John Garth, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien

Serious fans and scholars of J.R.R. Tolkien need little introduction to John Garth.  His Tolkien and the Great War (2003) is among the best books of this century on the creator of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  With urgency and clarity, Garth laid bare the biographical and historical roots of Tolkien’s legendarium, along with the unique gifts and vision of the man who gave it life.

In the acknowledgments for The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, Garth promises that another major book on Tolkien’s creative process is in the works.  Until then, what an delectable hors d’oeuvre we have to sate our appetites!   Focusing on “the places that inspired Middle-Earth,” Worlds is gorgeously illustrated with snapshots, paintings and drawings from Tolkien’s life, along with many more maps, illustrations and stunning photographs (sampled below).   

But it’s Garth’s commentary — always accessible, always deeply empathetic  — that leaves us richer for the reading.  He probes much farther than any mechanical equation, i.e. “Tolkien saw this [location/building/natural feature] and this place from the legendarium was obviously the result.”  In fact, knocking down some of the wilder theories in play is part of his brief — the family names in the Shire don’t all come from two villages in Kentucky; the “two towers” aren’t a dystopian refraction of Birmingham’s dark satanic mills.  Instead, Garth strives to see Tolkien’s art as the holistic fruit of his life — the circumstances, people, environment, culture and education that shaped him, working together organically with his mind and heart, loves and hates, interests, friendships, education, vocations and travels.

The result can seem unsystematic, yet it’s satisfyingly thorough, surveying how Tolkien drew on the creation he knew to realize his sub-created imaginary world over six decades.  The chapter “The Land of Luthien: from Faerie to Britain” is perhaps Garth’s most delightful achievement here, tracing the evolving picture of Middle-Earth and its correspondences with this world from 1918’s The Book of Lost Tales through to The Lord of the Rings.  But there’s a great deal more on display, as Garth muses on the impressions that seas, mountains, rivers and lakes, forests, centers of learning and towers of guard made on Tolkien — not just in his early life, but throughout his years as a scholar, soldier, husband, father, linguist, storyteller, colleague and friend.  The penultimate chapter, “Places of War” focuses once again on the crucible of the Western Front; Garth is in his element here, digging ever deeper into how the Battle of the Somme and its aftermath refined Tolkien the man, ultimately unleashing Tolkien the legend-maker.

For all this, John Garth and the design team at Quarto Publishing deserve heartfelt thanks.  Words and images work in concert throughout The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, convincingly showing how the bardic depths of Middle-Earth are firmly founded on Tolkien’s experience in — and meditations about — the wonder and beauty of the fields we know.

To order The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien direct from the publisher at 50% off (ending June 28 at 11:59 pm EDT), click here.

— Rick Krueger





The greatest day of my young, innocent happy life

Spirit of Cecilia

By Richard K. Munro

Hank Aaron in the early 1960’s

When I was a kid (about 12) I wrote a short essay: “THE GREATEST DAY IN MY LIFE” It was about my friendship with Hank Aaron from afar. He knew me, in a way, I always had the same banner out there “NAIL ‘EM DOWN Hammerin’ Hank.” He always waved at us when he went out to right field.

And when the cop said, “This kid has your book on its first day out! What do you think? Could you sign it for the kid? ” Hank said, “What’s the kid’s name?”Rickey” , said the big good natured cop. The game was about tobegin. He signed it and they passed to book down the dugout from player to player and back to the cop and then to my dad and me. He signed it with my Dad’s scorecard pencil.


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Of Fallen statues and father Serra: the radical “cancel” iconoclastic movement of 2020

by Richard K Munro:

Personally, I have no trouble with renaming military bases whose time has come. Most of those bases in the South and elsewhere were named circa 1917-1920 to appease White Democratic segregationists. For the same reasons many federal institutions remained segregated until President Kennedy.. I have no problem with town councils or state governments deciding to remove pubic statuary if it is done in a democratic way with due process. Statues could be placed in museum and given additional context. But destroying the original inscription and defacing the statue or plaque seems sinister to me. Something out of 1984. For example many old Civil War monuments refer to “Negros” or “Colored troops”. In some cases these monuments were put up by ex-slaves themselves. At the time, “Negro” and “Colored” were the accepted and popular terms. Sometimes (in Winslow Homer paintings ) the word Ethiopian is used for African-American but that was not common. It makes no sense to go back and destroy every book, every document, every monument which uses non PC languages.

I am totally opposed however for iconoclastic mobs to deface and destroy in the dead of the night historical monuments and displays which are also public art.

This is not totally new. There have been attacks of Columbus Statues and the statues of Spanish missionaries before usually with red paint accusing them as colonizers killers and slavers. Columbus was certainly a master mariner and a colonizer but he never held a single black slave in his entire life not did he introduce Black slavery to the Americas. Similarly, Father Serra never held a Black slave either, in fact he prohibited slavery at the California Missions.

