AB Language - Arne Zettersten

Comments by squire, April 15, 2007

This is one of those subjects from Tolkien's scholarship that I've never really looked into, fearing from the name alone that it was too esoteric for laymen. Zettersten makes it seem almost simple. He explains what the AB Language is, how Tolkien "discovered" it in the late 1920s, and gives some hints of what has become of it since. One part of Tolkien studies I'm always interested in is trying to judge his continuing reputation as a scholar in modern times, in the eyes of the non-fan professional medievalists.

The 'Further Reading' list is stunning in its list of scholarly works on the AB texts, Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group, almost all from the last fifteen years. I suppose I would find out how Tolkien's AB Language breakthrough is regarded these days, by reading them.

Bit by bit I'm picking up quite a lot of lore on Tolkien's specialty of West Midlands English philology, as I read through the Encyclopedia. For instance, I know enough now to notice that Zettersen neglects to include "Juliana", "Manuscripts, Medieval",  and "Holy Maiden Hood by J. Furnival: Review by Tolkien" in his See also list (which is actually a pretty confusing list, probably due to a lack of editing).

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 26, 2007

This is essentially the entry on Tolkien’s 1929 article, “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad”.  Zettersten quotes Tom Shippey in The Road to Middle-earth calling that “the most perfect” of Tolkien’s scholarly works.  Shippey has a good deal more to say about the article there (pp. 39-42 of the 3rd edition) and in an essay that Zettersten does not cite, “Tolkien’s Academic Reputation Now”.  In the latter piece, Shippey says that more recent scholarship suggests that “Tolkien was wrong”.  Shippey adds that it took more than 50 years for this to be realized because “even when he was wrong he could put matters so powerfully that no-one would challenge him” (pp. 39-41 of The Best of Amon Hen, Part Two).

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

Prompted by N.E. Brigand’s comments, I would note a similar situation in Tolkien’s “Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve’s Tale.” Tolkien made a compelling and influential argument in that essay, but subsequent work on the extant manuscripts and new discoveries about scribal practice have undermined some of his claims. Simon Horobin explains it all in his recent essay, “J.R.R. Tolkien as a Philologist: A Reconsideration of the Northernisms in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale”, English Studies 82.2 (2001): 97-105. For David Bratman’s review of Horobin’s essay, see Tolkien Studies II, p.313. 


Such assessments of the value of Tolkien's scholarship today, as well as how long it has taken to revise the views he put forward, comprise an interesting but underexplored satellite topic in Tolkien studies. Michael Drout's impending article in Tolkien Studies IV is titled "J.R.R. Tolkien's Medieval Scholarship and its Significance", and should be most interesting in this regard.


Adventures of Tom Bombadil - Gene Hargrove

Comments by squire, March 19, 2007

There's nothing really wrong with this article, but there's nothing really right with it, either. Hargrove gives the publishing history of the book and its constituent poems, explains the framing device "within the world of Middle-earth", and gives some kind of synopsis of each of the sixteen poems.

On the other hand. Paragraphing is a basic writing skill, but this essay is unparagraphed, which makes the organization hard to follow. Questionable interpretations abound: Goldberry is a wraith? Tom in "The Stone Troll" is Bombadil? The Mewlips are orcs? "Frodo's Dreme" comes only from his wound on Weathertop? The readings are generally simplistic with little consideration of the poet behind the poems.

More problematic, of course, is the question that has already come up in earlier reviews, both here and on another site: why does this entry exist at all, in parallel with the article "Poems by Tolkien: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"? The latter article by Tom Shippey, though given a head start with twice the word-count, is superior in almost every way, being generally more erudite and subtle.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hargrove's 'Further Reading' list does not overlap at all with Shippey's, but it at least has Kocher's seminal essay on The Adventures of Tom Bombadil to distinguish it.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 22, 2007

A so-so summary.  Hargrove could have cut his separate note on the original publication of each poem, and substituted a general reference to the bibliographies by Wayne Hammond and Åke Bertenstam (the latter does appear in Hargrove’s bibliography).  This would have allowed a little more room to discuss the poems, or the collection as a whole, including perhaps a mention of Jane Neave, whose request inspired the edition; of Tolkien’s comments in his letters on the poems and on the process of compiling the book; and of the illustrations by Pauline Baynes.

There is one small error to add to those squire has listed: Sam recites “Oliphaunt“ not on the road south from the Black Gate, but at the gate while Frodo decides which course to take.  Verlyn Flieger’s A Question of Time, for its discussion of “The Sea-bell”, would have been a good addition to the 'Further Reading' list.  There are two non-entries in the See also list.  And Hargrove, like Tom Shippey in the separate article on the collection’s poems, skips “The wind so whirled a weathercock”, the seven-line comic poem from the preface.

Comment by N. E. Brigand, July 13, 2007

I was careless reading Shippey.  He does at least refer in passing to “The wind so whirled a weathercock”, as "another untitled seven-line poem", in his article "Poems by Tolkien: The Adventures of Tom Bombadil".


Ælfwine (Old English “Elf-friend”) – Thomas Honegger

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

This is a short, well-written, and interesting essay. There is no entry in the Encyclopedia for Eriol, so Honegger incorporates him –appropriately and adeptly – into his discussion of Ælfwine. The title of the entry is strange, with its unnecessary Modern English calque; Honegger does a fine job putting the name and its meaning into context is his opening, so the title really didn’t need that. Honegger’s analysis of the meaning and critical interpretation of the Ælfwine character plays second fiddle to his recapitulation of his history and part in the narrative, but I didn’t feel that too much was missing.

Since Honegger undertook to explain the relationship between the Eriol and Ælfwine character conceptions – and he makes some good observations on the contrast between them – he might have explained that the meaning of Eriol is “one who dreams alone” (emphasis mine), setting up a clear contrast with the meaning of Ælfwine’s name and its inherent evocation of fellowship. One very small quibble: Honegger suggests that Ælfwine and Tréowine in The Notion Club Papers “catch a fleeting glimpse of Tol Eressëa”, but I don’t recollect that this is true. I think the story broke off prior to any such explicit statement – although it was hinted at in several adumbrations Christopher Tolkien discusses, which may or may not be directly related to NCP. But the confusion might be no more than a slip due to Honegger’s compressing two parallel stories together in his description.

It would have been wonderful to hear more about the different conceptions for the character, about the geographical conflation of England / Tol Eressëa, and so forth, but the length of the entry simply wouldn’t permit such detailed elaboration. And even if it did, the title would have to have been changed, as these matters would no longer pertain strictly to the character of Ælfwine.

The 'Further Reading' is a bit too brief. Useful additions would have been Verlyn Flieger’s “‘Do the Atlantis story and abandon Eriol-Saga’” in Tolkien Studies I (2004) and John Rateliff’s “The Lost Road, The Dark Tower, and The Notion Club Papers: Tolkien and Lewis’s Time Travel Triad” from Tolkien’s Legendarium.

In the See also, Honegger refers to a non-existent entry, “Anglo-Saxon”, but it is to be presumed he means, “History, Anglo-Saxon”. Likewise, he refers to a non-existent “Beowulf” – one can only guess which of the several existing entries would suit best – and a non-existent entry on “Geatas”. “Frame Narratives” should be “Frame Narrative”, “Lost Road” should be “Lost Road, The”, and “Notion Club Papers” should be “Sauron Defeated”. Entries should probably also be added for “Great Haywood”, “King Alfred”, “Mythology for England”, and “Tol Eressëa”.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, June 14, 2007

Actually, with more than 900 words, this article is among the encyclopedia’s top third in length.

Honegger’s incorporation of “Eriol”, though appropriate, is handled somewhat oddly, in that his comments on that character follow immediately on his explanation that this article will be passing on Tolkien’s other figures whose names mean “Elf-friend”, including “Elendil”, “Alboin”, and “Alwin”, to focus only on “Ælfwine”.  Readers who haven’t already read the Lost Tales may be confused here.

Curiously, while Tom Shippey, in the encyclopedia’s “Ylfe” article, says that the Old English names “Ælfwine” and “Ælfred” were “presumably honorific”, thus suggesting a tradition of good elves, Honegger says that the name “no longer carried any association with ‘elves’” for the Old English.  Do these statements contradict each other?


