Bakshi, Ralph (1938-) - Barry Langford

Comments by squire, March 1, 2007

This is an excellent treatment of Bakshi's ambitious but flawed animated film of the first half of The Lord of the Rings. The explanation of the technical problems and solutions is particularly good, but Langford also provides judicious critical opinion and interpretation wherever needed.

His comparison of the film to other animated features of Bakshi's own time and earlier is a good approach. I think it's a little less meaningful to compare Bakshi's choices in structuring the screenplay with Peter Jackson's subsequent film treatment. Langford's sources are few, but obviously valuable. I believe I've read somewhere an article by Peter Beagle describing his experience developing the Bakshi screenplay in the 1970s; and I think there is at least one retrospective interview with Bakshi done just before the release of the Jackson films, where he speaks in defense of his film. But the most important information in them is probably covered here from the other sources.

As with the "Peter Jackson" article, the title is deceptive. This is not a biographical sketch of Bakshi, nor should it be. Properly, it would have been listed as The Lord of the Rings: Film by Ralph Bakshi. The See also list is sketchy, omitting the "Rankin/Bass", "Film Scripts (Unused)", "Philippa Boyens", and "Dramatizations" articles, to name a few.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 25, 2007

Fantastic!  Langford is exceptionally good on cinematic technique and questions of adaptation, and I like his comparisons with Peter Jackson’s film version, which suggest, for example, the near inevitability of certain book-to-film choices, like opening LotR with a historical prologue.

One point in the entry confuses me: as is well known, Bakshi’s story ends abruptly at Helm’s Deep, but originally was intended to conclude in a sequel.  Referencing a 2002 article in Cinefantastique, Langford notes a disagreement between writer Peter Beagle and producer Saul Zaentz, who denies Beagle’s claim that Zaentz, aware that no second film would be produced, “reversed the sequence of the first film’s scenes” (that’s Langford not Beagle)   Langford is not clear on exactly which concluding scenes might have been reversed, but he quotes the film’s “obtuse and inexact voiceover résumé” as follows: “The forces of darkness were driven forever from Middle-earth by the valiant friends of Frodo.”  On the DVD version of the film, that narration plays as Gandalf turns on his horse; as he throws his sword into the air, it concludes with, “As their gallant battle ended, so too ends the first great tale of The Lord of the Rings”.  Then Gandalf and company ride toward and past the camera position as the music plays for another twenty seconds before the credits roll.

However, on the VHS version, there is no narration for Gandalf’s turn and toss.  Instead, after the company rides past and the music concludes, there is a briefer and different remark: “So ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring” just before the credits roll.  Curiously, Vincent Canby’s contemporary review in the New York Times, which Langford cites on other matters, gives the concluding voiceover as: “Here concludes the first part of the history of the War of the Ring”, which nearly agrees with the VHS ending.  It’s mildly frustrating to me that Langford brushes against but never addresses this odd little conundrum.

Though Canby’s negative review of Bakshi’s film doesn’t appear in Langford’s bibliography, it’s cited several times, so perhaps I should note that Canby expresses a dislike for Tolkien’s work: he mentions Edmund Wilson’s criticism of LotR with approval, and writes, “since I reached voting age I haven't been as fascinated by confrontations between good and evil (with the exception of ‘Star Wars,’ which was funny)”.  Then again, Canby does work in references to other films like Olivier’s Henry V and Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, whereas Langford makes relatively little effort to place Bakshi’s LotR in the context of film history.


Barfield, Owen (1898-1997) - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, August 27, 2007

Flieger, facing the usual dilemma in writing about an Inkling for the Encyclopedia, finds and sticks to the narrow path that connects her subject and Tolkien. She properly spends most of her time on Barfield's work, rather than his life; and she takes care to remind us repeatedly of Tolkien's debt to Barfield in working out the relationship between his two life-works, language-history and myth. A few awkward layers of expository repetition are due to Flieger's characteristic style of laying out her argument in brief and then returning to it in depth, which is a degree of structure unneeded in so short an article.

For all of Flieger's deft touch in presenting this material, I found I had questions while reading this that went unanswered. I wanted to know more about the relationship between the time Tolkien met Barfield and read Poetic Diction (1928 and after), and his changing conception of his inventions. It was around and after that same time, I believe, that he recast the history of his Elvish languages, and rethought the nature of his mythology, renamed the Quenta Silmarillion, casting it further back in time so that it was to be presented as translations of written records rather than transcriptions of oral "tales". In other words, Flieger simply credits Barfield with influencing Tolkien across some unspecified time of his life; could we not be more exact, given what we know now through the History of Middle-earth material?

Likewise, Flieger states that Barfield added the key concept of "human consciousness" to Tolkien's already developed awareness (since 1914) of the relationship between "language and legend". But she never explores what I believe Tolkien eventually had to confront: that his immortal Elves might not have had a "human" (i.e., mortal) consciousness when they created their legends. As he eventually arranged it, they changed their languages not according to philological or psychological principles but to aesthetic ones -- which is hardly in congruence with Barfield's theories! The early "legends" did similar backflips as he thought through the implications of an immortal race with a constantly increasing store of wisdom about the nature of the physical world. I would love to know how Barfield and Tolkien got along, if at all, in later years, as Tolkien's art matured; in its specifics, this essay essentially revolves around just a few years after 1928.

