The Treason of Saruman - Critical responses
Click on links to go to article notes:
1. Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, by Brian Rosebury, 2003.
2. "‘An industrious little devil’: E. V. Gordon as friend and collaborator with Tolkien", by Douglas A. Anderson, 2003.
3. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England, by Jane Chance, 2001.
4. Tolkien After All These Years, by Douglas A. Anderson, 2001
5. "Taking the Part of Trees: Eco-Conflict in Middle-earth", by Verlyn Flieger, 2000.
6. "The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings", by Richard C. West, 1975.
7. "‘A continuing and evolving creation’: Distractions in the later History of Middle-earth", by Wayne G. Hammond, 2000.
8. "The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth", by David Bratman, 2000.
9. "Progress Report on the Variorum Tolkien", by Richard C. West, 1969-70.
10. "Tolkien’s Cauldron: Northern Literature and The Lord of the Rings", by Gloriana St. Clair, accessed 2005.
11. "Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a Look Back at Tolkien Criticism since 1982", by Michael D. C. Drout and Hilary Wynne, 2000.
12. The Road to Middle-earth, revised and expanded edition, Tom Shippey, 2003.
13. "Re-Vision: The Lord of the Rings in Print and On Screen", by Diana Paxson, 2004.
14. "Colloquy Live: Frodo Lives! And So Does Tolkien Scholarship". Live online forum with Michael D. C. Drout, 2004
15. "The Years’ Work in Tolkien Studies: Reviews: The History of The Lord of the Rings", by Douglas A. Anderson, 1994.
1. Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, by Brian Rosebury, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.
The second point that needs to be admitted is that aspects of the posthumous management, marketing and celebration of Tolkien’s work since his death in 1973 have inevitable invited skepticism and irritation, much of it unfair but some of it at least understandable. The vast commercial value of the Tolkien account to the various publishers who have acquired it is well known, and the prominence in the bookshops of HarperCollins’s seemingly inexhaustible output of reprints and spin-offs (audiotapes, calendars, diaries, art books, postcards and the like) would tempt many people to lob a rhetorical grenade or two in its direction. Moreover, much of the actual newly published work by Tolkien could not be expected to get, and did not get, favorable reviews – or before long, reviews at all, except from the most dedicated enthusiasts. The period 1983-96 saw the posthumous publication, under the devoted and persuasive editorship of Christopher Tolkien, of volume after volume of unfinished writings, including not only incomplete fragments but also justifiably discarded or revised drafts. These volumes (especially the series called The History of Middle-earth) are of value to scholars interested in Tolkien’s creative development, to whom they represent, in effect, uniquely well-transcribed and well-presented manuscript sources; and they include works, or passages, of considerable interest and beauty. But in view of the high proportion or rudimentary, immature and mishandled material they also contain, it is difficult to feel sure that their commercial publication at such exhaustive length has been wise (I accept that there would have been practical and evaluative difficulties attached to selective publication), and I take leave to doubt the thoroughness with which they are usually read. No author’s reputation could escape a certain risk from the publication of such materials on such a scale – certainly not that of Tolkien, who was, as I shall argue later, a slow developer who took many years to free himself from compositional misconceptions and unhelpful influences. (pp 3-4)
2. "‘An industrious little devil’: E. V. Gordon as friend and collaborator with Tolkien", by Douglas A. Anderson, in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. Jane Chance, London: Routledge, 2003.
Tolkien’s poem [The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth . . . ] was first published in 1953 as a contribution to Essays and Studies, where, as a literary creation, it fits somewhat uneasily. Tolkien had certainly written it before 1945, and Shippey points out [in his essay "Tolkien and ‘The Homecoming . . . ‘"] that some of Tolkien’s commentary, published along with the poem, seems to have been composed in direct response to Gordon’s statements in his 1937 edition of The Battle of Maldon. However, the inspiration for Tolkien’s poem seems to predate Gordon’s edition by some years. Christopher Tolkien has published a fragment of an earlier conception of his father’s verse-play (then in rhyming dialogue), which he dates to the early 1930s, and he references a still earlier text (Treason, 106-7). Thus, while the verse-play itself might have existed before Gordon’s edition, the additional commentary, added by Tolkien to the poem (probably in order to justify its inclusion in a collection of literary criticism), may be the only part directly influenced by Gordon’s work. (p. 21)
3. Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England, by Jane Chance, Lexington: U. Press of Kentucky, 2001, rev. ed.