Alcuin (ca. 735-804) - William Smith

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 22, 2007

In a short entry, Smith explains how Tolkien’s famous Beowulf lecture is in part an answer to Alcuin’s famous question, “What has Ingeld to do with Christ?”, a question meant to disparage the worth of pagan tradition.  Smith, who apparently lacked the space to quote any of Tolkien’s argument, summarizes clearly, but page references to Beowulf and the Critics (pp. 220-221) and “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” (pp. 22-23) would have been helpful, particularly as the latter work (as published in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays) is not indexed – and indeed I think Alcuin is mentioned by name in the “Monsters” lecture only in an endnote (one not relevant to Smith’s point, as it happens).

Notably, Smith makes no connection between Alcuin’s question and Tolkien’s fiction, a subject that Tom Shippey has discussed at some length.  That issue is left to John Walsh in the entry on Tertullian, the early Christian leader whose remarks Alcuin was adapting.  Smith’s See also list includes a reference to that article; a reference to “Heathenism and Paganism” also would have been appropriate.

Curiously, the only item in the Further Reading list is a biography whose title, in contrast to the title of Smith’s article, gives a date of “c. A.D. 732” for Alcuin’s birth.


Aldhelm (d. 709 or 710) - Kathryn Powell

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 26, 2007

In this very short entry, Powell follows Aldhelm’s biography with this connection to Tolkien: the Old English abbot, an acclaimed poet, was mentioned in the Beowulf and the Critics lectures.  I don’t know if Powell could have said anything more, but checking the BC index for just the A entries, I find that Ælfric, a prose-writing abbot, and Andreas, a poem, are mentioned more frequently there than Aldhelm – why does he merit a separate entry here?  To judge from the encyclopedia’s index, neither Andreas nor Ælfric are ever mentioned, though Ælfric’s work was a source (the source?) for Tolkien’s two-part “Sigelwara Land” study.  (That work, by the way, is not individually treated by the Encyclopedia either, but does receive some discussion in the entry on Tolkien’s edition of Exodus.)

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

 As shown by the Encyclopedia article, “Exodus, Edition of”, I was wrong to guess that Ælfric’s work was the only source for the word “sigelwara”.


Allegory - Anne C. Petty

Comments by squire, April 15, 2007

Petty, writing clearly and well, explains what allegory is, shows how much Tolkien disliked it both as a scholar and a writer, and gives a few demonstrations of where allegory may, and may not, be found in Tolkien's fiction. The only missing piece that I can see is the absence of any consideration of the Silmarillion cycle, positively or negatively. Have no misguided critics judged some part of his life work as following some massive allegorical program the way they have with The Lord of the Rings? Perhaps only Tolkien scholars know The Silmarillion well enough to look for allegories in it, and they have been warned off the hunt by Tolkien.

Petty does pretty well identifying which critics have over time attempted to imposed an allegorical reading on various Tolkien works - with the exception of the uncredited equation of the LotR story with World War II (I'd like to know just who suggested Aragorn was an allegorical Douglas MacArthur!). Overall, I got the impression that this is an issue that time has passed by; most of Petty's examples seem pretty old. I would like to have learned if Petty thinks this is true.

The 'Further Reading' and See also lists are pleasantly comprehensive; "Christian Readings of Tolkien" should have been included in the latter, though.


Alliteration - Christine Chism

Comments by squire, January 29, 2007

This is a passionate and beautifully written piece that explains the structure, and more importantly, the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse-form, with particular reference to Tolkien's own feelings for this lost style of poetry.


Alliterative Revival - Christine Chism

Comments by squire, January 29, 2007

This article suffers by comparison with its predecessor, also written by Chism. Here she tackles not the aesthetic of the so-called Alliterative Revival of Middle-English poetry, but its provenance and its derivative academic politics. Perhaps this is appropriate in considering any form of stylistic "revival", and of course it is relevant to Tolkien because he participated in the fray, but is the self-consciousness of the modern critical debate evident in the poetry itself? I can't tell from this article. Still, the overall presentation is clear, interesting and thorough.

Chism does muddy the waters somewhat by dragging Tolkien's own poems and translations in alliterative verse into the sinkhole of a spurious "one-man twentieth-century alliterative revival of his own." But this only leads us on to the third stanza in this alliteratively-titled array of articles.


Alliterative Verse by Tolkien - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, January 29, 2007

There is something almost comic about reading these three articles in close sequence. Not one of them is lacking in interest, balance, clarity, and a proper focus on Tolkien. Yet the question asks itself triply: why, why, why was this titular triptych not consolidated into one article???

Shippey, of course, forces us to re-examine Chism's twin Old English/Middle English presentations. He points out what she didn't, that there are inherent differences in the rigor and force of alliterative verse in Anglo-Saxon, Middle and Modern English, because of the language's changes from a quantitative to a qualitative syntax. Shippey's line "where Old English tramps, Modern English patters" is perhaps too pat, but makes his point in an appropriately proverbial way.

Only in retrospect, reading Shippey, do we see that Chism's apparently definitive article on Alliteration severely restricts itself to the "original" alliterative verse of the pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon literature.

Since the poet considered here is Tolkien himself, we should not be surprised to learn that he was an adept and original student of alliterative verse, whether in translation or as originals, in all three dialects of English. Shippey as always covers the entire stretch at speed without missing a stop.

Personally, as I've mentioned elsewhere, I'd like to have heard a bit more about the alliterative epic poem of The Children of Húrin in the Lays of Beleriand. Shippey dismisses it as a failed experiment due to slack metrical rigor and a necessary but dismaying overuse of archaic word-order and vocabulary. On grounds of quantity of verse alone, I'd think more could be said in its favor, but perhaps this article lacks the space or the brief for it.

Can I mention just how inconsistently these three articles make reference to each other in their See also sections? And Chism's first article even refers to a nightmare fourth Encyclopedia article entitled Rhyme Schemes and Alliteration, which luckily seems to have disappeared in the event.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

 Here Shippey mentions two Tolkien poems missing from his article, “Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected”: the Istari verse from Unfinished Tales, and the Langland-pastiche, “Doworst”, part of which was printed in an Australian fanzine.


Alphabets, Invented - Arden R. Smith

Comments by squire, April 23, 2007

This is a thorough, highly technical review of all of Tolkien's various alphabets, which were mostly devised for writing his invented languages.

As with the articles on the languages, there is more detail here than a brief reference format can really sustain. Since the first two systems described, the tengwar modes (elvish letters) and the cirth/angerthas (runes), are relatively well-known and accessible from the LotR Appendices, a more consistently generalized approach to description would have been better. A sentence like "In this mode, the ómatehta is placed above the preceding consonant, and grades 2 and 4 have unusual values, representing clusters of nasal + voiced stop and nasal + voiceless stop, respectively" really has  no usefulness for the typical Encyclopedia reader, I'd guess - though as an attempt to describe how vowels work in tengwar it is probably more thorough than Tolkien's dismissive description in Appendix E.

Smith's next sections are much more interesting, describing two more obscure alphabets from Tolkien's early years of world-creating. It is not surprising to find that Smith is the editor of the standard and only works on these subjects. Again, without illustration or more information, what's here is very hard to put to use.

Finally, there are the lovely images in the description of the Goblin Alphabet from Father Christmas: only Tolkien would turn humanoid letterforms created to amuse children from a "simple substitution code for English" to a sophisticated system involving diphthongs and consonant abbreviations. And the last-minute mention of the "New English Alphabet" is tantalizing, showing Tolkien at the end of his life applying the rational phonological structures of his Elvish scripts to a Latin-looking alphabet meant to reform English writing.

Overall, what I could wish for would be more context. What did it mean that Tolkien felt compelled to invent not just languages, but scripts? How important was calligraphy for him as a means of literary expression? Who, if anyone, knew of these creations during his lifetime, and what did they think of them? What is the history of invented alphabets, and in the twentieth century who else besides Tolkien was working on them? Were his theories of ideal phonological structures for writing systems sound, in the opinion of other experts in the field? Like his languages, did the alphabets constantly change their rules and structures under the exigencies of producing each new manuscript?

'Further Reading' has some interesting references to internet articles, leaving Smith as the only scholar to have published on this topic in the traditional manner. It is odd to see in See also that there is an article on "Runes" (also by Smith); shouldn't that have been combined with this one? On the other hand, why is there no article on "Calligraphy", a subject dear to Tolkien's heart and hand?


