An unmistakable labor of love for those who share the affection and the preabsorbing metaphysical concerns -- would it have diminished Frodo morally to have refused the trust of the ring? What does Sauron's character tell us about the utlimate nature of evil? Is there a natural hierarchy among the free peoples? It's the sort of preface C.S. Lewis might have written (did write, for Paradise Lost) and the resemblance holds, vague but lingering, in the tone as well as the topics. Of course Middle Earth is not quite comparable to Milton's hell and heaven, and so Kocher gets further out, on a gnarled limb expounding its history and theology. After the first few chapters (on Tolkien's technique and the less engrossing Hobbit) the subject is no longer a handful of books, but a whole moral universe. But this kind of imaginative dissolve and the scrupulous, enthusiastic style of exegesis it fosters are very much in Tolkien's own spirit and extend something of the same eccentric charm. Perhaps after all it's the only really appropriate mode.