In defining the parameters of the work’s structure, [note 8] Tolkien declares that "[t]he only units of any structural significance are the books. These originally had each its title."[note 9] . . . book 2, "The Ring Goes South"; book 3, "The Treason of Isengard"; book 4, "The Ring Goes East"; . . . the title of each thematically and symbolically supports the crowning title, "The Lord of the Rings," by revealing some aspect of the adversary or the hero through a related but subordinate title that fixes on the Ring’s movements and the ambiguity of its "owner" or "bearer," . . . (p. 145)
[note 8]: For other views of structure in the trilogy, see, for example, Helms, "Tolkien’s World: The Structure and Aesthetic of The Lord of the Rings," chap. 5 of Tolkien’s World.
[note 9]: Quoted from a letter by J. R. R. Tolkien appended to Everett, p. 87.
The two towers of the title belong to Saruman and in a sense to Shelob because the quest of the remainder of the Fellowship in book 3 culminates in an attack on Orthanc and because the quest of Frodo and Sam in book 4 leads to their "attack" on Cirith Ungol, the sentry tower at the border of Mordor guarded by the giant spider . . . Through these two monsters represented by their towers, this second part of The Lord of the Rings defines the nature of evil in greater detail than the first part. Thus, it also introduces the notion of the Christian deadly sins embodied in the monsters (found in the Ancrene Wisse), which must be combated by very Germanic heroes. (p. 162)
Tolkien shows the analogy between the two monsters and their towers by structuring their books similarly. The perversion of mind embodied in Saruman is expressed by the difficulty in communication through or understanding of words or gestures in book 3, and the perversion of body personified in Shelob is expressed by the difficulty in finding food and shelter, or hospitality, in book 4. Specifically, Wormtongue, Grishnakh, and Saruman all display aspects of the higher sins of pride, avarice, envy, and wrath through their incomprehension or manipulation of language. Gollum and Shelob both illustrate the lower sins of gluttony, sloth, and lechery. Each book centers on the adventures of only part of the Fellowship, the nobler members in book 3 (Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn, and Merry and Pippin) and the more humble members in book 4 (Sam and Frodo). (p. 164)
If book 3 demonstrates the intellectual nature of sin, then book 4 demonstrates its physical, or material, nature. Although the structure of Shelob’s tower of Cirith Ungol ends this book as Orthanc ends the third, the tower is never described in this part. Instead, another tower—Minas Morgul—introduces the weary group to the land they approach at the book’s end . . . As a type of corpse it focuses attention on the human body, whose perverse desires preoccupy Tolkien in this book. (p. 168)
Chance maintains that Book IV is about the body, about food. She cites the focus on the disgusting Gollum, Shelob, the Dead Marshes, the rabbit stew episode, even the hospitality of Faramir and Gollum’s hunt for fish in the Forbidden Pool.
4. Tolkien After All These Years, by Douglas A. Anderson, in Meditations on Middle-Earth, ed. Karen Haber, 2001
The volumes of the History of Middle-earth series, which cover the writing of The Lord of the Rings, are a special treat, for in them we learn a great deal about how Tolkien worked as a writer. Christopher Tolkien’s account—in essence the history of the writing of a book—is unlike any other literary history, for in it we see the authorial process itself at work, and in great detail. Tolkien made many hasty notes to himself, and lengthy outlines, about the direction of the story, about why it could or couldn’t go such and such a way. All these thoughts and arguments are written out. We literally see Tolkien thinking on paper, and we can share with Tolkien the wonder and bewilderment of new characters appearing as if from nowhere. What a privileged viewpoint this is. (p. 144-5)
5. "Taking the Part of Trees: Eco-Conflict in Middle-earth", by Verlyn Flieger, in J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth, ed. George Clark and Daniel Timmons, Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 2000.
Flieger argues that Tolkien both tries to make forests scary and dangerous, and sympathetic as the victims of people. She points out that both the Hobbits and Saruman are seen to take axes to woods, but one is considered positive, one negative. She shows that the character of Treebeard contains this inherent conflict of sympathy in Tolkien.
Fangorn and Treebeard began to take shape in the "third phase," during which the character of Treebeard altered drastically. Both Fangorn and Treebeard make their first appearance in Gandalf’s account to Frodo . . . "I was caught in Fangorn," says Gandalf, "and spent many weary days as prisoner of the Giant Treebeard" (Shadow 363). Neither a tree nor a good guy as yet, this Treebeard is unmistakably a villain whose imprisonment of Gandalf adumbrates the more purposeful imprisonment by Saruman that eventually replaced it . . . .By the time Merry and Pippin escape the orcs and arrive at Fangorn Forest in what Christopher Tolkien calls the "fourth phase," many things had changed. Tolkien’s comment to W. H. Auden that "Fangorn Forest was an unforeseen adventure" (Letters 216-17) almost certainly refers to the hobbits’ encounter with a Treebeard now not only completely treeified, but radically reimagined. Indeed, it is tempting to speculate that the apparently self-contradictory speech of Tom Bombadil [about the Old Forest hating those that try to destroy it] quoted above may have been one cause, at least, of the change in his character . . . may have led to the development of a tree guardian who speaks for the trees in their own voice. Tolkien had written himself into what, when it is divorced from the undeniable spell of the story, is clearly an untenable position. He has espoused two unreconcilable attitudes with regard to nature wild and nature tamed. (p. 154)
She does not cite Treason of Isengard, but check to find out where Treebeard first becomes "good", not "bad" – Shadow, or Treason. Oooh: She does not cite the location of the transformation, because of course that is how it is in the final published version in Two Towers. So maybe this is not a good example of the use of Treason in analyzing the LotR’s development!