There was a controversy about the Mohave Cross a number of years ago not far from where I live. It was a World War One memorial to fallen local soldiers. It was shamefully in a box during the back and forth trials because people said they could see it from a public highway and that was offensive to them . The Mohave Cross finally triumphed like some other public war memorials or crosses but it was vandalized and destroyed by opponent AFTER the court case. It has been restored (and is on private land) but it is sad the original monument from 80 years ago was destroyed. The Supreme Court has upheld the legality of public crosses as memorials to the fallen. There are many many crosses in Arlington also but also symbols of other religions and some graves have no symbol at all. The reason is every soldier, sailor, airman or Marine designates his or her preferred religious affiliation. If the fallen warrior is Jewish it would have a Jewish symbol if Muslim a crescent moon etc. et. The reason there are so many white crosses at Arlington, Normandy, Anzio, Bastogne, Salerno is because the majority of the Americans who fell there were from Christian communities. Allowing them to be honored by crosses is free exercise of religion and in any case the cross has for many a non-religious meaning just the acknowledgement of the fallen warrior.

I am totally against destroying or defacing WWII, WW, Civil War monuments in cemeteries or National Park battlefields. I am totally against the Spanish missions being destroyed or defaced. I am totally against all public art as to Spanish missionaries being destroyed or defaced. In San Francisco not only was Francis Scott Key statue toppled but a statue of Miguel de Cervantes was also vandalized (I am not sure of the extent of its damage). I also see in newspapers noble souls like Father Kino, Father Crespi and Father Serra being trashed as cruel slave holders who brutalized and exterminated the native Americans.

The fact is Father Serra -and we know a lot about his service and actions BECAUSE of his letters and the notes of Father Crespi did not allow any slavery at all in the Spanish Missions. Escaped black slaves in the Spanish Missions in Florida or New Mexico or California were considered free men Father Serra personally baptized Black persons in the Catholic church and married them to White Californios or Native Americans.

The most famous example is PIo Pico was the last Mexican governor of California. Pio Pico was legally “Spanish/Mexican” when California joined the Union but was of African descent. So Serra helped free slaves and did no allow for slavery in the Spanish Missions while he was the president of the missions.

We know from his own accounts and the accounts of Father Crespi that he disciplined Native Americans who broke Mission rules -stealing, getting drunk in one instance entering the sleeping quarters of the female neophytes (some as young as nine years old) and sexually assaulting and raping them. On this occasion -it was very rare for Father Serra himself to administer punishment -he did not like but on this occasion (well documented ) Serra publicly flogged the “renegade’. They had a strict discipline at the Missions those who stayed had to work and contribute and had to follow the rules. But it isn’t true that the Indians were press-ganged into the Missions. Many came because water (due to wells and irrigation) and food was more readily available.

Father Serra (St. Junipero) dedicated his life to defend the Indians and to teach them. He and the Franciscan Fathers taught them pottery, leatherwork, metallurgy, ranching, candle making, preserving foods in oil. He introduced many new plants and crops to California like citrus -lemons and oranges. He vastly increased food production through ranching of sheep and cattle. He vastly improved agricultural production by introducing irrigation. He taught the natives music and sophisticated musical instruments were constructed at the missions. He established the first libraries in the history of California. He instructed the Indians in religion and helped assimilate them to Spanish society by learning Spanish. Father Serra, St. Junipero, was a good man in his time. This does not mean he was a perfect person who advocated for woman’s suffrage, self-government, universal abolition of slavery, preservation of the environment and all native languages and customs. We have no knowledge if he advocated the independence of California or Mexico. As far as we know he was a loyal Spanish Subject who expected his missions to continue indefinitely under Spanish rule and under the Spanish monarchy. At the time he lived there was no Mexican nationality. The world Latin American did not even exist. We do know that Serra seemed to sympathize with the American Revolution but he was mostly concerned with his own region.

Very importantly Serra and the Spanish fathers saw to it that local women (Native Americans and Californios) married foreign immigrants and marred Spanish soldiers. So immigrants and mixed race people became Spanish citizens (subjects). The Spanish Empire was not a democracy nor a perfect society but it was a humane society where local peoples had rule of law, relative peace and prosperity. It was never a society that practiced strict segregation of the races. What evidence is there that the Spanish missions were not Nazi-style concentration camps of extermination?

I can think of two powerful pieces of evidence. One was this: when the Mexican government dissolved the Spanish Missions the Indians who lived there did not want to leave and wanted to stay with the Spanish fathers. Why would they stay if they thought they were being ruled tyrannically? And another is this. Why are there so man Mexicans, Peruvians (and Filipinos also?) Because the Indian/or native mestizo populations thrived and increased hugely in the years of Spanish rule.