America in the 1960s: Reception of Tolkien - Mike Foster

Comments by squire, June 19, 2007

Without too many changes, this article could be, simply, "America: Reception of Tolkien" along the lines of the other multinational "Reception of..." pieces. Why the emphasis on the 1960s, when there is no other decade covered for comparison? The 1970s are certainly as important on a number of counts. One can only imagine that the romance of the Age of Aquarius seized the editors' imaginations.

It has certainly seized Foster's. He gives a summary, both breathless and padded but fairly accurate, of the breakthrough in sales and popularity that The Lord of the Rings achieved with the American reading public, following the publication of the paperback editions in 1965. He ascribes this, not just to the lower cost and greater availability of the book, but also to the "English invasion" of American pop culture in the early to mid-60s; and to the resonance of some of Tolkien's "messages", such as ecological respect and the power of the powerless, with young people who detested the top-heavy corporatism of post-war, triumphalist America.

Unfortunately, Foster undercuts his argument by admitting several times that Tolkien's popularity in the U.S. did not flag when the 60s ended and the Beatles broke up. More seriously for this ostensibly scholarly article, he never probes the meaning and consequences of the 60s boom in Tolkien enthusiasm, beyond citing Elliott's 1967 Life magazine review. In fact many of his assertions are out of context or irrelevant: the Britishness of LotR is hardly in the same category as Twiggy or the Beatles; and Auden's and Lewis's reviews of LotR predate the article's period by a decade.

It is shocking for Foster not to have cited Bored of the Rings, the "Fear and Loathing in Middle-earth" of the 1960s Tolkien mania. Leonard Nimoy's 1968 music video "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" also comes to mind as an artefact that says way more about the zeitgeist of the times than Foster's irrelevant three paragraphs about James Bond, Twiggy, and the Beatles. Also, Lin Carter's hippie-view criticism. Catherine Stimpson's proto-feminist ravings. Barbara Remington's psychedelic cover art. Peter S. Beagle's famous introduction to the paperback. The 60s, man! Dig it!

The 'Further Reading' and See also lists are ridiculous, with one entry each.


Ancrene Wisse – Arne Zettersten

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

Here is an entry of remarkable erudition, to be sure; however, the majority of it has very little to do with Tolkien or the central aims of the Encyclopedia. I always enjoy the scholarly precision and zeal that Zettersten brings to his subjects (as in his entry on the “AB Language”), but in this case, I think it was too much. The subject is worth including, but the length was too generous. I personally feel that enumerating all the editions (pp.16b – 17a) without comment was entirely unnecessary; also, while setting Tolkien’s scholarly work into the larger context of the all the subsequent work on the Ancrene Wisse is valuable, I think it could have been carried out more succinctly.

Tolkien enters the picture after two or three paragraphs of useful introduction (the differentiation of Ancrene Wisse from Ancrene Riwle was especially helpful), but then he exits after only some three more (much of which is repeated in/from the “AB Language” and “Katherine Group” entries), leaving a little more than half of the entry – almost two more pages – still to go. This begs the question of whether these three entries, or perhaps at least two of them, might have been shortened and combined. In any case, for all the impressive scholarship demonstrated here, the entry is just too detailed, too long, and too little about Tolkien.

The 'Further Reading' is impressive; unsurprisingly, it duplicates some of the 'Further Reading' in the other two entries by Zettersten. Surprisingly, “AB Language” is left out of the See also; speaking of which, I would suggest the same additions here that squire proposed in his review of “AB Language”.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 26, 2007

I’m not sure what subject this article is meant to address.  Is it Tolkien’s 1962 edition of the A-text of the Ancrene Wisse, a thirteenth-century guide for anchorites?  Zettersten only notes the existence of that edition, without any comment on its qualities (Tom Shippey has observed that it appeared without the usual scholarly apparatus).  Is it Tolkien’s groundbreaking 1929 article, “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad”?  Zettersten briefly notes some of Tolkien’s conclusions there and later research on one point (the place of origin of the AB language), but Tolkien’s article is treated much more fully in Zettersten’s “AB Language” article.  No, for the most part, this entry is just an introduction to twentieth-century scholarship on the Ancrene Wisse, including a list of all its Early English Text Society editions published between 1944 and 2000.  The only other connection to Tolkien is the fact that one important study of the Ancrene Wisse first appeared in a 1962 Tolkien festschrift.

An odd note: Zettersten opens his third paragraph by stressing the non-canonical status of the title “Ancrene Riwle”, before he tells readers that this is an alternate name for the Ancrene Wisse.  This seems to have been done under the assumption that this entry would be titled “Ancrene Wisse, Ancrene Riwle”, which is how it appears in the See also list of Zettersten’s own “AB Language” article.


Angband – David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

I enjoyed this entry on Morgoth’s northern fortress. While there wasn’t a great deal of critical interpretation or source study, I do not blame the author for this; surprisingly little has been written on Angband, as far as I can tell. And what we do know is, for the most part, in Oberhelman’s essay. I particularly liked seeing the Sindarin, Quenya, and Old English renderings of the name all put together side by side (however – minor correction – isn’t it Angamando, not Angamandos?). I wonder whether the connection to Mandos (linguistic, at least, but likely more than superficial) might have been explored further; both relate to “underworlds”, after all. Oberhelman’s comments about the Silmarillion maps – the published map, which does not indicate the location of Angband, and the “Second Silmarillion map,” which does, though questionably – were nice details.

As for source and critical interpretations, all we really have is a few scattered comparisons to Classical, Germanic, and Celtic mythology – though, as I said, there doesn’t appear to be a lot more to report, short of any original interpretations the author might have wished to share. For my own part, I have always thought the concept of a frigid northern hell owed something to Dante’s conception of the lowest level of the Inferno, where Satan is half-encased in ice, sending out a bitter frozen wind from the beating of his wings (I'll come back to this in the review for "Dante", forthcoming). Another possible influence is the Land of Pohjola (or Pohja) in the Finnish Kalevala. I would like to see further interpretive work and source study on Angband – it’s one of several lacunae in Tolkien studies that have attracted my attention recently.

In the See also, for “Middle-earth: Monsters”, read “Monsters”; for “Mythology: Celtic” and “Mythology: Germanic”, read “Mythology, Celtic” and “Mythology, Germanic”. One minor corrigendum for the main text: I believe “their” should be “his” in the phrase, “during their imprisonment” (top of 18a).


Angels – Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

I find myself with mixed feelings about this essay. One the one hand, much is missing; but on the other hand, some of what’s here is pretty good. On still another hand, some of what’s here is clearly off on a wild goose chase. Let me be more specific.

What’s missing? By narrowing his focus to the subset of Maiar comprising the Heren Istarion, Lobdell has cut himself off from addressing the larger questions of whether the rest of the Maiar and the Valar, not to mention the Ainur still outside Arda could or should be called angels. This, arguably, should have been the proper starting point, from which the argument could have been advanced to the point of including the Wizards. Also, by narrowing his scope in this way, he has encroached dangerously on the entry on the Wizards.

What’s here that's good? Well, I see where Lobdell was going with his discussion. The Greek word άγγελοι (angeloi), from which our word “angels” derives, does, in fact, mean “messengers”, and this is clearly the idea behind the Istari – which Lobdell demonstrates convincingly, and which Tolkien confirmed explicitly. So, he’s on sound footing. (A side note: Lobdell gives the spelling of Greek angeloi as αγγλοι = angloi, which means “the English people”, not “angels” – an amusing slip.)

Now, the wild goose chase. I’m not really sure why Lobdell would appeal to Pseudo-Dionysius to such an extent as he does. The idea of the orders of the angels, as expounded in De Cælestis Hierarchiæ, is worth mentioning, but such a lengthy digression with its many details and quotations was unwarranted. And Pseudo-Dionysius hardly represents the mainstream orthodoxy. Why not begin with the more conventional Christian view, citing the Bible (specifically the Latin Vulgate), and then touch on Pseudo-Dionysius more briefly?

The essay is fairly clearly written, but could have used a little bit more organization – fewer parenthetical self-interruptions, for instance – and a stronger conclusion to bring it all together.