6. "The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings", by Richard C. West, in A Tolkien Compass, ed. Jared Lobdell, La Salle, Open Court: 1975.
As George H. Thompson notes, Tolkien permits himself a certain neatness of plot at beginning and end, while reserving the most complex interweaving for the central portion [note 20]. . . . Parallel plot lines in Book III, "The Treason of Isengard," are Gandalf’s awakening of the Rohirrim, and Merry’s and Pippin’s awakening of the ents to the menace of Isengard, an imitation Mordor.
Even a reader unconcerned with literary form or structure must notice, at least unconsciously, the apparently meandering manner of the plot. The meeting with the ents in Book III will serve as an illustration . . . thus the chain of events can be traced as far back in the history of the ring as the reader pleases. Such casual collisions of disparate people and events—in a manner familiar because it is the way in which things seem to us to happen in our own lives—knit the fabric of the story. The ents are hardly creatures who wait in the wings to be called on to attack Saruman; rather as Treebeard tells the hobbits, "‘I go my own way; but your way may go along with mine for a while!’" . . . Removing them from the narrative would destroy the cohesiveness of the whole. The narrative is not loose, except to a superficial view; everything is interconnected. (pp. 83-84)
7. "‘A continuing and evolving creation’": Distractions in the later History of Middle-earth", by Wayne G. Hammond, in Tolkien’s Legendarium, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter, Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press: 2000.
[Tolkien] never made [The Hobbit] thoroughly consistent with The Lord of the Rings . . . the book would have lost much of its original charm if it had undergone too great a revision.
The Lord of the Rings was a very different matter. It was not written for children, after its earliest workings; and it was written to be published, whereas The Hobbit had been meant for a private audience and only by chance had come to the attention of the world. The History of Middle-earth shows in detail the remarkable pains that Tolkien took to make The Lord of the Rings as good, as consistent, as correct as he possibly could, for the sake of readers he did not know but could only anticipate. It says a good deal about his character that he assumed such a significant burden of responsibility not only to those who had read and liked The Hobbit, but even more so to a public he could not be sure would exist, for a much longer and darker book that might never be printed. (p. 22-23)
8. "The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth", by David Bratman, in Tolkien’s Legendarium, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter, Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press: 2000.
Some [scholars] have even implied, though rarely stating it directly, that Tolkien lacked the discrimination to properly evaluate his own work. Others have applied, or misapplied, Tolkien’s own dictum (borrowed from Dasent) that "We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled" (T, 22). They believe that The History of Middle-earth is a bony ox that should never have been published. (p. 71)
2. T. A. Shippey discusses this point without endorsing it in the second edition of The Road to Middle-earth (255-260). [see passage from Shippey here]
The third style found in the Elder Days material is a cold, clear, unadorned, but pure and flowing style that Tolkien used mostly for essays and other nonnarrative fictions . . . This is the style of most of The Lord of the Rings appendices, and it is also the style of most of Unfinished Tales. It may therefore be called the Appendical style. (p. 74)
Part 1 of volume XII examines the drafts for the prologue and appendices of The Lord of the Rings in the same way that volumes VI-IX, "The History of The Lord of the Rings" subseries, do for the main text. (P. 75)
He is pointing out that Vol. XII on the Prologue and Appendices is properly part of the History of the LotR subseries.
Some narratives, that is, works that are stories rather than essays in format, are also affiliated with the Appendical style. Most important of these is The Lord of the Rings itself, in the writing of which Tolkien forged this style’s new accessibility, and the narratives postdating it show a distinct resemblance to it. Perhaps the finest is Aldarion and Erendis from Unfinished Tales. . . . Having completed The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was at the height of his storytelling powers at the time he wrote The New Shadow and Aldarion and Erendis, and the completed portions of these tales move smoothly and compellingly. They could have been successful stories on every level if the author had brought them to completion. (p. 78)
He applies his "Appendical style" characterization to the fictional prose of LotR.