Flieger properly refers us to the article on "Language, Theories of", where Allan Turner gives an interesting précis on this same relationship in a larger context. While he strangely does not cross-reference this article, he does cite Poetic Diction, and Flieger's own Splintered Light, where she discusses Barfield's influence on Tolkien in more depth. Flieger does not clue us in to her very valuable book, but cites only Carpenter's Inklings, which is rather inadequate for researching so interesting a subject. See also could be a lot broader, starting with the articles on "Silmarillion, The", "'Mythology for England'", "History of Middle-earth: Overview", and those on the theories of text like "Fictionality", "Textuality", etc.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, August 28, 2007

Although squire says that Flieger "takes care to remind us repeatedly of Tolkien's debt to Barfield", Tolkien's name appears nowhere in the first 500 or so words of this article -- which is also the poorer for omitting Tolkien’s explicit acknowledgement of Barfield’s influence on his fiction. In Letter #15, he comments on the philological theory underlying the sentences expressing Bilbo’s “staggerment” at seeing Smaug’s hoard in The Hobbit.

Flieger’s omission from 'Further Reading' of her own Splintered Light is a strange loss.  Not only does that book feature her chapter-length examination of Barfield’s influence on Tolkien (for instance, she says that Tolkien's poem, "Mythopoeia", is "pure Barfield"), but it also has references to her correspondence and interview with Barfield himself.


Barrie, J.M. (1860-1937) – David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 11, 2007

This is a generally informative and well-organized entry on the creator of Peter Pan. Barrie’s connection to Tolkien, however, seems (to me anyway) pretty small beer for an entry of this length. This article does not appear in the thematic list of entries, and I’m really not quite sure where it ought to go in that list either.

I wish Oberhelman had focused a little bit more on Tolkien than on Barrie, given the primary mission of the Encyclopedia. For instance, Oberhelman merely mentions “parallels” between Barrie and Tolkien, but he doesn’t really elaborate on these in any detail. (In the same sentence, I think “emerge” is an error for “emerged”.) A few further similarities between them are scattered through the essay, but nothing really substantial in my view. Likewise, if the comparison is a bit superficial, so too are the contrasts between the two authors; mainly, the differences revolve around the image of fairies and the question of dramatic staging as a possible vehicle for fantasy.

Oberhelman (or perhaps Mike Foster, whom Oberhelman is citing) also makes rather too much of the shared “there and back again” nature of The Hobbit and Peter Pan. Isn’t this motif common, if not almost ubiquitous, in fantasy literature? C.S. Lewis's Narnian books, Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin all share this in common – and all these authors, except Lewis, are roughly contemporary with Barrie.

The 'Further Reading' is about as good as one can expect since there has apparently been little direct critical study of Barrie and Tolkien together. I question the Mike Foster telephone interview, because it isn’t something a user of the Encyclopedia can read or even refer to at all. I understand Oberhelman is simply citing his sources, but in that case, the ostensible purpose of the section is at odds with his use of it. The See also probably needs references to “MacDonald, George (1824 – 1905)”, “Lewis, C.S. (1898 – 1963)”, “Death”, “Immortality”, “Faërie”, and “Fairyology, Victorian”.

Battle of Maldon, The - John R. Holmes

Comments by squire, August 28, 2007

There seems to be an almost infinite number of articles in the Encyclopedia vying to discuss the concept of ofermod. Holmes takes his shot at it here. He distinguishes himself with the most detailed inquiry into the etymology behind Tolkien's controversial translation of it as "overmastering pride", with a rare attention to medieval scholarship that came after Tolkien's time. He also has some interesting points about the occurrence and non-occurrence (!) of Tolkien's concept of ofermod in The Lord of the Rings. His digression into the ambiguities in translating the name "Tolkien" is less compelling; it might have been replaced by more attention to ofermod in The Silmarillion than the off-center reference we get to West's seminal Túrin article.

But can I ask if The Battle of Maldon, as a work of literature, has any other connections with Tolkien's scholarship, since E. V. Gordon acknowledged Tolkien's help in solving "many", not just one, of the problems he encountered when preparing his 1937 edition? And am I only imagining that Beorhtnoth's tactical blunder influenced Tolkien's late account of the first Battle of the Fords of Isen that appeared in Unfinished Tales?

See also names the most obvious of ofermod's "usual suspects", but should have included "Kingship", "Old English", "Túrin", and as many of the various "Beowulf" articles as seemed appropriate.

