality is independent of the individual subject.... Feanor's evil deeds, for example, especially the tragic Kinslaying at Alqualonde, are going to be judged." Dickerson's exploration of the nature of the ring's evil power and his final conclusions about the pervasive theological structure behind these stories are engaging, but the verbosity and academic trivia of other sections may alienate some readers. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Now brought to the big screen, J.R.R. Tolkien's three-volume fantasy novel has been continuously popular since its original publication in 1954. A devout Catholic, the Oxford don was at the same time enamored of the ancient Norse pagan tales. While many see the trilogy as simply a pagan story with little or no hint of Christianity, both of these authors argue that the book has a very definite Christian message-a message that Tolkien himself said was fundamental to the work. Wood's (religion, Baylor Univ.) book, which comes from the publisher of several other "Gospel According to" books, argues that Tolkien's is a deeply Christian work, but since Tolkien disliked allegory, the Christian message is seen in the plot and the imagery. He finds in the story portrayals of the traditional Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love and offers a "theological reflection" on the epic, concentrating particularly on the question of evil. Dickerson (English, Middlebury Coll.; The Finnsburg Encounter) takes a somewhat less religious approach, focusing more on the moral dimensions of the story and the idea of free will. He argues that Tolkien's interest is in showing that moral victory is more important than military victory and that the novel's greatest heroes are those who remain true to their calling, not those who win battles. He deals with the question of religion only at the end. Both authors consider book and film, and both have a more ecumenical perspective than does Bradley Birzer in J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, which takes a more Catholic approach. Given what is sure to be a renewed interest in Tolkien's epic, both would be worthwhile purchases for all libraries.-Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 11
1. Epic Battlesp. 19
The Battle of Five Armiesp. 21
The Black Gate and the Skirmish with Southronsp. 25
The Rohirrim and the Anglo-Saxonsp. 28
So Fair, So Desperatep. 33
Hope and Healingp. 40
The "Contest" at Helm's Deepp. 41
War, and the Individual vs. Fellowshipp. 45
2. The Wise of Middle-Earthp. 47
The Wisdom of Gandalfp. 49
Military Might and True Hopep. 53
Even His Slavesp. 55
Faramirp. 57
Of Film and Fictionp. 62
3. Military Victory or Moral Victory?p. 67
Victory, at What Cost?p. 68
The Temptation of the Ring: Gandalf and Elrondp. 74
The Temptation of the Ring: Galadriel and Faramirp. 77
4. Human Freedom and Creativityp. 83
The Reality of Choicep. 84
Aragorn and the Doom of Choicep. 89
The Propheciesp. 92
5. The Gift of Iluvatar and the Power of the Ringp. 95
The Domination of Willsp. 96
The Flame Imperishablep. 101
The Firstborn and the Followersp. 107
Free Will and Creativityp. 110
6. Moral Responsibility and Stewardshipp. 115
Objective Morality and Judgmentp. 119
Moral Responsibilityp. 124
A Word on Judgmentp. 128
The Steward of Middle-earthp. 131
7. Hope and Despairp. 137
Galdalf, the Enemy of Sauronp. 138
Hope, Free Will, the One Ring, and Eowynp. 143
8. Themes of Salvationp. 147
The Salvation of Boromirp. 150
The Salvation of Smeagolp. 153
Saruman, Denethor, and Damnation as Un-Salvationp. 158
Bilbo and Frodo: Mercy for the Mercifulp. 162
9. The Hand of Iluvatarp. 165
A Deepening of Voicep. 166
Attaching a Leafp. 174
The Presence of the Authorityp. 177
The Purpose of the Authorityp. 183
The Power of the Authorityp. 187
Free Will and the Hand of the Authorityp. 195
10. Iluvatar's Theme and the Real Warp. 199
Not a Christian Myth?p. 202
The Missing Piecep. 207
Sorrow and Lossp. 212
A Christian Myth?p. 217
The Theme of Iluvatarp. 225
The Real Warp. 229