The History of Middle-earth had begun with two rationales: to demonstrate that the mythological background behind The Lord of the Rings is not a cardboard fake, but has a real existence of its own; and to present "The Silmarillion" in its true form of multifarious and mutually contradictory versions, rather than as a single text. But neither of these purposes applies to this subseries ["The History of The Lord of the Rings"]. Unlike "The Silmarillion", The Lord of the Rings was brought to a completed form. The author made a final decision on what to keep and what to discard. This makes an enormous difference to the way the reader approaches these volumes. The subseries can be read as progress toward the goal of a completed text, which is not possible with the other books. The true value of the subseries lies in the pleasure and the instruction of watching, in the fullest of detail, a great author in the throes of creating his masterpiece.
Doubt it not: here is contained the demonstration of what makes Tolkien the greatest of all fantasy authors. Both the brilliance of his invention, and the work he put into refining it, are clearly laid out. There is a wealth of information in the drafts waiting to be tapped by enterprising scholars seeking to explore how Tolkien achieved his masterful result . As Richard C. West has written, The Lord of the Rings manuscripts are invaluable:
[quote from West’s "A Progress Report", see separate citation below]
Because the subseries refers entirely to an approved exterior text as nothing else in The History of Middle-earth does, Christopher Tolkien arranges the manuscripts in as close to pure chronological order of composition as the evidence permits. Although the entire series is roughly chronological, in most volumes related texts are put together regardless of exact chronology; but in the subseries the reader follows the author through all the byways and backtracking of the creative process, rather than directly through the course of the story told. Every time Tolkien set pen to paper, new thoughts would occur to him. His incorporation of those thoughts brought a wealth of new detail to a previously sketched story. The result of this emphasis on the evolving work is that the plot of the subseries is not so much Frodo’s quest as the tale of the author writing about it. (pp. 83-84)
At the beginning the tale is ragged indeed . . . he begins from scratch a third time . . . having fleshed out this part of the story in full, he presses on through the Council of Elrond and brings his company to Balin’s tomb in Moria before going back again for one more quick rewrite of the earlier portions.
Later on, starting with Book III, parts of the story are achieved with such fluency that it is not necessary to print the full drafts to describe their minor differences from the final text. But Book IV, Frodo’s and Sam’s journey to Mordor, is much less easily perfected. Instead of being fluent, the first drafts are clumsy, and the author knows it: "The usual ‘goblin’ stuff is not good enough here," he notes to himself (VII, 340). It is curious how much these poorly constructed drafts are reminiscent of some undistinguished published fantasy novels of recent vintage. Tolkien’s first drafts are no poorer than some people’s final drafts. To the extent that genius is inspiration, Tolkien is simply a better writer than these others, but to the extent that it’s perspiration, his superiority is entirely due to the fact that he worked harder. (p. 84-85)
In some of the early drafts for Books IV and VI, Sam easily fools guards, fights off orc soldiers, and pushes Gollum into the Cracks of Doom . . . Despite the increased fluency of the writing and the conception, misconceived but abandoned ideas such as these give the impression that Tolkien knew whereof he wrote when he gave Sam as Ringbearer wildly improbable dreams of heroism. The author was having such dreams himself . . . All these transformations show Tolkien’s skill at turning his own weaknesses in the first draft into his story’s strengths in the final draft. The hobbits’ believability as characters is partly the result of the author’s giving them his own fallacies and weaknesses in this way. (p. 85)
If meaning and significance were not always achieved easily, neither was the ideal language. Stylistic change is an important matter often passed over quietly if not silently in the commentary. There are many passages of the text where the author achieved something remarkably close to his final form in the first draft, but even in the last rewritings given, often much stylistic refinement remains to be done. Though it’s minor, subtle, and doesn’t change the narrative, stylistic polishing is important in making The Lord of the Rings the great book that it is. Tolkien’s early drafts often have a breathless, informal style with many run-on phrases, contractions, and colloquialisms; and often, especially in the opening chapters, there are points made some distance after they’re relevant, because the author had just thought of them. All these flaws are meticulously corrected in the final text. (p. 86)
Paradoxically, the subseries also offers the opportunity to correct previously unsuspected errors in the final text of The Lord of the Rings itself. In the course of his study of the manuscripts, Christopher Tolkien has uncovered numerous examples of scribal errors, especially in amanuensis typescripts, not caught during subsequent review; and "ghosts" of earlier versions of the story that were overlooked during revisions bringing previously written chapters up to the current conception. This writer has catalogued elsewhere all such errors that Christopher Tolkien noted in the course of Volumes VI-IX (Bratman, "Corrigenda"). (p. 87)
Readers curious about the "making" of The Lord of the Rings, as one might watch a documentary on the making of a favorite movie, should read The Return of the Shadow and its successors in the subseries. (p. 88)
2. A more complex argument begins with the assumption that, since Tolkien published only materials that he had brought, at least provisionally, into a finished form, he would therefore not have wanted these incomplete works published . . . There is no evidence he would object. He neither destroyed his papers nor directed his heirs to do so, as so many authors have done. The Lord of the Rings manuscripts, possibly the most controversial of all Tolkien’s literary remains, have been available for scholarly examination in the Marquette University Library, with the author’s explicit understanding, since 1958. (p. 90)
5. The most thorough and effective use to date of the drafts for this purpose is in chapters 4 and 8-9 of Verlyn Flieger’s A Question of Time. (p. 90)
9. "Progress Report on the Variorum Tolkien", by Richard C. West, in Orcrist no. 4 (1969-70), as reprinted in Bratman, "The Literary Value of The History of Middle-earth", in Tolkien’s Legendarium (2000), p. 84.