It is true that the Spanish did not, usually (the Jesuits are an exception) teach or preserve the native customs or dialects. The Franciscans, in general, were not great scholars but practical workers and farmers. But what we know of ancient native languages and civilizations is almost entirely because of what Spanish missionaries documented and preserved. The native tribes of California would not have survived independently as hunter gatherers as California’s economy and agriculture developed. Their only hope for survival as individuals and families was in an around the Spanish missions and ranches. The native Americans and Filipinos had hundreds, probably thousands of languages and dialects. Some have survived Quecha, Aymara , Guarani and Tagalog have survived precisely because Spanish missionaries created grammars and dictionaries in those tongues (this was chiefly the work of Jesuits) and evangelized using those languages as well as Spanish. It is wrong to characterize Spanish rule as equivalent to Nazi rule and to compare Spanish Missions to Nazi concentration camps. It is wrong, it is unjust, it is a calumny to do so. It is a historical falsehood. In short much of the criticisms of Spanish rule and Spanish missionaries are just propaganda. They give a completely false, incomplete and distorted. view of Spanish culture and history.

Who Actually Discovered America? ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Yet, was Columbus the first to discover America? Well, let’s leave aside the fact that at least three separate migrations of people in pre-history migrated to the Americas to become the Native American Indians. Obviously, we leave this aside merely for the sake of argument. Once, when my family visited Plymouth Rock, my oldest son looked down at the moment—a massive rock stamped 1620—and asked, “Dad, how did the Indians know that the Pilgrims would arrive in 1620”? A great question to be sure, and we too often—as Americans and as scholars—imagine the American Indians standing around, doing next to nothing, impatiently waiting for the Europeans to arrive so that their history might begin.

So, aside from this… there are actually five rivals to the claim about which non-American Indian discovered the Americas.
— Read on

An Interview With Neal Morse

Randy George, Neal Morse, and Mike Portnoy

I think Neal Morse is one of the most exciting and important artists working in music today. Since his embrace of Christianity almost twenty years ago, he has stayed true to his faith while writing and performing some of the most thoughtful and original music in all of rock. However,  his upcoming release, with long-time collaborators Randy George (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums), is a collection of covers. It is the third album in their wonderfully fun Cover to Cover series, and Inside Out music is rereleasing the first two volumes with it in remastered form.

The new volume, Cov3r to Cov3r, features songs originally performed by Yes, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Gerry Rafferty, Badfinger, King Crimson, Squeeze, Tom Petty, and Lenny Kravitz. While some are obvious hits (their version of Rafferty’s Baker Street is killer) others are deeper cuts, like Crimson’s One More Red Nightmare.

I had the pleasure of chatting with him on the phone while he was out walking with his daughter, enjoying a beautiful summer day in Tennessee.

Thanks for sharing a little of your time with me to discuss yours, Mike’s, and Randy’s new covers album! I think we’re pretty close to the same age, and if I made a massive mixtape of my favorite songs from high school and college, it would include every song on all three volumes of Cover to Cover. How do you all decide which songs to record?

Thanks! Mike loves to do covers, and he is the driving force behind most of these songs. The first two volumes are mostly bonus tracks from earlier albums. We’d finish an album, and the record company would ask us to do some songs for bonus tracks. We all love covers, because they are a wonderful way to blow off some steam after playing long and complicated prog tunes. If we’re on the road, and I’m doing a soundcheck, I can start playing some Zeppelin, and Mike will come running out of the dressing room to join in!

My favorite moment on the new album is pairing up Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed with Tempted. Whose idea was that?

That was mine – I used to play Black Coffee in Bed back in the ‘80s, along with Petty’s Running Down a Dream.

When I first heard the opening track, Yes’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Required”, I was wondering, “Who the heck is that singing?” Then I saw in the promo notes that it’s Jon Davison!

Yeah, we got together with him through playing Cruise to the Edge. When we looked at recording that song, I asked myself, “Can I sing this?”, and I realized there’s no way! So we were really glad Jon agreed to sing it.

I think I actually like your version of Baker Street better than the original. I’ve watched the video for it several times and  I get chills when you play your guitar solo. Who is the mystery sax player?

Thanks, man! That’s Jim Hoke, a local Nashville musician. He also does a great job on One More Red Nightmare, which is one of my favorite King Crimson songs.

Listening to all three volumes, it sounds like the three of you just had a blast recording these songs. What was it like recording during a pandemic?

We actually finished our recording before the pandemic hit. Mike recorded the drums in November, I did my stuff in December, and we mixed it in December and January. My “pandemic album” is my upcoming album, Solo Gratia, which I’m really excited about.

