“The continuing appeal of Tolkien’s fantasy, completely unexpected and completely unpredictable though it was, cannot then be seen as a mere freak of popular taste, to be dismissed or ignored by those sufficiently well-educated to know better. It deserves an explanation and a defence, which this book tries to supply. In the process, I argue that his continuing appeal rests not on mere charm or strangeness (though both are there and can again to some extent be explained), but on a deeply serious response to what will be seen in the end as the major issues of his century: the origin and nature of evil (an eternal issue, but one in Tolkien’s lifetime terribly re-focused); human existence in Middle-earth, without the support of divine Revelation; cultural relativity; and the corruptions and continuities of language.”
– Tom A. Shippey
In Tom A. Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, he examines the appeal and distinction of Tolkien and his work, noting that “Tolkien wanted to be heard, and he was,” while asking, “But what was it that he had to say?” (Shippey loc. 51). Beginning with the well-known anecdote of Tolkien grading essays, coming across a blank page, and writing “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit,” Shippey explores where hobbits may have come from, what Bilbo and the Shire may represent archetypally, and how they echo a historicized view of British culture. Explored also are Tolkien’s contributions to the public understanding of the “fairy-tale” and of his method, called mythopoeia, of combining such stories into a larger shared world. Much attention is given to the origins of names and how they originated in ancient legend and myth.