It is possible to watch the story growing as Tolkien adds, rejects, and revises. We find that he was telling no more than the truth in admitting that he initially had no idea who Strider was . . . indeed, he at first thought the name was "Trotter," so let us be grateful that he changed his mind . . . True, we witness some of the things Tolkien cancelled for good reason, but if we pick them out of the scrap heap it is only to show how wise the author was to throw them there. And sometimes we happen upon something worthwhile . . . But most of all, in examining the stages undergone by this narrative from its inception to its final form, we are privileged to witness the creation of an artistic masterpiece, and may learn something of the imaginative processes that produce this. (p. 6-7)
10. "Tolkien’s Cauldron: Northern Literature and The Lord of the Rings", by Gloriana St. Clair, unpublished book, posted on http://shelf1.library.cmu.edu/books/gloriana/gloriana.pdf, accessed Sept. 16, 2005.
No such close correlations exist for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. That Tolkien knew Norse mythology and literature is clear, that he used these works as a source of inspiration for the matter of Middle-earth is also apparent. But everything he used is changed and altered to meet the demands and needs of his original creation. Pieces of story, bits of character, descriptions of implements, themes and motifs, manners and customs are all borrowed, but nothing is left unaltered. In each instance, Tolkien changes materials to serve the needs of his own stories. The existence now of earlier versions of many of his works shows that he is one of the finest craftsmen of the century. He wrote, revised, and rewrote everything. He niggled over the details until he achieved perfection in story and style. He forged the raw materials of Northern literature into The Lord of the Rings with a level of craftsmanship that ranks him with top writers. (p. 3)
The Unfinished Tales and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth contain many nuggets of story which Tolkien could have shaped into fairy-story or some other genre, but which remain as fragments. Certainly, some of these tales have frames which indicate that they are being told to children. The existence of such a frame suggests that Tolkien may have intended them to be fairy-stories, but he was such an aggressive reviser and reshaper that forms frequently changed under his creative force. (p. 9)
In spite of his copious use of maps, Tolkien occasionally slipped on the details. A note in the front of The Hobbit, reports that the text on pages 32 and 62 has been made to correspond with the runes on Thror’s Map. His letters also record the correction of various errata in The Hobbit. (Letters, 28) 75 The publication of earlier versions of stories in The History of Middle-earth makes it possible for the scholar to see how extensively Tolkien revised. His conceptions of peoples (gnomes become elves) and heroes (see the discussion of Turin and his progenitors in Chapter 10). All changed extensively. The thoroughness with which he managed consistency in changes is a credit to his craftsmanship. (p. 35)
11. "Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century and a Look Back at Tolkien Criticism since 1982", by Michael D. C. Drout and Hilary Wynne, in 128 Envoi 9.2 (Fall 2000). Also posted on http://members.aol.com/JamesIMcNelis/9_2/Drout_9_2.pdf
In contrast to the bleak state of critical bibliography, the historical and textual aspects of Tolkien scholarship now have a firm foundation. The past fifteen years have seen the editing and publication of The History of Middle-earth by Christopher Tolkien. This mammoth undertaking provides for scholars much of the material which Tolkien drew upon in developing the legends of Middle-earth, including multiple versions of the Silmarillion legends; unpublished, uncompleted works such as The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers; and the etymologies and other linguistic materials that underpin Tolkien’s invented languages. Particularly valuable for general literary critics interested in Tolkien are the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings. Christopher Tolkien’s detailed commentary and painstaking editing in every volume is the essential first step upon which criticism of these materials must build, and the works themselves allow Tolkien critics to trace the genesis and development of motifs, themes, and ideas in Tolkien’s work.
Good criticism will take into account the development of Tolkien’s ideas as illustrated in The History of Middle-earth. We are exceptionally fortunate to have such a resource, and simple inspection of the twelve volume series would eliminate a great many errors and redundancies in the criticism, particularly in the realm of source study. Just as no one attempts to pass him- or herself off as a Faulkner or Joyce critic without examining the posthumously published works, drafts, and notebooks of these authors, so too no one should write Tolkien criticism without making the effort to read The History of Middle-earth.
