T. M. Doran’s Toward the Gleam
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.) Doran’s novel is both an homage to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and a gripping tale in its own right.
As you can see in the brief video below, the makers of the book’s trailer 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 Lord of the Rings. Toward the Gleam’s cover was 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 that point to important elements of Doran’s story, which takes place not in Middle Earth but in England and Europe during Tolkien’s lifetime.
Fascinating Premise, Intriguing Parallels
So what is Toward the Gleam about? Without too many spoilers, I’ll just say that this story starts from a speculative premise: What if J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t make up the story in Lord of the Rings, but actually got it from an impossibly-old manuscript that he discovered by chance and then translated? It’s a fascinating premise, and I think that alone would be enough to attract readers. Fortunately, though, there is more than an interesting premise—there is a tale of intrigue that keeps roping in this mild-mannered Oxford don with a fascination for ancient literature, and finally consumes his life.
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. “John Hill” (the pseudonym by which the Tolkien figure is known in the story) is forced by circumstances into the Frodo-esque role of being the guardian of a powerful artifact that could hold the seeds of our world’s destruction. I’ll let you read the story and work out on your own all of the ways that this story echoes the tale of Frodo and his fellowship of the ring. Additionally, imbedded in the plot of Doran’s story 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 which continue to cause grave problems in our own day. Besides all this, it is a suspenseful tale wrapped around a love story. 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!
UPDATE 2019: After I read this book for the first time, I struck up a Facebook acquaintance with its author on Facebook—pure fangirl stuff. I was surprised and delighted when he got in touch with me two or three years ago, in need of an editor for a possible sequel to Toward the Gleam. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to help him bring this new story to the world, and the resulting book, The Lucifer Ego, was published in 2018 independently by the author, T. M. Doran. (Toward the Gleam is still available from Ignatius Press, either directly or via online booksellers.)
I’ll write about the second book someday soon, from a reader’s standpoint, not an editor’s—because I love The Lucifer Ego just as much as I did the original. The more recent book intertwines elements of Doran’s original story (about “John Hill and his finding of the ancient manuscript) with a contemporary tale of drama and suspense that shows that “the Red Book” continues to fascinate and to attract powerful forces of both good and evil. You can buy The Lucifer Ego: Sequel to Toward the Gleam on Amazon. You may also like to read this interview with T. M. Doran on Catholic World Report.