The Further Reading is risible with its single arcane entry on Pseudo-Dionysius. One expects to see more mainstream Christian scholarship represented here as well (e.g., Birzer’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth; Dowie’s “The Gospel of Middle-earth According to J.R.R. Tolkien,” in Scholar and Storyteller; Purtill’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion; Wood’s The Gospel According to Tolkien – just to name a few of the many possibilities).

In the See also, since there is no article on “Theology”; what must be intended is either “Theological and Moral Approaches in Tolkien’s Works”, “Theology in The Lord of the Rings”, or both. I would also suggest adding “Catholicism, Roman”, “Christian Readings of Tolkien”, “Christianity”, “Good and Evil”, “Maiar”, and “Valar” (though there is little discussion of them in the essay as it stands) – and perhaps “Eru”, “Heaven”, and “Incarnation”.

Comments by squire, April 26, 2007

Jason Fisher's comments are good, but he seems to have missed the point of the first part of the last paragraph. There Lobdell tries to put his overextended digression on Pseudo-Dionysius's celestial hierarchy to work, by suggesting that the Valar are in some sense just a higher order of angelic beings, closer to God; although his exact terminology, in calling the Valar "archangels", undercuts the parallel by putting the Valar and the Istari/Maiar in the very outer circle, almost equally far from heaven. Of course, if this is in fact on purpose, and Lobdell meant to suggest that in Tolkien's conception the Valar themselves are also only "messengers" on a higher level, being those Ainur who are within Arda rather than with Eru beyond the world, he certainly hides his intention well.

On a broader level of criticism, I agree with Fisher's "what's missing" indictment. Lobdell spends his entire article proving what he shows is obvious in his first sentence: that Tolkien intended Gandalf to be an angel figure. Since the thematic category here is "Theological/Philosophical Concepts", I would have preferred for Lobdell to discuss Tolkien's use of the angel "concept" throughout his fiction. Eönwë as the herald of Manwë proclaiming the Doom of Mandos and leading the forces of heaven in the Last Battle, and Eärendil as mortal messenger translated into heavenly being are two candidates for consideration here; but so too are the examples of the "fallen angels", i.e. Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman, and even the figures of Alf in Smith of Wootton Major and the Inspector in Leaf by Niggle as well. To his credit, though, Lobdell does mention the Eagles in this context.

It may be a slip of the typesetter, or Lobdell's error, but his apparent confusion of άγγελοι and αγγλοι inevitably makes me want to admonish him: "non angli sed angeli"!

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 27, 2007

Among several ideas treated by Lobdell in his extended discussion of the angelic hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius are first, the concept of angels facing either toward God, or man, or both, and second, a metaphor of a ray of light used for angelic communication from God to man.  So it’s surprising that he doesn’t cite either of the following remarks by Tolkien:

“[T]here is our Angel, facing two ways to God behind us in the direction we cannot see, and to us” (Letter #54).

“I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote… glittering white because of the individual ray from the Light which both held and lit it.. And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote” (Letter # 89).


Animals in Tolkien's Works - Lara Sookoo

Comments by squire, January 21, 2007

There is some excellent material here, especially in her presentation of the different degrees of sentience in Tolkien's talking animals. However, I remain unconvinced by her speculative attempt to define the difference between the Speaking Peoples and the sentient members of the kelvar (animals). It is hard to read her description of the Eagles or of Huan the hound ("able to plan and give advice, and...to make certain kinds of moral determinations") and then agree with her conclusion that "Yavanna's kelvar, no matter how sentient, do not have fëar [Elvish for "spirit" or "soul"] and are not truly rational". Judging by the quote from Morgoth's Ring that she provides, it doesn't seem too hard to have concluded that Tolkien himself never really resolved this paradox.

Her second section, about the role of animals in Tolkien's eschatology, is interesting (nice point about sea-birds) but seems like an extended sideshow, when no mention has been made of the mearas and other horses, Bill the Pony and the other ponies, Beorn's odd servant-animals,  Garm the dog and the Grey Mare of Farmer Giles, the Badger and other animals in Tom Bombadil's world, the creatures of Mirkwood and Mordor, the coneys and of course: the fox.

It is a personal bugbear of mine that Tolkien, overall, underplays the presence of wild and domesticated animals in The Lord of the Rings compared to his attention to trees and other plant life, but I hardly expected this article to pick that one up.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

That Tolkien values animals less than plants is further shown in a 1955 comment he made about trees: “I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals” (Letters, p. 220; emphasis added).  This should not suggest that Tolkien takes an unkindly view of animals.  Note especially his horses, including Shadowfax, Bill the pony, and Farmer Giles’ grey mare.

However, if actual animals are somewhat underrepresented in the stories, their attributes appear frequently as metaphor.  Cats, for instance, appear in The Lord of the Rings repeatedly in this fashion: not just as the legendary pets of Queen Berúthiel and as the fiddling figure of fun in Frodo’s song at Bree, but also as points of comparison for Sauron, Shelob, Gollum, Frodo, and Sam, as mentioned by other characters or the narrator.  Sookoo never considers how Tolkien uses animals in this way.  Speaking of cats, Sookoo says that Tolkien “initially included speaking animals as a lighter element in the story”, only later making them “entrenched characters and plot movers”, but that doesn’t account for Tevildo (or Huan and Karkaras) in the early “Tale of Tinúviel”.

The first half of Sookoo’s article is constrained by her thesis that the “line between animals and Speaking Peoples is clear in Tolkien’s writing”, when as squire observes, even the two quotes from Morgoth’s Ring that Sookoo drops in (without introduction or follow-up) don’t really support that idea.  It’s odd that she here dismisses “creatures such as dragons that were created by Morgoth” as outside her scope, yet finds room to discuss Shelob and wargs.  And her use of the characteristic of sentience is odd: it is not clear to me that Shelob is more “self-aware” than the giant spiders in Mirkwood; nor that “Eagles are depicted with the greatest level of self-awareness.”

The entry’s second half is a discussion of just one symbolic way in which Tolkien uses animals, through the eschatological meaning they convey.  Sookoo’s comments on eagles and gulls are very good, but I have to ask: why that focus?  Particularly as Sookoo begins this section with the statement that “animals do not play an active part in the eschatology of Middle-earth”?

To the See also list add at least “Monsters”.


Aquinas, Thomas - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by squire, March 19, 2007

Birzer sets himself quite a poser with his opening sentence, stating that Tolkien is not known ever to have referred to Aquinas, but nevertheless was surely influenced by the most famous Catholic interpreter of pagan Classical philosophy. We readers naturally expect to be dazzled by the solution of this encyclopedic paradox. Alas, it is not to be.

The following section only heightens the tension. Birzer gives a brief but clear summary of Aquinas's career and philosophy, with an emphasis on his less-popular mystic and imaginative aspect. The connection to Tolkien, a Catholic poet and fantasist, is eagerly grasped by the desperate reader.

But when Birzer moves on at last to give his examples of how Aquinas's philosophy may have influenced Tolkien's fiction, we find to our shock that there is only one. It does not involve mysticism, but rationalism: Aragorn's reign as Elessar, at the very end of, or indeed after, the story of The Lord of the Rings, seems to Birzer to be a prime example of Aquinas's prescription for right rule in his "famous book" On Kingship.

And that's it. One suggested example of the influence of Aquinas on Tolkien. Tolkien, who never once mentioned Aquinas in his voluminous correspondence and literary output.

Charlemagne and Machiavelli have brief but colorful cameos at the end. Charlemagne wins and Machiavelli loses. And St. Thomas Aquinas, last seen about halfway through the article, has quietly vanished back to the shadowy, non-Tolkienian, world whence he came.


Aragorn - Helen Armstrong

Comments by squire, March 17, 2007

Not very good for so important a character. Armstrong covers most of the basics on Aragorn, but with a dismaying lack of organization and theme. Facts and analysis intertwine randomly, there is a tendency to repeat information, and the plot synopses are choppy and inconsistent in their assumptions about the reader's level of knowledge. Worst of all, the presentation and development of Aragorn's thematic importance and literary ancestry is minimal.

Tighter organization might have made room for some discussion of Aragorn's relationship to the Ring, to Denethor and his sons, to the Shire, and to Eowyn, all of which reveal much about his character and importance that is missed or underemphasized here.