8. While it is not a work of literary criticism, J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, gives an invaluable look into Tolkien’s art and thought.
9. Volumes VI-IX of The History of Middle-earth (The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, The War of the Ring and Sauron Defeated) are subtitled The History of the Lord of the Rings. Christopher Tolkien’s commentary on the composition of LotR, including the Prologue and the Appendices, continues in The Peoples of Middle-earth.
12. The Road to Middle-earth, revised and expanded edition, Tom Shippey, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
What Bratman was referring to on doubts as to suitability of using drafts to study final work:
If Tolkien had had foresight into the future, one may wonder, would he have felt that his ban on wanting to see ‘the bones of the ox’ should have been extended from fairy-tale collections (which of course may well have had an especially complex history) to his own fictional works?
There are reasons why he might. A major danger must be that too much study of ‘the bones’ makes ‘the soup’ lose its savour. In other words again, it could destroy the appeal, or charm, or ‘glamour’ of a finished work to know that some particularly cherished feature of it was in fact only an authorial accident; while too much awareness of wrong turnings the author might have taken could blur one’s final sense of the right turning he did take. The risks are manifold. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, one might fear that too much looking at intermediary stages (in this case volumes VI-IX of ‘The History of Middle-earth’) could blur the edges of one’s perception of the final stage, or of the work as published (for even after publication Tolkien continued to have afterthoughts, as one sees from both the Unfinished Tales and volume XII of ‘The History of Middle-earth’); while in the case of The Silmarillion—which in a real sense never reached a final stage at all—over-careful picking over of volumes I-V and X-XI of ‘The History’ could easily lead to the loss of any sense of structure whatever.
If that were all that could happen, this chapter would have remained unwritten. Nevertheless, one has to face the fact that much of ‘The History of Middle-earth’ demands to be taken as ‘ox-bones’—though a proportion of it is unpublished original work, and some at least of the ‘bones’, like the Book of Lost Tales, are easy to read in their own right—and furthermore that the kind of reaction I have just suggested is at least a possibility, or, some of the time, a certainty. Yet one may reflect that much of the trouble . . . lies with the reader, and not with the author at all.
Other authors than Tolkien have, for example, created amazement in their readers by their seeming utter inability to understand the logic of what they were doing. Charles Dickens . . . got even the totally transparent name Murdstone . . . simply by writing a string of names across a page until he got one that felt right . . . In exactly the same way Tolkien dealt with several important queries by writing out a string of names, like ‘Marhad Marhath Marhelm Marhun Marhyse Marulf’ (Treason, p. 390), or—these are for Aragorn—‘Elfstone . . . Elfstan, Eledon, Aragorn, Eldakar, Eldamin, Qendemir’ (Treason, p. 276), or—these are for Shadowfax—‘Narothal, Fairfax, Snowfax, Firefoot[,] Arod? Aragorn?’ (Shaping, p. 351). It is a surprise to learn that Aragorn could ever have been a name for a horse; even more surprising, given what is said about the meaning of the name, in pp. 170-71 above, that Saruman could have been the meaningless ‘Saramond’ (Treason, p. 70).
All this comes as a shock. It may also prove an irritation. (p. 290-91)
Tolkien (we can see with hindsight) should have dropped the idea [the name Trotter] much earlier, along with much else: his preference for ‘hobbit-talk’ over action (see Shadow, p. 108), his strangely hostile picture of Farmer Maggot (Shadow, p. 291), his inhibiting confusions over the number and names of the hobbits with the Ring-bearer, over Gandalf’s letter via Butterbur, and the general ‘spider’s web’ of argumentation near the start of Lord of the Rings (see Treason, p. 52).
Meanwhile and conversely, it is almost dismaying—at least to the critic—to see what seems to be absolutely essential elements both of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings excluded sometimes till virtually the last moment . . . A harmless Ring, meaningless Silmarils: as one reads through "The History of Middle-earth’ it is possible to feel—and this applies especially to a reader who knows the finished works well—that Tolkien did not know what he was doing . . .
