What do Martin Luther King, Jr., Pablo Neruda and J.R.R. Tolkien have in common? A willingness to follow the voice of vocation, on one hand, and an enduring influence, on the other. King helped the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s adopt nonviolent direct action as its core principle, and has since become the primary symbol of that movement. Neruda, the Chilean poet-diplomat who wrote drafts of his eminently translatable poetry with green ink as a sign of hope, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and served Chile’s ambassador to France. Over the course of several decades, Tolkien used his expertise as a philologist and his life-long interest in existing myths and legends to fashion Middle-earth. His stories have thrilled millions.
Here are a few books that attempt to unveil the worlds of these three men:
- Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation by Jonathan Rieder — A fascinating look into the origins and context of King’s famous letter from jail, which was originally written in response to a newspaper editorial authored by white, “moderate” ministers. Interesting tidbit: Barbara Tuchman’s then-recently published history of World War I, The Guns of August (a great read!), influenced the mentality of members of the Kennedy administration during that crucial summer of 1963.
- Pablo Neruda: Late & Posthumous Poems, 1968-1974 edited by Ben Belitt — In his introductory attempt to unearth the value of poetry in general, Manuel Duran writes, “On our earth before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible extraordinary family of man.” He goes on to laud Neruda’s poetry for its connection to the physical world — Neruda loved the sea and collecting seashells — “There is poetry to spare in the hands of a craftsman who caresses the wood or the metal given him to shape with the magic of his craft.”
- Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy…Classic Stories that Inspired the Author of The Lord of the Rings — Traces the origins of Middle-earth and modern fantasy back to the Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Icelandic Eddas, and the more contemporary fairy stories and folklore traditions of Western Europe.