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

There are also possible echoes of Maldon in the last stand of the Men of Dor-lómin at the Fen of Serech in The Silmarillion, in the Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit, and perhaps in Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog on the narrow bridge in The Lord of the Rings.  Some of these parallels are considered in “Maldon and Moria: On Byrhtnoth, Gandalf, and Heroism in The Lord of the Rings” by Alexander M. Bruce in the latest issue of Mythlore.  Reportedly “Tolkien and Germanic Ethics”, a 1986 Mythlore article by Robert Boenig, also addresses some of these parallels, but I have not seen that study.  There are also at least two passages in LotR that echo Maldon’s famous couplet: “Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder / spirit the greater, as our spirit lessens” (that is Tolkien’s translation, as given by Holmes).  In "The Choices of Master Samwise", Tolkien writes of Sam, "His weariness was growing but his will hardened all the more." And in "Mount Doom", he has, "But even as hope died in Sam…[his] face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him" (and a few paragraphs later, "their strength lessened").  The former is noted by Hammond and Scull in their companion to LotR.

Holmes refers to the poem’s best-known lines as the “speech of Beorhtnoth in lines 312-13”.  Actually the speaker is not the overbold earl, who died some 100 lines earlier, but his retainer, Beorhtwold.  Additionally, Holmes implies that Tolkien used the name “Ælfwine” only in The Lost Road, forgetting the Lost Tales and several other works.  Also, it’s not quite right to say that Aragorn, on the road to the Morannon, “meets a bedraggled host of recruits ‘unmanned’ by terror” – he’s been leading them for days.  And Tom Shippey is mentioned in Holmes’ text, but missing from his ‘Further Reading’ list.


Bede (St. Bede the Venerable, Old English Bæda) (672?-735) - John Wm. Houghton

Comments by squire, May 30, 2007

Like several other articles, often with a medieval topic, this one is only barely relevant to Tolkien. The material on who Bede is and why he's important to English history is excellent, but by the third paragraph one is dying for some connection to Tolkien.

What comes next is essentially padding: an extended gloss on the month names in the Shire Calendar, as found in the Lord of the Rings appendices, and how Tolkien adapted them from the Old English calendar names which Bede discussed, in Latin, in his book "The Reckoning of Time". The entire thing is too long for its importance: after all, Tolkien generally uses English names for the months in the actual story.

Houghton then points out the well-known parody in the LotR Prologue, where hobbit history in settling the Shire recapitulates the history of the settlement of England by the Anglo-Saxon tribes. Bede wrote about this, but as Houghton notes, so did other historians of Bede's time. Finally Houghton recounts Tolkien's work on who Hengest was, and finds a citation to Bede in Tolkien's scholarly lecture "English and Welsh."

This is pretty slim pickings. While Tolkien was undoubtedly fully familiar with the Venerable Bede, the sainted historian can hardly be pointed to as the "source" for these matters in Tolkien's fiction; too many other Old English documents cover the same territory.

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

For all Houghton's attention to Shire month names, there is a separate article on "Calendars" that he doesn't mention (and vice versa, for that matter). 

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 31, 2007

Not to mention that the history and settlement of England, as mirrored in the settlement of the Shire, is also elsewhere discussed in the Encyclopedia – see the Index. Much of the material here is therefore not only tangential, but redundant. Also, where Houghton explains the meanings of Marcho and Blanco, it’s actually blanca, not blanco as Houghton has it (it occurs in Beowulf, l. 856, in the dative plural case; the word is also attested in Bosworth-Toller, p. 108).

Besides the forgoing comments, Houghton missed another thing or two. He mentions Tolkien's works Finn and Hengest and “English and Welsh,” but neglects to point out that Tolkien mentioned Bede in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In his critical edition of that essay, Michael Drout discusses Bede at many points of contact with Tolkien (13 references in the index) – rich ore that Houghton could have mined for additional nuggets of useful information.

One bright spot: the bit about Bede’s popularity affecting scribal practice was fascinating! I’d like to learn more about that!


Bennett, Jack Arthur Walter - Colin Duriez

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 25, 2007

Bennett was a sometime member of the Inklings who receives what looks to be a perfectly competent 400-word biography from Duriez.  Unfortunately Duriez mentions Tolkien only once, in passing, as one of several lecturers Bennett heard in the 1930s.

Compare to the Reader’s Guide of Scull and Hammond, whose entry on Bennett notes that Tolkien examined Bennett’s doctoral thesis, that Bennett was a candidate to succeed Tolkien’s work on a long-delayed Chaucer text, that Bennett and Tolkien both advised for the Early English Text Society, that Bennett contributed to both the 1962 and 1979 Tolkien festschrifts, and that it was Tolkien who invited Bennett to the Inklings, over some members’ objections.


Beorn - John Walsh

Comments by squire, August 27, 2007

There is some fine commentary here on Beorn. On the other hand, the essay is disorganized and badly balanced. Walsh seems too determined to establish parallels between Beorn and Beowulf, at the expense of other approaches.