Kocher's 1972 essay on Aragorn remains the starting point for thinking clearly about him, but much has been written since then. Armstrong cites Kocher, and three good but older essays from the Isaacs and Zimbardo critical anthology (n.b.: Bradley, not Zimbardo, wrote "Men, Halflings, and Hero-worship"); she seems not to have drawn on any critical thinking more recent than 1981.

All in all, not good enough for a student who might consult an Encyclopedia subtitled "Scholarship and Critical Assessment".

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

The opening précis of Aragorn’s life is accurate but could be clearer: it would be helpful to note that Aragorn was a member of the Fellowship, for example, before explaining that he took charge of the group after Gandalf’s fall.  And the specific dates of Aragorn’s life are unnecessary –it is enough to note his age at the time of LotR and at his death– but if dates are used, they should not switch between two different chronologies (the Gondorian and Shire reckonings).  Armstrong writes that Aragorn’s nobility is revealed to readers once the story reaches Rivendell and there they encounter “the poem made and recited by Bilbo”.  But Bilbo recites four poems in Rivendell, and the one to which Armstrong opaquely refers is “All that is gold does not glitter”, which first appeared several chapters earlier (I thought for a moment that Armstrong meant Bilbo’s song of Aragorn’s half-elvish ancestor, Eärendil, to which Aragorn adds a reference to a green stone.)  Speaking of which, as Armstrong passes from her summary into a consideration of Aragorn’s character, she writes that “Aragorn, both as Strider and as Elessar, is courteous and considerate…”  However, at that point Armstrong has yet to identify Aragorn as “Elessar”, and will not explain that name for another seven paragraphs.  On the other hand, she does manage well the complex Gondorian intrigue that kept Aragorn’s ancestors from the throne (though she could note that Aragorn is descended from the kings of both Arnor and Gondor).

Only one short paragraph is dedicated to comparing Aragorn to characters outside Tolkien’s writings (Arthur, Sigmund) and none to relating him to figures in Tolkien’s other works, like Beren, Tuor, Túrin, or Bard.  It is odd that Armstrong concludes by merely listing many of Aragorn’s fifty-odd names, and especially peculiar when she rounds off this list by noting that the name “Strider” is shared by Frodo’s pony.


Arda - Alexandra Bolintineanu

Comments by squire, June 14, 2007

There is a lot of value here, buried in a morass of disorganization. Admittedly, it is a difficult subject, about which Tolkien changed his mind numerous times.

Overall, the thing is sound. Bolintineanu roughs in Tolkien's storyline of the world's creation and subsequent transformations, then examines Tolkien's revisions in real-world chronological order, and ends with a variety of critical references and commentaries. But her terminology, source references, and plot synopses are just too vague or confusing to be as helpful as they ought to be. For instance, at this level of historical textual analysis, a reference to the undated and unannotated compilation called The Silmarillion is almost pointless. Similarly, she relates the various "facts" of Arda's states and changes in the present tense as if they all have story-truth for a present-day reader of Tolkien, yet tries to make it clear that many of the more recent and scientifically-minded revisions that are found sketched in Morgoth's Ring were "never completed".

A reader using this muddled presentation for research would surely be confused at the end as to just what Arda "is". I myself would have appreciated an opening explanation of how "Arda" is different from "Middle-earth", since I have observed that fans very often use the two terms as synonyms.

The 'Further Reading' list is first rate, while See also could range more widely: "Music in Middle-earth", "Genesis", "Earth", "Heaven" , "Hell", and "Morgoth's Ring" all have something to do with this fundamental subject.


Arkenstone - Anthony Burdge

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 4, 2007

The article suffers in many places from a lack of precision. Most of Burdge’s assertions aren’t wrong, but many aren’t exactly right.

There are other examples as well, but I won’t continue enumerating them individually. The essay could have used better organization and paragraphing, too. Perhaps these are nitpicky points, but the reader stumbles over them. Again, all cries for the assistance of the editor.

I think more could – and should – have been made of a possible link between the Arkenstone and the Silmarils. Burdge hints at it (citing Anderson) when he notes that Tolkien used the Old English eorclanstánas, an antique form of Modern English *Arkenstone, to translate "Silmarils"; however, I would have liked to see Burdge delve into this a bit more. Likening Fëanor’s possessiveness to Thorin’s would have been a good place to start. In The Hobbit, Thorin says, “That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it” – a very close, albeit abridged, echo of the words of the Oath of Fëanor.

After bringing up some good raw material, the essay seems to run out of steam – or perhaps just out of words in its allotted word count. It winds up with a rather sudden and weak summary, the shortest paragraph in the entry. The essay has some good ideas, but it just doesn’t quite bring them all together in any cohesive, convincing way.

In the See also, “Thorin” should be “Thorin Oakenshield.” Burdge also directs readers not only to the existing entry “Pearl: Edition by E.V. Gordon” but also to a nonexistent entry called simply, “Pearl.” To the 'Further Reading', I would have added Gwyneth Morgan’s “The Origin of the Arkenstone,” Amon Hen 65 (Dec 1983). And speaking of the References, Burdge cites somebody named Bloom in the text of his essay; however, there is no Bloom in the Further Reading.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 22, 2007

There are actually two further errors in Burdge’s See also list, and a surfeit of awkward prose and doubtful ideas in his text.  The poem Pearl is summarized at too much length, and badly: Burdge seems not to realize that the lost pearl “without a spot” is generally understood (as by Tolkien) to symbolize the narrator’s dead, innocent daughter, a fact which muddies Burdge’s intended reading.  Burdge’s comparison between the Philosopher’s Stone and the Arkenstone founders on the idea that changing “base metals into gold” is an example of “uniting opposites into a new whole” – perhaps the mysterious “Bloom” referenced here is clearer on that point.  Also, is it right to say that “bitter truce prevails” once the goblins attack (Tolkien: “at their coming all other quarrels were forgotten”)?  And can a “story’s moral character” can have a “turning point”?

Burdge’s reference to the jewel “hidden within Bilbo’s pocket” cries out for a comparison to that other treasure Bilbo keeps there – and with the changes made for The Hobbit’s second edition, Bilbo steals both the Arkenstone and the Ring.  Finally, Burdge describes but does not confront the difficult moral situation that Bilbo’s theft and gift of the jewel creates: his sacrifice does not resolve the conflict, which is averted only by the disaster of the goblin attack.

However, I disagree with Jason Fisher on two points.  First, the Arkenstone doesn’t just reflect light: Tolkien writes that when Bilbo finds the Arkenstone atop Smaug’s hoard, “[t]he great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light”.  Second, I don’t think that Bilbo gave the Arkenstone to both Bard and the Elvenking: when Bilbo is found by Elvish guards along the River Running, he says, “[I]t is Bard I particularly want to see”, and subsequently he “handed the marvellous stone to Bard”.  After Thorin’s death, “Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast”, and then “a fourteenth share of all the silver and gold, wrought and unwrought, was given up to Bard” by Dáin.  The Elvenking of Mirkwood gets nothing from Dáin, though Bard gives him the emeralds of Girion.


Arms and Armor - Joseph Piela

Comments by squire, July 27, 2007

This has a solidity of tone that matches its subject. Piela starts with extensive descriptions of Elven war gear from "The Fall of Gondolin" (written in 1916), and then tramps grimly through every kind of hand-to-hand battle weapon that Tolkien ever wrote into his stories, brooking no questions about his constant generalizations -- and naming almost no sources for some very detailed technical descriptions. He finishes abruptly, almost fatally, in the evil armories of the Orcs.

As useful as this kind of pure inventory is to those who study these things - and Piela is no amateur, I'd judge - I wish he had stepped back a bit and given us some perspective from outside Middle-earth. How does this kind of armament affect the style and substance of Tolkien's stories? How does it intersect with the "magic", that coexists with the craft of arms in Middle-earth but did not in actual medieval/Classical warfare? Why are hand to hand combats in Tolkien's stories so rarely described in detail, as they are in Homer and numerous subsequent epics? Did Tolkien have an interest in arms and armor outside of that generated by writing his endless string of war stories? How meaningful is the myth of the invention of weapons in the early chapters of the Silmarillion? What are the differences as well as the similarities between the Noldor Elves and Dwarves of the First Age, who are both described as master weapon-smiths?