Are there any plans for you, Mike, and Randy to do some shows in support of Cover to Cover?

Well, we are going to play a bunch of covers the first night at Morsefest this September. Because of the virus, we have to limit the number of people who can be there in person, but we are also streaming it live, and we have some cool online VIP events planned, like charades and other interactive games.

I have the original versions of the first 2 Cover to Covers, and I notice you’ve changed the track order on the reissues. Why?

They are? I didn’t know that. Ha ha! Mike must have done that. He is the man for figuring out what the best order of tracks should be for albums. It’s his gift, you know, and we figure, let him use it!

I think Randy George is an unsung hero of the bass.  I’ve always wondered, how did you two first connect?

Oh, that’s an interesting story. He actually called me up – we had a mutual friend, and he asked me if I was interested in playing on a solo album of his. I think I was too busy at the time, and I put it off.  Then I had just left Spock’s Beard, I think it was around 2002, and he said he was willing to work with me if I had any projects. He drove all the way from Seattle to Tennessee to audition for my Testimony album, and we’ve been together ever since.

After Cover to Cover Vol 1 -3 is released in July, what other projects are you getting ready to unleash on the world?

Well, MorseFest is coming up in September, there’s a new Transatlantic album coming out next year, and I’m working on the mixes for my Solo Gratia album.

What are you listening to these days?

Ah, let’s see… mostly the Solo Gratia mixes. I am also listening to the audiobook of Andy Stanley’s Irresistible. As far as music goes, I was listening to Pandora’s Neal Morse station, and a really cool Frost* song came up. I’m a big fan of them.

One last question – what role should Christian artists play in today’s culture?

Well, I think we should be pointing people toward the Lord. I want people to experience God through my music; I’m trying to express the glory of God’s heart.

Yeah, I’m glad you didn’t get stuck in the CCM ghetto; you’re taking your music to whomever will listen to it.

You know, the old saying is true – God will provide. He has given me some incredible music for Solo Gratia. I’m the performer, but God is the director. I’m like a piece of glass reflecting his love and glory.

Can I make a request for Volume 4 of Cover to Cover? Something by Jellyfish, and something from Joe Walsh!

Ha Ha! Yeah, I know there are a lot of people who are fans of them, so that might happen one day.

Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Neal.

Sure! Take care!

Cover to Cover Volumes 1 – 3 will be released July 24, 2020 on Inside Out Music, on CD, vinyl, and digital formats.

You can order tickets to Morsefest 2020 at




The Odd History of the Whig Party ~ The Imaginative Conservative

When Andrew Jackson delivered his famous (or infamous, depending on one’s point of view) veto message regarding the re-chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, his most adamant supporters labeled it “a second Declaration of Independence.” While Jackson’s message was excellent, it certainly was not at the level of the Declaration of Independence. In a less hyperbolic fashion, one pro-Jackson paper stated: in “the final decision of the President between Aristocracy and the People—he stands by the People.”

This newspaper statement is almost certainly true, but not everyone agreed that the president should ever stand “by the People.” The president’s job, they believed, was to execute the laws that the representatives of the People—through the House—had drafted into law. To proclaim himself the representative of the people was to violate all that was sacred in the Constitutional understanding of the American Founders as expressed in Article II of that glorious document. Even the most adamant supporter of a strong executive, Alexander Hamilton, had feared that Article II might be the “fetus of monarchy.” To the opponents of Jackson, he had crossed a line that should never have been approached. One opposition paper proclaimed, not without justice: “the King upon the Throne: The People in the Dust!” Other papers mocked Jackson as a monarch, a king, and a dictator. All critics came together and began to refer to the president as “King Andrew,” and one of the most important political cartoons of that age depicted an old and wary man, sitting on his throne, with his feet resting on a shattered constitution.
— Read on

The Economics of Marriage in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Greta Gerwig’s big-screen adaptation of Little Women offers an emphasis on women’s economic independence that has precipitated some protest from purists, who correctly point out that such moments as Amy’s “marriage is an economic arrangement” speech are not in Louisa May Alcott’s novel. What such criticism misses, however, is the reminder Ms. Gerwig’s script provides of just how central the story of Little Women is to the American literary landscape. Since the novel’s publication in 1868, the four March sisters and their neighbor Laurie have lived in the imaginations of generations of Americans and readers across the globe, inspiring plays, musicals, movies, television series, and even Japanese anime. Each adaptation maintains the broad strokes of the story but alters the details to emphasize, and sometimes completely reimagine, the moral of the story. Ms. Gerwig’s retelling of Little Women maintains the major aspects of Alcott’s beloved novel, but rearranges them to serve as a commentary on the very real lack of economic opportunities available to middle- and upper-class women (really, the genteel poor) in nineteenth-century America.
— Read on