The contrast between Beorn's and Elrond's houses in The Hobbit is especially good, but Walsh does not follow through in analyzing why Beorn should be so much more "natural" than Elrond and his half-Elven folk. The citation of Rider Haggard on "berserker" is fascinating but seems to go nowhere unless one has read The Hobbit. Walsh ignores Tolkien's fascinating illustration of Beorn's hall, straight from Norse archaeology. He underplays the inherent differences between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that Beorn epitomizes: for instance, bears do not appear in the later book, though their counterparts the wargs and the eagles do; animals walking on their hind feet as servants would seem absurd in LotR; and it is not made clear enough that Beorn' s later career as a "chieftain" is an awkward retrofit, mentioned at the Council of Elrond and left undeveloped. More attention to these stylistic details would allow us to conclude that Beorn, a classic Hobbit character, half fairy-tale creature, half Norse epic monster, was never really integrated into Tolkien's later ideas about Middle-earth.

This kind of big-picture analysis, and perhaps even a profitable comparison with Bombadil, might have been fitted in by tightening the overly long passages on etymology and Grendel. It is symptomatic of Walsh's casual style here that there is no 'Further Reading' given beyond the standard Shippey, and no See also at all.

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

There is also a “Beorn” in The Book of Lost Tales: Eriol’s uncle, who killed his father.  His absence here is understandable.  Less explicable, given the reference to Beorn’s “war trophies”, is the omission of any comment on the amorality of this bear-man who kills his prisoners: “Beorn was a fierce enemy. But now he was their friend”.  Also, as squire mentions, the contrast between the hospitality of Elrond and Beorn is well-observed, but what of the parallel between Beorn and Bilbo, both of whom Gandalf tricks into playing host to a troupe of dwarves?

Douglas Anderson’s Tolkien Studies 3 article, “R.W. Chambers and The Hobbit”, has some interesting suggestions about how  Chambers’ work inspired Tolkien’s creation of Beorn (presumably the new History of ‘The Hobbit’ discusses Beorn as well).


Beowulf and the Critics - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, March 13, 2007

It should go without saying that Drout, who famously discovered and edited this lecture series manuscript in 2001-02, should know whatever there is to know about it and its relation to its more famous published version, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (MC). Drout emphasizes two things: the history of the work, and what it shows of Tolkien's academic and intellectual process. In the latter area, the focus is on the development and quality of Tolkien's rhetoric, both in this lecture series and (by reference) in the subsequent MC. Fascinatingly, Drout lets us see Tolkien both spelling out what he later veiled, and veering away from dissecting major Beowulf critics about whom he was later "less politic".

I felt the A-B manuscript history was too detailed for an article of this length. More importantly, I found it disconcerting that Drout seems to assume that we must already know and understand the soon-to-be-famous core argument. He barely describes the intellectual content of his topic - unless the cryptic reference to the "eventual direction of [Tolkien's] argument" means that there is actually a substantial difference between this lecture series and the Academy version...

I was left with a couple of questions even as I noted that the following article is on MC, which will evidently pick up and continue the story of Tolkien and Beowulf without a missed beat. One, when Tolkien delivered this lecture series at Oxford in 1934-35, did anyone in the Beowulf biz blink besides the undergraduates? That is: was the lecture an underground hit and so Tolkien was invited to deliver it to the Academy? Or did Tolkien himself push it on the Academy to save it from oblivion?

This article need not have just been about Beowulf. It is another opportunity, missed in "Leeds" but of course present in the "Oxford" article, of characterizing Tolkien's academic career. Tolkien's attention to his lecture duties is emphasized in Carpenter as an excuse for why he published so relatively little scholarship in his career. Were all his Oxford English lectures as brilliant, and neglected, as this one?

And two, which may be beating a dead horse: why is this article separate from three other Beowulf articles by the same contributor? Such balkanization is truly baffling, not to mention a probable cause of the comic omission of "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" from the See also cross-reference!

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

Well done but quite short for an article on a 450-page book.  Drout appears to assume readers have read  “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, or at least his good entry on that essay, which follows this one.  Amusingly, this Beowulf and the Critics article includes not one parenthetical reference to that book, even though the encyclopedia’s “Conventions and Abbreviations” page lists it for just such a purpose.  The See also list should also have included at least The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (for “The Hoard”), Alcuin, and Aldhelm.

To take up a point raised by squire: the Encyclopedia seems to have been intended to include separate articles on all of Tolkien’s published works, except for individual poems and letters, so the division of Beowulf and the Critics from “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, the former’s appearance following the latter’s by 66 years, fits a more-or-less regular practice.  (There are some anomalies: for instance, Tolkien’s “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad” is covered in entries on the AB Language and Ancrene Wisse; and there are no entries on his three 1920s “Philology: General Works” reviews.)  That doesn’t explain the addition of two further Beowulf articles.


"Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, March 13, 2007

This is a really brilliant essay. On reading it one feels like one has come through the looking-glass from the cryptic world of its predecessor article about the predecessor lecture. Here all those mysteries are explained. Engagingly, the duality that Drout tells us about in Tolkien's interpretation of the great poem is present here too, as the article splits between Beowulf and Tolkien; and just as Drout assures us that the lecture achieved immortality through its rhetoric rather than its arguments, so also with this article.

One immediately wants to know what happened next: how was Beowulf scholarship changed, and does Tolkien's approach still rule, despite the lecture being "mindlessly venerated"? But we have to move on to the next article to have those questions addressed. (Meanwhile, we will ignore that this article refers to itself in the See also list.)