The topic is just "Arms and Armor", of course, and Piela cannot be accused of being off topic. Still, since the article on "War" avoids this entire approach, it is too bad that the Encyclopedia never covers any of the mechanics of Tolkien's unending wars besides its hand-weaponry. There is no larger discussion at all of the elements of warfare that accompany arms and armor, like tactics, order of battle, siege weapons, fortifications, and naval warfare; not to mention the fantastic "anachronistic" weapons technology that tempted Tolkien often, though he usually resisted (Blasting fire of Orthanc, sure; but Goblin-tanks, Númenórean artillery and dreadnoughts, anyone?).

The lack of a 'Further Reading' list does nothing to dispel questions about where Piela got some of his seemingly speculative statements, like the prevalence of scale armor before the Dwarves invented ring-mail,  or Tolkien's taking most of Middle-earth's arms and armor from Norse epic sources.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

Piela is indeed an expert weapon smith and has forged armor inspired by Tolkien’s writings.  His website features a much longer version of this article, and I enjoy the technical knowledge that he brings to his writing.

But as with the entry on “Weapons, Named”, this article would be better for looking beyond Middle-earth.  Armor is the source of comedy In Farmer Giles of Ham, for instance, where the hero’s chain-mail is played for laughs.  And concerning the hero of Smith of Wootton Major, “it is not remembered that he ever forged a sword or a spear or an arrow-head”. The subject also deserves the deeper treatment suggested by squire, as well as some comment on the symbolism of, and possible sources for, armor in Tolkien’s work: for instance, can the differences between Frodo’s experiences (being stabbed) on Weathertop and in Moria be examined with reference to Ephesians 6:11 – “Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil”?


Art And Illustrations by Tolkien - John R. Holmes

Comments by squire, December 10, 2006

Five and a half pages seem like infinity compared to the word count allocated to some of the other topics in the Encyclopedia. This article could practically qualify as original scholarship on this subject. The style is fluid, the range comprehensive, and the insights can be penetrating. The article as a whole attempts to distinguish illustration from art, and to focus on Tolkien's pictures as if they were art, not just illustrations to accompany his fiction. Holmes thus neatly end-runs Tolkien's own supposed dictum that illustrations of fantasy are inherently counterproductive!

I particularly liked his brief comments on Tolkien's inability to draw the human figure, and I wish he had expanded on the implications - Tolkien has been criticized for his weak prose descriptions of his people as well, and I personally think the most famous Tolkien illustrators, following their master, are also more comfortable with scenery than people.

Holmes has a number of interesting takes on Tolkien's artistic relationship to trees - though I think the resulting discursion unbalances the article in the trees' favor, taking up the entire last third of the piece.

Quibbles? Impressive as it is, I feel the entire thing could be tighter - I wonder how carefully the article was edited, and what his actual word-count allocation was.

I'm surprised he ignores Tolkien's graphic designs; The Hobbit cover is only mentioned for its use of green, but I think it is a brilliant design that works perfectly for a very difficult task, the cover of a book. That the publishers even used it is the first and best indicator of its quality. His Elvish crests and insignia, and his very interesting but less-successful-than-The-Hobbit LotR covers could also have withstood more consideration by Holmes.

Likewise, along with trees I wish he had treated with Tolkien's visions of mountains. And Tolkien's architectural drawings -- which are, I think, almost as unimaginative and unskilled as his human figures -- are another subject begging for analysis and comparison to his prose fiction.

One might like to have read a little about how Tolkien's self-taught style fits into the artistic and illustrative traditions of his own time.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

In 2005, Michael Drout announced that the Encyclopedia would include 100 illustrations.  They were cut in the publishing fiasco.  This article is a sad reminder of their absence, particularly in its excellent first half: Holmes treats so many subjects that would benefit from illustration, and his examples suggest further ideas.  Not only Tolkien’s own work (if the rights to any of it could have been obtained) but also the models for Tolkien’s calligraphy in Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering; the real manuscripts that influenced the Book of Mazarbul; the disputed word iþþlen / riwlen in Sawles Warde; some work by William Morris; the medieval triptychs that Holmes believes influenced the look of some of the Father Christmas Letters; E.A. Wyke-Smith’s hobbit-prototypes, the Snergs; and maybe some photographs of places Tolkien sketched.

Besides squire’s suggestions for the entry, I think a longer See also list was called for, adding “Colors”, “Dragons”, “Finland: Literary Sources”, “Manuscripts by Tolkien”, “Maps”, and “Tolkien, Baillie”.


Arthurian Literature - Gerald Seaman

Comments by squire, May 20, 2007

This is so diffuse that I had a hard time coming to grips with it. Seaman dispenses a lot of good but general Arthurian lore; every now and then Tolkien appears with a comment or an interpretation, then disappears again. Although Tolkien's work on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight gets a lot of coverage, in the end it's hard to agree with Seaman that "knowledge of Arthurian literature clearly defined Tolkien's career as a scholar". Since no one is reading this article to research "Arthurian literature" for its own sake, all of this material could safely have been cut so that the emphasis was more clearly on Tolkien's work on, and attitude towards, the Arthurian cycle and its literature.

As for Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium and its connection with the Matter of Arthur, Seaman admits there is little to go on. He does not pursue the bits and pieces of Arthuriana that do appear in Tolkien's stories, such as the suggestion that Bilbo passes the sword Sting on to Frodo by embedding it in a wooden post, from which Frodo apparently withdraws it; or the ban of sexual purity laid on to Aragorn by Elrond at the beginning of his life-long quest for his crown and Arwen.

Seaman does mention the mysterious unpublished poem on Arthur, with Carpenter's hints that it "deals explicitly with sexual passion", but like everybody else that's all he can offer -- or so we are led to believe, since he does not give a reference to the following article, a more in-depth treatment of the work. He repeats again that Tolkien's Silmarillion legendarium was begun, at least, in the hope of displacing the essentially French Arthurian cycle with a more "English" mythology. The unsatisfying conclusion is that Arthur is present in Tolkien's fiction by his absence.

The 'Further Reading' and See also lists seem quite complete, except for the missing "Arthurian Romance" article as mentioned above.

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 21, 2007

I quite agree with squire’s questions and issues with this entry, but I would add another of my own: where is Wales in Seaman’s entry?!

Even the most superficial discussion of the Arthurian Tradition must start with Wales; moreover, had Seaman done this, I think he would have found the connections to Tolkien easier to substantiate, given Tolkien’s special interest in Welsh language and literature. This may sound hyperbolic, but I think this is an outrageous omission. The Welsh sources predate the Old French and Anglo-Norman that Seaman copiously cites, in some cases by centuries. As one example of many, considered by some to be the earliest extant story of Arthur, there is the Tale of Culhwch and Olwen in the Mabinogion (which Tolkien mentions explicitly, by the way, in “The Name ‘Nodens’”). There is also a major antecedent in English (but strongly associated with Wales) in Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was a source for Wace (Seaman’s earliest citation).

Frankly, I find it incredible that the Encyclopedia has an entry on “Old French Literature” but none on “Welsh Literature” – to which, had it existed, Seaman’s present entry ought to have pointed. And the entry on “Welsh Language” does little to fill the gap. Finally, in Seaman’s See also, what does “France and French Culture” really have to say about Arthurian Literature and its impact (small as that may have been) on Tolkien?

Comments by N.E. Brigand, May 27, 2007

Though I agree with squire’s evaluation, I would note that this article does at least include some discussion of Tolkien’s 1953 W.P. Ker lecture on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  That 36-page lecture is otherwise all but absent from the encyclopedia, being represented only by the article on its 5-paragraph condensation for a BBC broadcast ( see "A Fourteenth-century Romance"). Its listing in the index leads only to passing references and not to Seaman’s article -- but in agreement with Tom Shippey's earlier evaluation, Michael Drout recently called it a “major piece of Tolkien’s published literary criticism”  in the 2007 issue of Tolkien Studies (p. 143).


