Christmas is upon us, and Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit movie has recently premiered, which reminds me of a great book I’ve been meaning to recommend. Anyone looking for a Christmas gift for fans of Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth should take a look at T. M. Doran’s novel, Toward the Gleam (from Ignatius Press, available in hardback, ereader, and audio editions; get the Kindle version from Amazon.) It is both an homage to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and a gripping tale in its own right.
The makers of the book’s trailer (see below) definitely wanted to draw attention to the connection between Doran’s novel and Tolkien’s.The cover art design for the book should also remind readers of LOTR. Here’s Toward the Gleam, cover designed by John Herreid and executed by a wonderful Catholic artist, Daniel Mitsui. You can see that it incorporates some of the design elements from the well-known covers of the 1986 Houghton Mifflin edition (below), such as the runic message around the edge, and iconic scenes from the story. Herreid’s design actually incorporates lots of little visual clues to important elements of Doran’s story, which takes place not in Middle Earth but in Britain and Europe during Tolkien’s lifetime.
Without providing spoilers, I’ll just say that Toward the Gleam is chockablock with thinly disguised fictional versions of real life figures from Tolkien’s life and times, which readers will have fun recognizing. More importantly, however, is the way this real-world (but entirely fictional) tale parallels that of Tolkien’s famous romance, Lord of the Rings. (To say more about that would spoil the fun.) Additionally, imbedded in the plot is an exploration of the various modern philosophies that gave rise to the two great wars that plagued Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and that continue to cause grave problems in our own day. Besides all this, Toward the Gleam is a suspenseful tale with a love story embedded in it. There’s something for everyone!
No Tolkien or Inklings fan should fail to read this book. Even those who have not read Lord of the Rings or who know little about Tolkien can enjoy this novel, but I suspect they will be intrigued enough to want to read Tolkien after they have finished Toward the Gleam.
UPDATE 2015 I’ve re-read this book and am happy to say that it passes my “good book” test — i.e., it is even more enjoyable upon rereading. The second time around, I was less preoccupied with recognizing the historical figures and philosophical arguments, and better able just to enjoy the story-telling. You certainly don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to read this book — but you will probably want to read (or re-read) Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after you finish Doran’s Toward the Gleam. Full of good stuff, and still highly recommended!