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

Superb.  But again, because it includes no internal citation, new readers will not learn that they can find Tolkien’s classic essay in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, one of the encyclopedia’s basic texts listed on the “Conventions and Abbreviations” page (and thus appropriately absent from Drout’s bibliography).  I don’t think it can be assumed that every encyclopedia reader will have encountered that page; just one “MC” abbreviation would clue them in.  Additionally, the entry has but three See also entries, leading only to the other “Beowulf” articles.


Beowulf: Tolkien's Scholarship - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, March 13, 2007

I grit my teeth and say that this is a well-written and lucid discussion of the hows and whys of Tolkien as a "famous" scholar of Beowulf. As interesting as it all is - and it is: the material on Finn and Hengest partly answers the question I raised in my review of "Cruces in Medieval Literature", about the nature of Tolkien's scholarship - it repeats with more detail and in slightly different context very very much of what has just been related in the article on "The Monsters and the Critics". The repetition is grating, and begs the question again of just how the editors imagined that a researcher on Tolkien and Beowulf might somehow read one but not another of these four articles.

If Tolkien's influence on his students and colleagues via his unpublished lectures may have been his real contribution to Beowulf scholarship in the last half-century, as Drout implies, perhaps he could have named a few of those who studied with or under Tolkien and went on to Beowulfian fame, if not fortune. (And yes, it's eerie how this article addresses questions about Tolkien's "lecture scholarship" that I raised two reviews ago.)

The conclusion, suggesting how Tolkien's views of Beowulf and ofermod probably evolved over the years is very interesting but not supplied with any supporting sense of chronology. Am I out of line to suggest that Drout's points in this essay about the variety and subtlety of Tolkien's Beowulf scholarship throughout his career practically beg to be integrated with a study of his changing approaches to writing heroic fantasy?

Again the See also list amuses: no reference to Finn and Hengest.

On a larger matter, according to the thematic list of contents, there is no Encyclopedia article just about Beowulf under "Anglo-Saxon Literary Sources" for Tolkien. Yet I think even Tolkien admitted that Beowulf pervades The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in any number of ways (Túrin comes out of 'retirement' to fight the dragon, Bilbo steals the cup, Gandalf & co. challenged by the guard at Edoras, etc.) *scratches head*

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

Like squire, I think this article could have been combined with the next one into a single Beowulf article, which additionally could have included a section on the influence of Beowulf on Tolkien’s fiction, currently addressed as part of the “Old English” article, where there is also a section on Tolkien’s Old English scholarship.  As squire notes, some of Drout’s fascinating commentary here would have connected nicely with Tolkien’s fiction, as for example his note that Tolkien’s approach to Beowulf appears to have become more Christian over his lifetime, an attitude some have seen in Tolkien’s fiction (as with hints at Christ’s coming in the late “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”).

Drout repeats himself when, as in the previous article, he explains Tolkien’s relation of the unequal halves of Beowulf to the half-lines of alliterative poetry.  He also has “Beorhtwald” for “Beorhthelm” in the title of Tolkien’s dramatic poem.  And given one of Drout’s central ideas, that Tolkien’s more technical work on Beowulf is evident not in his own publications but in his influence on others’ work, I would have liked to seen cross-references, at least, to other cases where Tolkien’s influence is so exhibited, as with two Middle English editions, d’Ardenne’s Þe Liflade ant te Passiun of Seinte Iuliene and Gordon’s Pearl.


Beowulf: Translations by Tolkien - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, March 13, 2007

This is curious. One and a half translations of Beowulf by Tolkien and evidently no one has ever seen them. At least, Drout does not feel he can comment on their quality or on their interpretive choices, aside from the example of one (or is it two?) published excerpt. I hesitate to say it, but with such minimal actual information, shouldn't this have been folded into the referenced article on Tolkien's preface to another scholar's translation: "On Translating Beowulf"? And what's a "Siever"?

A cross-reference to Shippey's fine article on "Alliterative Verse by Tolkien" would also have been good here; although Shippey seems to know no more about Tolkien's Beowulf verse translation than Drout does. Drout does not mention here what he tells us in his article on "Beowulf and the Critics": that that lecture manuscript also contains an excerpt from Tolkien's verse translation.

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

There are, I think, three articles on specific unpublished works by Tolkien: this one, “Arthurian Romance”, and “Old Norse Translations”.  Were these works, about which little specific information is offered, afforded separate entries in an effort to encourage their publication?  On the other hand, there are known to be some unpublished short stories in various states of completion, including “The King of the Green Dozen”, “The Orgog”, and “Sellic Spell”, that go unmentioned in the encyclopedia, not appearing even in the final forward-looking paragraph of David Bratman’s “Publications, Posthumous” article.

This entry is well-done, but since Drout notes that Tolkien’s verse translation of Beowulf was contemporary with his own alliterative poetry, See also references to “Arthurian Romance” and "The Lays of Beleriand" would have been helpful. In correction to squire's review above: Drout actually mentions in his first paragraph that B&C has "a small fragment" of Tolkien's verse translation.