Arthurian Romance - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, May 20, 2007

In a very short but excellent essay, Flieger recounts in more detail than found in the previous article, what little we know from Humphrey Carpenter about Tolkien's uncompleted, alliterative epic of King Arthur - except she omits the bit about explicit sexual passion, restricting herself to noting that Guinever is depicted as a "temptress". Her presentation on the two extant "traditions" of how to tell the Arthur story is very good, and she uses it to explain which tradition Tolkien seems to have chosen. Her phrase "when published" is unexplained; she does not go into the question of why, when almost everything else Tolkien ever wrote is now in print, this remains sequestered.

For good measure she briefly comments on Tolkien's use of Arthurian elements in his fiction with more specifics and focus than is found in Seaman's companion piece.

As noted in my previous review, it seems as odd as ever that these two articles should be separate. Since they are separate, the next question is why this article, along with only two others on Tolkien's unpublished translations, is classified under "Literature", while everything else he ever wrote is either in the category "Scholarship by Tolkien: Medieval Literature" for non-fiction or "Works of Literature" for his fiction. Finally, no matter the category, it would have been more accurate to call this article "Fall of Arthur, The", since the poem is so titled. The present title seems to duplicate "Arthurian Literature" so exactly that the distinction the editors are trying to make is muddled.


Artistic Movements - James I. McNelis III

Comments by squire, June 26, 2007

Why McNelis has landed on the Pre-Raphaelites, Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau as the "Artistic Movements" of the title is never explained. But to play this ball as it lies, there is far too much here about the characteristics and history of these three artistic movements, and far too little about Tolkien's reaction to them. When McNelis does finally get to Tolkien, he is too sparing of examples both from art history and from Tolkien's works, that might tie them together in the reader's understanding.

The weakest section is the first: the Pre-Raphaelites. McNelis shows that Tolkien, like every other Englishman of his era, was familiar with their romantically medievalized paintings, but does not show what their effect on him is supposed to have been. There is only one unspecific comment (credited to Podles) that some of his artwork "resembles" some of theirs, and promising but very unclear remarks about the use of natural elements and two-dimensionality.  Personally I have always thought Goldberry's description owed a lot to this school, but then it is hard to compare a written passage to a painting.

Likewise, Art Nouveau is hard on the face of it to apply to Tolkien. Again, McNelis mentions that Podles reference, and adds "it has been argued" that Elven jewelry is Art Nouveau in style. Both a citation and an example would make all the difference here. It might be of interest at this point to note that the recent New Line films' designers assigned Art Nouveau to Elvish culture as a distinctive architectural and crafts style. The experiment at least had the virtue of bringing the question to people's attention: my impression is that most viewers like it, but that more perceptive critics noted that Art Nouveau has a period modernity that uncomfortably lands the ancient unspoiled havens of Rivendell and Lothlorien in some park in early 20th century Paris or Vienna.

The section on Arts and Crafts, and the associated influence of William Morris, is by far the most successful. To start with, Tolkien's knowledge of and fondness for Morris's work is documented. Then Morris was neither a fine artist nor an architect or sculptor, but a writer, graphic designer, bookmaker and calligrapher: all forms of creativity that Tolkien himself loved and practiced. It is here that a more comprehensive review of Tolkien's art and its relationship to Morris would be most welcome; again, McNelis spends more time describing Morris's achievements than Tolkien's.

Some other lapses in what could, with more focus, have been a very informative article: teasing mentions of Ruskin and Blake without elaboration; the closing implication that Tolkien "refused to compromise" with the technicalities of modern-day publishing; no mention of Art Deco, the Romantic movement as a whole, or various period revivals such as Gothic or Celtic; and a 'Further Reading' list with only two out of nine references being about Tolkien.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 27, 2007

I'm surprised McNelis did not make more of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), as it was actually known. I think this piece could have benefited by highlighting how the TCBS and then later the Inklings as artistic fellowships were modeled in large part on the PRB.

There is one mention of the group in the Encyclopedia — in Garth's entry "T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society)", where he shows that Tolkien explicitly made the connection. Pam Bracken presented a very good talk on the subject at the 9th Annual Meeting of the C.S. Lewis and Inklings Society. It's unpublished, but available here.


Artists and Illustrators' Influence on Tolkien - John Garth

Comments by squire, June 26, 2007

"It's deja nouveau all over again", as Yogi "The Gaffer" Berra might have said. Garth tackles much the same territory as McNelis does in the previous article, but with both a wider range and a focus always on Tolkien rather than his inspirations. Morris is mentioned first, of course; and Art Nouveau merits a rematch, this time with specific examples from Rackham, Nielsen and Tolkien's own art. The Pre-Raphaelites do not seem to have caught Garth's eye.

Being unconstrained by the "artistic movement" restriction, Garth ranges further afield, too, with references to fairy-tale illustrators, mapmakers, scientific illustrations, and genre work. Most interesting is his attempt to show visual influences on Tolkien's prose, while admitting that such exercises are even more "debatable" than similar exercises in finding literary influences.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 20, 2007

Garth mentions a World War I trench map that has been “attributed (probably wrongly) to Tolkien”, but he gives no indication that it can be seen in The Tolkien Family Album, which is missing from his ‘Further Reading’ list.  The map is mentioned in Garth’s own Tolkien and the Great War, which does appear on his list, but his comments on it in that book are buried in a footnote.  Garth also attributes connections between Tolkien’s fiction and “Puss-cat Mew” to an unidentified “Anderson” –Douglas Anderson?– likewise missing from the ‘Further Reading’ list.

Comments by Jason Fisher, December 30, 2007

N.E. Brigand points out that the trench map can be seen in The Tolkien Family Album, where John and Priscilla Tolkien assert explicitly that "he drew [it] himself" (p.40). However, I think it's worth pointing out another reproduction of the same map. This one, on p.32 of J.R.R. Tolkien: Life and Legend (Bodleian Library, 1992), is dated, about 50% larger, in full color (black and red), and without the lower right-hand corner obscured as in the Album. It is in every way a superior reproduction. Also, Life and Legend does not explicitly attribute the map to Tolkien; it merely says that the map was found "among Tolkien's papers relating to the war" (p.31).


Arwen - Helen Armstrong

Comments by squire, July 27, 2007

There is much here that is good. The basics of Arwen's life and story are laid out fairly plainly. Armstrong properly focuses on Arwen's archetypal role as the bridal "reward" for Aragorn's efforts, and her two actual appearances in the main story of The Lord of the Rings. She might have included those additional but underplayed moments when Aragorn mentions Arwen or thinks of her, and we even hear Arwen's words in The Return of the King at the beginning of Book V, as relayed by Halbarad.

Arwen's strong presence as a character in the "Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" deserved more prominence. Even though Tolkien relegated it to the Appendices (and Armstrong notes how protective he was of its placement there), he agonized about how to include it in the main narrative before finally deciding it would be too distracting. Armstrong's attention to Arwen's literary creation, citing the History of LotR, is welcome, but does not show how interdependent the development of Arwen and Aragorn were. Once the hobbit Trotter becomes the exiled King of the West, you need a Queen.

What's less good is the discussion of the multiple layers of symbolism that Arwen represents. Arwen's doubling with Lúthien is not really laid out clearly, and the cognomen "Evenstar [of her people]" and the quoted phrase "choice of Luthien" are not explained or tied together. It's not so much that these two chose mortal husbands and thus mortality, as that each represented the highest standard of Elvish femininity and beauty in their Age of the World, were cherished as such by the entire race of the Eldar, and yet tragically were the only two Elves ever to have truly "died". Ultimately they symbolize and "bring home" the mistake that the Elves made at the very beginning of the legendarium's history, when they returned as immortals to the Mortal Lands. 

Armstrong provides instead a triple-linked comparison of Arwen with Idril and Lúthien, which emphasizes their marriages to weaker mortal Men whom they then aided. This is shaky and does not distinguish between the two other cases: Idril did not die (rather the mortal Tuor become immortal); and were any of them really "warriors"? But the argument by this point is quite disorganized, as Armstrong circles around to Arwen's choice of mortality again in the concluding section.

There are some lesser weak points too. It's tricky to say that Arwen "crowns Aragorn again as Lord of Arnor". In Unfinished Tales, in "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", Arwen bound the recovered Elendilmir on Elessar's brow when he "took up the full kingship of Arnor": so no crown, no "again", no "Lord". The personae dramatis ("characters of the story") should not be described as "vast".