Yet having said all this—and it has been said with deliberately unmitigated bluntness—one has to consider in the end exactly what one’s criticism may be. It seems hardly fair to criticize an author for not writing the book one would have liked; even less fair to complain that he did write the book one would have liked, but failed to manage it on the first try! Perhaps the real danger in picking over ‘the bones of the ox’ is no more than this: it comes as a threat to our general notion of creativity. (p. 293-94)
How did Tolkien’s creativity work? A good deal has been said about self-reflection, ‘sleepwalking’ and creating ‘imaginative space’. Yet there is one further thought generated powerfully by reading Tolkien’s early drafts, though to elaborate it seems to conceded advantage to some of his fiercest critics. This is—I put it candidly in the hope of answering candour—that the drafts suggest his critics sometimes had the right idea; they detected in the finished work tendencies much more obvious in the medial stages, as also, on occasion and even more suggestively, motifs which remained forever buried to author and readers alike. Thus Edwin Muir (see above, p. 154) said that the non-adult nature of The Lord of the Rings was proven by its lack of genuine casualties. Théoden, Denethor, Boromir—these are the kind of characters who can be picked out in every Western as to-be-dispensed-with before the end. I have replied to Muir above. Yet in all candour one has to say that the early ‘phases’ of The Lord of the Rings show Tolkien struggling hard to prove Muir right. He really did not like scenes of pain. So, in The Treason of Isengard, we find Frodo laboriously explaining to Sam that though the orc hit him with a whip, he was still wearing his mithril-coat and didn’t feel it (p. 336, but cp. LOTR, p. 889). Much more seriously, the same volume [?] shows a long and thorough attempt to pardon even Saruman and bring him back into the fold, thrusting all responsibility for the pollution of the Shire onto a mere walk-on ‘baddie’, and in the process eliminating (or rather aborting) the eerie death and ghostly rejection of Saruman in Book VI, ch. 8. Earlier on, in The War of the Ring, it is strange to see Tolkien toning down Denethor, trying very hard not to write the scene in which the father rejects the dutiful son in love and admiration for the absent original (see War, pp. 327-34, and note Christopher Tolkien’s comments on p. 332). And these last two cases are not just the kindheartedness over minor matters which I conceded to Muir in the passage just mentioned, one written before ‘The History of Middle-earth’ began to appear. If persisted in, they would have led to major differences in the plot; to a story of much narrower emotional range, with far less sense of irrevocable loss; to a situation much closer to what Muir detected. And yet, of course, Tolkien did not persist with them. He wrote them in, and then he wrote them out. It may well have gone against his own personal grain: I note elsewhere (p. 232 above) that as soon as Tolkien did reach a hard solution he was liable to begin to soften it, and we can see now that reaching it was for him a laborious business in the first place. Still, grain or no grain, labour or no labour, he did it. Comparison of The Lord of the Rings with its drafts shows that Muir detected a tendency; his criticism of the entire and finished work remains false. (pp. 318-19)
And yet, in spite of all this, Dr. Brooke-Rose has a point. She feels that The Lord of the Rings, viewed as fantasy, is weighed down by ‘hypertrophic’ realism, by ‘naïve and gratuitious intrusions from the realistic novel’. Must genres always practice apartheid? Evidently not. Still, reading the drafts of The Lord of the Rings does make it clear what a temptation it was for Tolkien to fall back on the familiar clichés of the realistic novel . . .In general, one may say that especially in the earliest ‘phases’, whenever the hobbits become the central figures of the narration—the hobbits being obviously the most modernistic and novelistic characters in the book—Tolkien found himself getting bogged down in sometimes strikingly unnecessary webs of minor causation. How many hobbits set out with Frodo . . . how many letters did Gandalf write? Most of these questions would now appear to be easily soluble, but they were not easily solved. What Tolkien’s sometimes maddening hesitations show is exactly how difficult he found that blend of ancient and modern, realistic and fantastic, which in the end he developed so successfully, and so much to his critics’ disapproval. . . . Like Muir [Brooke-Rose] does see, with a certain insight, what [Tolkien] was tempted to be. The final point to make, obviously, is that while Tolkien might not have eradicated every trace of soft-heartedness (Muir) or ‘realistic hypertrophy’ (Brooke-Rose), he did nevertheless in the end and painfully fight off most of both temptations. (p. 321-22)
13. "Re-Vision: The Lord of the Rings in Print and On Screen", by Diana Paxson, in Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, ed. Janet Croft, Altadena, California, The Mythopoeic Press (2004).
By the winter of 1941 [Tolkien] had reached the point at which the final text of The Two Towers begins. As he came to points in the story which had been outlined earlier, many of them were changing. In early versions, after meeting with Gandalf, Trotter and the other companions go to Minas Tirith. What follows is summarized as, ‘Rest of war in which Gandalf and /on his eagle in white leads the assault must be told later—partly a dream of Frodo, partly seen by him (and Sam), and partly heard from orcs’ (The Treason of Isengard 389) . . . In scripting and shooting The Two Towers, Jackson and his crew faced the same difficulties as Tolkien in filling in the gap between Fellowship . . . and the resolution provided by The Return of the King. (p. 86-87)
The evolution of the character of Aragorn offers a particularly good opportunity to examine the process of revision in book and film. Not only do he and his role develop through the successive drafts of the book, the films’ increased emphasis on his actions and motivation provide one of their most significant changes in vision.