Beren - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, December 15, 2006

The varieties of disappointment in the Encyclopedia are many.

The history of the character Beren is indeed complex, but to devote this entire article to a series of recapitulations of the various texts in which Beren appears seems to me to be a misallocation of precious page space.

If the story of Beren and Lúthien is the "kernel of the mythology" as Tolkien says (and Thomas notes), why not spend some time explaining why and how? Surely there is some good critical work out there, analyzing who Beren is, and what his relationship is to Thingol, Tuor, Earendil, Aragorn -- and Frodo. Perhaps a note on the archetype of the lost hand; an elaboration on Tolkien's comment on the Orpheus connection; an aside on the role legend plays within the legendarium, specifically how the legend of Beren and Lúthien appears not just in The Lord of the Rings, but also in the Tale of the Children of Húrin. And it's a shame Thomas does not mention "Light as Leaf on Linden Tree", Tolkien's fascinating short poem on Beren and Luthien that connects the Children of Húrin legend with The Lord of the Rings.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 25, 2007

This article is a pretty good history of the development of the tale of Beren and Lúthien, nicely showing how the story grew and changed through several different versions, with a few choice comments from Tolkien’s letters.  And it’s all neatly framed by connections to Tolkien’s life, from the hemlocks at Roos to the graves at Wolvercote.

Unfortunately, this article is only a pretty good history of the development of the tale.  Beren is never addressed as a character, and even the tale’s evolution, to which Thomas devotes such careful description, receives almost no critical analysis.  There is no Further Reading list, but at the very least, Thomas should have cited Tom Shippey’s remarks on this story, for example: “there are scenes and images which persist regardless of their intellectual justification” (The Road to Middle-earth, 3rd edition, p. 315).

Though substantial, Thomas’ See also list misses Finrod, Lúthien, Sauron, and The War of the Jewels (all mentioned in his text) and maybe also Sir Orfeo, because of the connection Tolkien makes to the Orpheus legend.  If room was tight, the cross-references to Eärendil, Maiar, and Mountains could have been cut, along with “Middle-earth: Peoples”, which was the publisher’s pre-release misprint for The Peoples of Middle-earth.


Bible – Christina Ganong Walton

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 16, 2007

 Not a particularly satisfying entry in my view. The essay wanders to and fro, mainly cataloguing similarities between The Silmarillion and the Bible, but without really drawing any solid critical conclusions. It’s loosely and vaguely written, full of imprecision, minor errors, and stylistic faults. I could enumerate many, but here are just a few:

  • Walton writes that Tolkien’s “familiarity [with the Bible] informs […] primarily The Silmarillion,” but what about his statement that The Lord of the Rings is a fundamentally, consciously Catholic work?

  • Walton’s reference to Tolkien’s “translations of the Ancrene Wisse” is not accurate at all. Tolkien wrote the Preface to Mary Salu’s 1955 translation, but his own 1962 edition was just that, an edition.

  • Walton’s discussion of which Bibles Tolkien may or may not have owned is neither particularly conclusive, nor particularly germane to the subject.

  • The Silmarillion […] avoids retelling the Genesis account by focusing on the Ainur and the Elves” – is that really accurate? If so, why does Walton present numerous points of congruence between Genesis and The Silmarillion throughout the rest of her entry?

  • “Tolkien’s Eru Ilúvatar is more remote than God in the Bible” – not really, especially in the Ainulindalë. In my view, their positions are quite similar; it’s in The Lord of the Rings that Eru becomes truly remote.

  • Walton’s “to prevent contradicting the Bible” should be “to avoid contradicting.”

  • Regarding Christ as the Morning Star (Venus), Walton might have noted that Lucifer is also sometimes equated with the Morning Star (see Isaiah 14, which Walton cited elsewhere in her entry).

But in general, quibbles aside, the real problem with the entry is that it should have been much more than a laundry list of similarities, vaguely correlated. It should have discussed the larger issues not of what, but of why and how Tolkien adapted elements of the Bible for his fictive universe. And why he felt it “fatal” to make those borrowings too explicit. Greater emphasis could have been placed on departures from Biblical tradition and in the representation of other scholars’ views on the subject, too.

Beneficial additions to the 'Further Reading' along these lines would have been: Nils Ivar Agøy’s “Quid Hinieldus cum Christo? – New Perspectives on Tolkien’s Theological Dilemma and his Sub-Creation Theory” and Eric Schweicher’s “Aspects of the Fall in The Silmarillion” (both from the Proceedings of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference). Also William Dowie’s “The Gospel of Middle-earth According to J.R.R. Tolkien,” in J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam (Ed. Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell).


Bilbo Baggins - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, February  4, 2007

This article suffers from the odd problem of seeming to take Bilbo as a real person. While it recounts Bilbo's career in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with concision and accuracy, it does not take the point of view that he is a fictional character in those two books.