The 'Further Reading' list has some interesting pieces on Arwen; the editors should have excised the standard Tolkien references. See also is missing (at least) "Beren", "Death", "Immortality", "Éowyn", "Lúthien", "Men, Middle-earth", "Quest Narrative", "Sacrifice", and "Thingol".


Asceticism - Christina M. Heckman

Comments by squire, January 30, 2007

What I like about this article is that it brings an angle to looking at Tolkien that I've never considered before. That said, I think Heckman's analysis suffers from the nail-hammer problem: with the concept of asceticism as her only interpretive tool, she sees signs of it everywhere.

I don't have the hermit rule-book at hand, but I thought that the ascetic life had spiritual value to the degree that it is voluntary. Aragorn's life-quest, Beren's wanderings, Gandalf's travels, and the hobbits' travails, don't strike me as good examples of asceticism in Tolkien's fiction, because their sufferings on the road are dictated by duty, and follow from a dedication to hard service in a cause larger than mere self-discipline. We never hear much about these characters' immersion in prayer and contemplation, either.

Not that I think the value of asceticism isn't a part of Tolkien's worldview. Denethor proclaims his asceticism, as does Strider (I agree with Heckman here), and even the Ents, in a way. The distinction I see is that these characters speak of their sacrifices, whereas in Heckman's other examples I feel she is projecting an abstract profession onto characters who never themselves embrace asceticism per se.

As for Tolkien's beliefs ("These sufferings, in Tolkien's view, are both obligatory and freeing"), I would have liked to see a citation or two wherein he openly expresses the concepts that Heckman attributes to him.


Astronomy and Cosmology - Alexandra Bolintineanu

Comments by squire, December 11, 2006

A deft summary of Tolkien's various fictional astronomies. As to cosmology, I'm not sure where that word's jurisdiction ends, but Bolintineanu does not address Tolkien's evolving creation mythology from the Ainulindale. She does give a good summary of the various "shapes" of his invented universes -- and of the backflips Tolkien did in the 1950s when considering whether to reconcile his astronomy with modern-day science.

Aside from a quick reference to Flieger's Splintered Light, there is very little analysis of just why Tolkien paid such attention to astronomy, or of the various symbolic roles the heavens play in his fiction.


Auden, W. H.: Influence of Tolkien - Rod Jellema

Comments by squire, June 19, 2007

This rambles, but to good effect. Jellema clearly conveys his main point, that Auden revered Tolkien's command of Old English and other ancestral languages rather than his fantasy creations qua fantasy. Also clear is that the two men's friendship was on again, off again, as they constituted each other's cross grain at the intersection of poetry and language study. What is less clear is just what Auden's politics were, that Tolkien was so suspicious of; and what degree of literary estime Auden held, that his reviews of The Lord of the Rings were held to be so important.

I am less certain about my other question, derived from reading other articles in the Encyclopedia: did Auden write much alliterative verse, like the line quoted at the end of the article? And if so, was that part of an abortive "Alliterative Revival" in English letters, of which Tolkien was an (unaffiliated) part? Jellema seems to regard Auden's actual poetry, as opposed to honorific verse, as outside his scope, but surely this is a topic relevant to his relationship with Tolkien.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

I’d like to start by pointing out that Rod Jellema is, himself, a poet of some reputation. I met him in 1990, and found him a very intelligent man and a gifted poet. His somewhat rambling rhapsody on Auden is more excusable, I think, when one considers that it was written by a poet. I don’t know that it’s fair to accuse him of “regard[ing] Auden’s actual poetry, as opposed to honorific verse, as outside his scope” — my guess would be that Jellema was resisting the dangerous temptation to get lost in it; rather, he tried to keep his focus on Tolkien (generally, very successfully).

That being said, there are a couple of important points I think Jellema overlooked or omitted, particularly since the topic is Tolkien’s influence on Auden. I think Jellema might have made it more explicitly clear that Auden’s “Short Ode to a Philologist” is, in fact, dedicated to Tolkien, and not simply applicable to him; the poem kicked off the 1962 Festschrift, English and Medieval Studies, Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, edited by Norman Davis and C.L. Wrenn. Tolkien’s poem, “For W.H.A.”, then, in Auden’s Festschrift five years later, may have been a direct, answering homage. Second, Jellema should have noted that Auden translated selections from the Old Norse (with Paul B. Taylor) — The Song of the Sybil, 1968, a translation of the Völuspá, from which Tolkien drew inspiration for The Hobbit; and The Elder Edda: A Selection, 1969 — and dedicated those efforts to Tolkien. Clearly, Tolkien’s influence on Auden was far reaching.

To the 'Further Reading', I would have added the Davis/Wrenn Festschrift, as well as Paul Beekman Taylor’s “Auden’s Icelandic Myth of Exile,” Journal of Modern Literature Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter 2000/2001): 213-234. And why is there no See also?

Comments by N.E. Brigand, December 30, 2007

On this occasion, the Encyclopedia’s index is of assistance, leading to a note on Auden’s politics in the “Communism” article, which mentions a 1944 letter in which Tolkien contrasted Auden unfavorably with Roy Campbell.

The little I’ve read of Auden indicates that he wrote in a variety of styles.  His best-known alliterative poem is The Age of Anxiety, a long work which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 (Auden having moved to the U.S. in 1939).

Certainly it would have been appropriate to note the degree of Tolkien’s influence on Auden’s poetry, if that could be demonstrated.  The alliterative line that Jellema quotes is from Auden’s “The Wanderer” (1933), and one recent review of Auden’s work attributes that poem’s “Anglo-Saxon tones” to the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins, not Tolkien.  (Although to judge from a passing remark in Letter #113, Tolkien seems to have admired Hopkins.)


Augustine of Canterbury, Saint, First Archbishop of Canterbury (d. c. 604) - Bradford Lee Eden

Comment by squire, June 19, 2007

Not one word about Tolkien.


Augustine of Hippo - John Wm. Houghton

Comments by squire, July 27, 2007

This is short but sweet. The Nature of Evil and the Existence of Free Will are Augustine's philosophical specialties, and how can we help but think of Tolkien at this point?

First things first: there's no need for the extensive biography in the opening. We are not looking up St. Augustine for himself here! Instead I wish Houghton had led with a brief review for the layman of Augustine's major philosophical works, and how they might have fit into the education and worldview of, say, an educated Catholic Englishman of the early 20th century.

In a better example of word count economy, Houghton summarizes Tolkien's incorporation of Augustine's thoughts on Evil and the Creation as much as one can in a few hundred words, then just says, "see my book, where I will refer you to the entire critical debate (hint: the key is Shippey)". In a longer article that might be egregious but here it's refreshingly direct. He is letting us know the subject is just too big for this little article about St. Augustine.

Lastly, Houghton never even wastes a word on the old debate about "influence". Is Tolkien on record as having read St. Augustine, and was he thinking of "On Grace and Free Will" when he was writing the Sammath Naur scene, for instance? Who cares? All Houghton does is point out "resonances" and "similarities" between Tolkien's thinking and one of the most important Christian philosophers. Each reader can then decide whether to pursue the subject further -- for which the 'Further Reading' gives a fine basic roadmap.


Authorship - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, June 22, 2007

This takes more than one reading to get Nagy's points, which are buried in prose more disorganized and unformed than usual. Of course, knowing Nagy from other articles, I persevered and so learned some interesting things:

I think it would have been better if Nagy had not called Bilbo's "Translations from the Elvish" the "final framing device" for The Silmarillion. In his companion articles "Fictionality" and "Textuality" he is more clear that this is implicit only in The Lord of the Rings, and is nowhere to be found in the published Silmarillion itself. That text, whose authorship he rightly singles out for its "problematic" nature, has no framing device beyond occasional (I think Nagy is mistaken in saying they are omnipresent) references to earlier texts and authors.

It doesn't have to be this hard, though. I wish some editor had had the chance to make Nagy rewrite, or rather reorganize, his presentation. On a higher level, the differences in title have spread them through the Encyclopedia, but Nagy's three articles on "Authorship", "Textuality", and "Fictionality", in conjunction with Flieger's "Frame Narrative", are just as good candidates for being combined into one omnibus article, as the four articles on the topic of "Beowulf", the three articles each on "Alliteration" or "Fairies", or any of the other too-finely divided thematic assignments that pepper the Encyclopedia.