The following section details the evolution of Aragorn from Trotter, citing several passages in The Treason of Isengard.
14. "Colloquy Live: Frodo Lives! And So Does Tolkien Scholarship". Live online forum with Michael D. C. Drout. Moderator Scott McLemee. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/colloquylive/2004/06/tolkien/index.shtml (June 2004)
Question from Scott McLemee:
Aside from the question of Tolkien's place in literary history, there is the problem of the Tolkien canon itself, so to speak. During an interview, you mentioned that the publication of the multivolume History of Middle Earth -- a set of tales left unpublished at the time of the author's death, now running to a dozen volumes -- really threw scholars into some confusion during the 1980s. Would you discuss that a bit more? Is there anything like a consensus among readers (academic or otherwise) about how important this material is?
Michael D.C. Drout:
When it became clear that there would be a volume per year published for about twelve years, it seemed like scholarship dropped off as everyone just tried to absorb the enormous quantity of material. There's a real question if the History of Middle-earth is good in itself or only useful as source material. To some degree this is what people said about the Silmarillion, but it's now part of the Tolkien canon, so perhaps the same thing will happen with History of Middle-earth. I think this is unlikely, though, because the way Christopher Tolkien edited the material makes it very useful for scholars but very difficult for readers to just read and enjoy. That said, there are absolutely beautiful passages scattered throughout, particularly in the Book of Lost Tales I and II. And the alliterative verse in Lays of Beleriand is very good.
Question from Scott Kleinman, California State University, Northridge:
As a philologist trained under a curriculum largely designed by Tolkien, I'm interested in the question of how Tolkien's work can spark greater student interest in philology, Old English, Old Norse, etc. One thing I have noticed in the large linguistic apparatus in the materials published by Christopher Tolkien ("The Book of Lost Tales" and subsequent volumes) is that the development of the Elvish languages contains nearly every philolgical phenomenon I studied as an undergraduate. Can these materials have a pedagogical function? But this leads to another question: What role do you think these posthumous publications can have in Tolkien studies? What sorts of theoretical or practical issues do they raise?
Michael D.C. Drout:
Second part first: The two biggest issues that the posthumous material raises are: how much of it is JRRT and how much Christopher? Since the manuscripts aren't available, we just don't know, and there are some critics (not me, though), who think it should all be ignored or considered the work of someone else. The other question: since so few members of the audience read the History of M-e, why should critics, who might be working on audience-based or other approaches, use them? I think that it's very important for approaches that go "outside" Tolkien's texts (pace Derrida) that they also get their ducks in a row "inside" the texts. I wouldn't reject an article for TS that ignored the H of M-e material, but I'd send it back to the author with suggestions for reconsideration if there was something relevant.
As for philology, I think philology needs to come up with a simple student teaching text (maybe we should write one, Scott), that would allow students to learn it. Then you could use Elvish linguistics to teach. The problem is, it seems to me, that you're going to have a huge hurdle of convincing people to allow you to teach some of the elvish material when there are real-world languages that do all of the things that Tolkien makes elvish do. That said, in elvish it's often much neater and easier to see the transformations, etc.
15. "The Years’ Work in Tolkien Studies: Reviews: The History of The Lord of the Rings", by Douglas A. Anderson in Arda 1988-91: Annual of Arda-Research. Ed. Anders Stenström. Stockholm: Arda Society, 1994, pp. 128-135.
One could make a whole catalog of interesting tidbits from these books . . . but taken out of context and without the benefit of Christopher Tolkien’s commentary such a catalog would be mainly tantalizing while at the same time being extraordinarily unilluminating. (p. 131)
Just what is the audience for these books? . . .The good news about these three fat volumes (plus one third of another) is that the style in these volumes is that of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But these volumes are not always easy reading, especially when one is trying to follow closely Christopher Tolkien’s argument of the sequence of composition. On the other hand, many sections in these books are enormously readable simply in their own right, as out-takes or variations on what we have come to know as The Lord of the Rings.
Yet I think the most significant achievement of these volumes is that they show us how Tolkien wrote and thought. Nowhere else do we see as we do here the authorial process itself at work in such detail. Tolkien’s hastiest comments about where the story might proceed, or why it can or can’t go such and such a way—these queries to himself were written out: Tolkien is literally thinking on paper . . . We are shown innumerable instances in the minutest detail of the thought-process itself at work. We see the author fully absorbed in creation for its own sake. (pp. 133-34)
These volumes are by no means the final statement on the subject of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, but they are a towering monument of scholarship. Nothing less than several highly specialized volumes containing the full texts of all the drafts of The Lord of the Rings could supersede the achievements of these books. Yet there remains room to supplement Christopher Tolkien’s account, as the manuscripts themselves are further studied and explored by others. (p. 134)