"I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way."
The mere recollection of [this phrase] can move me to tears. I have been reading this tale since I was eleven years old, taking it from my shelf every year or so and returning to Middle-earth. . . . As I get older, and learn more of what sort of person I am, and continue sojourning to the rich soil of the Shire and the high tower of Minas Tirith, I discover that many of my notions of what is good and right and noble in this world have their source in that one.
In the journey from birth to death, you will be asked to leave behind everything you have known, and to bear what treasure you have to an uncertain end. When the road is invisible, impassable or crowded with foes, the tale of Frodo and his friends offers hope that you will be given the strength and the help you need to keep walking, as well as a reminder that you are not alone.
Smith, a graphic designer at InterVarsity Press, is clearly an avid fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic tale The Lord of the Rings. His emotional attachment to the book is unfortunately not coupled with the skill needed for the kind of thematic analysis he undertakes. Each chapter explores a different virtue, such as friendship, sacrifice or humility. However, several of the topics, such as resurrection or providence, cannot be appropriately categorized as "virtues." Within each chapter, Smith's thoughts meander and sometimes even contradict. "Wise generals lead from the rear," he notes, but he counsels on the very same page that "the proper position of leadership is in front, partaking fully in the dangers of the lowliest of soldiers." Smith's chapter about the virtue of justice is actually entirely about mercy. Many Tolkien fans will disagree with much of Smith's interpretation, particularly the assertion that Gandalf clearly dies and is resurrected, or that Gollum and Sam are very similar characters. Christian readers will also be disappointed at the paucity of theological thought; Scripture references are rare and often appear to be tacked on as afterthoughts. Also puzzling are the indications that Smith believes the story to reflect some actual past time somehow "revealed" to Tolkien. Although it contains some original ideas, especially in the chapter on community, this book lacks depth and clarity of expression.