I think this is a big mistake in an Encyclopedia of this kind. "Middle-earth Studies" is the name given to this kind of writing, but it is a false and dangerous road to go down. "Middle-earth Studies" is inherently only a technical sub-specialty of "Tolkien Studies". All that can be "known" of Middle-earth comes from the imaginative writings of one man, so beyond the limited arena of textual evolution it is impossible to make any of the comparative analyses which are the heart of any field of study. This Encyclopedia in particular was supposed to be dedicated to studying Tolkien's works in relation to their author and his world, not as if they had a separate existence. It is juvenile to buy seriously into Tolkien's own device (his "vast game") of presenting Middle-earth as a recovered history, as he himself would be the first to warn us.

Following this unfortunate approach, Stanton's prose is nearly twee at times: "He spent later years in quiet deeds of good", "the ring's evil (for it was a very evil Ring)", "The Long-Expected Party was an amazing success" are examples that call for an editor's red pencil. Stanton also flirts with hagiography, presenting Bilbo as the brave and mature hobbit he became by the end of his adventure, thus ignoring what makes him so attractive as the hero of a children's tale: that he starts out as an immature twit of whom the Dwarves are properly contemptuous. Ironically, Tolkien himself fell into this trap, and attempted to rewrite this aspect of Bilbo in later years.

Stanton does make some valuable observations about Bilbo's character from a critical perspective, though even then he falls in and out of a "biographical" tone. Luckily for inquisitive readers, the "Further Reading" list is first rate, and shows that Stanton's disappointing choice of tone is temperamental rather than unwitting. The "See also" list is consistently but wrongly limited to other "biographical" articles.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 9, 2007

Stanton’s approach is that of a careless historian with a peculiar focus.  For The Hobbit, there is no description of Bilbo’s adventures with Gollum or the Arkenstone – in fact, neither name appears in Stanton’s article (or in the See also list) – and no comment on Bilbo’s loss of respectability, the motif with which the narrator frames the whole tale.   And Bilbo’s most important moment in LotR, when he relinquishes the Ring, is mentioned only in passing: Stanton merely writes that when Bilbo left Hobbiton, “he was constrained to leave the Ring behind”.

There is a small factual error in Stanton’s chronology: he writes that Bilbo celebrated his 131st birthday on “September 22, 3021, as Bilbo was journeying to the Grey Havens … On September 29, he met Frodo there”.  Actually, Bilbo met Frodo on his birthday, the 22nd, in the Shire, and they traveled together to the Havens.

The hagiographic aspect of the article to which squire refers can be seen in Stanton’s comment on Bilbo’s imagined Translations from the Elvish, where he writes that “Tolkien quite rightly describes these volumes as ‘a work of great skill and learning’”.  On what grounds can Stanton praise the quality of works that he’s never read?

Finally, since Stanton emphasizes Bilbo’s role as poet, he should have cross-referenced the “Poems by Tolkien” entries on The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.


Biology of Middle-earth - Friedhelm Schneidewind

Comments by Jason Fisher, February  13, 2007

Here is another entry that collapses under an overindulgence in pure Middle-earth Studies, taking Tolkien’s fictional world to be entirely real and attempting to overlay scientific speculation onto it – with results that are far from satisfying. Worse, the speculation is usually wild, with relatively little foundation even in the limited context of a Middle-earth Studies approach. Even given the questionable scope of the topic, there were surprising omissions (e.g., a discussion of Tolkien’s theories of the Elvish fëar and hröar). For me, it’s difficult to see why the Encyclopedia even needed an entry like this in the first place.


Setting aside my misgivings on the topic itself, the entry is actually all over the map, and only relates to a putative discussion of biology in Middle-earth at a few points. It’s really more of a catalog of Tolkien’s invented (or adapted) species, each of which has its own entries in the Encyclopedia already. The author attempts to guess what part evolution might have played in the races of Middle-earth, and makes several unfounded conjectures about the origins of certain species. For example, Schneidewind makes the wild guess that Trolls may have evolved “from giant apes” – where in the world does this idea come from? Perhaps from Morgoth’s Ring, which he cites, where we’re told that “it would seem evident that [Trolls] were corruptions of primitive human types” – but it’s quite a leap from “primitive human types” to unattested “giant apes.” And the entry is full of such rampant leaps.


Another major problem is the 'Further Reading'. First, all four of the items cited are by the entry’s author, and all within the last couple of years, making “Biology of Middle-earth” a vanity entry as much as anything. These references also suggest that Schneidewind may, in fact, be the only person interested in the topic (aside from Henry Gee)! Second, none of the references are in English. The original guidelines for contributors asked for entries in English, where possible, and ones that were not overly difficult to find. Wrong on both counts here. An entry like this ought to have included at least The Science of Middle-earth by Henry Gee, which approaches such questions much more rigorously (see Amy Amendt-Raduege’s review in Tolkien Studies 3). It might perhaps also have directed readers to Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature by David P. Barash and Nanelle R. Barash, which has recently popularized the kind of evolutionary approach to literature that Schneidewind is attempting here.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 2, 2007

Questioned in 1954 about the impossibility of Elvish immortality, Tolkien answered, in part: “I do not care.  This is a biological dictum in my imaginary world.  It is only (as yet) an incompletely imagined world, a rudimentary ‘secondary’; but if it pleased the Creator to give it (in a corrected form) Reality on any plane, then you would just have to enter it and begin studying its different biology, that is all.” Schneidewind doesn’t mention that important passage from Letter #153, though he does quote some of Tolkien’s remarks from that letter addressing biological concepts within the conceit of Middle-earth. 

 It’s a poorly balanced article. After spending three paragraphs worrying about Tolkien’s use of the terms species, race, breed, and kindred, Schneidewind devotes more than half his article to a speculative and rather unsystematic evolutionary history of Hobbits, Orcs, Trolls, Dragons, Spiders, and Ents.  He concludes with comments on elvish immortality and the longevity caused by the Ring, but does not touch on reincarnation (whose biological difficulty Tolkien also acknowledges in Letter #153). 

Evolution is of course the cornerstone of biology, but rather than list six specific examples in Tolkien, Schneidewind might have included that topic in a wider biological examination – for example, I have read discussions of the population dynamics, inter-specific competition, and  predator-prey relationships of Middle-earth. 

More importantly, he needed to step back and address the larger questions of how and when real world biological questions are relevant to Tolkien’s world.  Already he has unquestioningly accepted the Ring’s magical powers at face value, while trying to explain other aspects of the story in scientific terms – why?

A minor point: is there a source for Schneidewind’s description of Shelob as “only as big as a horse”?  In “Shelob’s Lair”, Tolkien says that Shelob is “huger than the great hunting beasts”.


Bliss, Alan (1921-1985) - Anthony S. Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by N.E. Brigand, February 21, 2007

This may be the rare entry that focuses too heavily on Tolkien.  To judge from this article, Bliss, like Joan Turville-Petre, gets his own article solely because he edited one of Tolkien’s posthumous scholarly works – in this case, Finn and Hengest.  As with Jane Beal’s article on Turville-Petre, this article probably should have been a blind entry leading readers to the longer article on the relevant book.  However, while Beal’s piece all but ignores Tolkien to summarize her subject’s life and career, Burdge and Burke pass over Bliss’s life to focus entirely on his Tolkien connection: their article is just a summary of Bliss’s introduction to Finn and Hengest, which is their only source.  Both articles would have benefited from a more balanced approach.


Bodleian Library, Oxford - David Bratman

Comments by squire, August 28, 2007

Bratman's usual fine formality and good style does not save this odd article from irrelevance in this Encyclopedia. Static, with no unique story to tell, it seems to be cross-referenced by only two other articles in the Encyclopedia: ironically, one's brevity comments on this one's superfluity, and the other contains more useful information on its subject than this does.

The first paragraph tells us more than we need to know about the Library's history and functions, the second reviews the medieval manuscripts that Tolkien actually researched there (all of which are covered in articles on the manuscripts), and the final paragraph duplicates, with less detail and color, the excellent account in the second paragraph of "Manuscripts by Tolkien" of the Tolkien papers currently held at the Bodleian.

There is no 'Further Reading' list to help us understand what we should be looking for here. See also seems limited (and what is "Education" doing in there): why not include all the articles that do mention the Bodleian, even though only two of them acknowledge this article's existence? A quick review suggests that, at least, "AB Language", "Ancrene Wisse", "D'Ardenne, S. R. T. O. (1899-1986)", "Estate", "'"Iþþlen" in Sawles Warde'", "Library, Personal", "'MS Bodley 34: A Re-collation of a Collation'", and "Tolkien Scholarship: Institutions" could have been added.

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

it seems to be cross-referenced by only two other articles in the Encyclopedia

In fact, this article appears on the See also lists of three other entries: “Manuscripts by Tolkien”, “Tolkien Scholarship: Institutions”, and “Philately”, the last of which joins Bratman’s own “Parodies” entry among the 53 articles to which no other entry refers.  Many but not all of these were added late, and so did not appear on the original list of entries to which contributors referred; examples include “Bliss, Alan”; “Existentialism”; “Japan: Reception of Tolkien”; “Saracens and Moors”; “Trench Fever”; and “Whitby”.  Meanwhile, the five articles most often cross-referenced, each listed more than thirty times, are “Elves”; “Oxford”; “Silmarillion, The”; “Old Norse Literature”; and “Valar”.  And there are more than forty titles that appear only in See also lists, whose articles were never written (and never meant to be, in some cases).  The most often listed of these are “Rhyme Schemes and Meter”; “Philology”; “Middle English”; “Life”; and “Chaucer, Geoffrey”.


Book of Lost Tales I - John Wm. Houghton

Comments by squire, February 3, 2007

The problem of presenting to the Encyclopedia's readers the multi-dimensional literary project known as The History of Middle-earth is nowhere more pressing than here, in the article about the premier volume. What to mention, what to omit, what to assume about the average reader's knowledge of Tolkien's published works that preceded the HoME, are all important decisions that every HoME writer had to confront (I speak from experience). Whether from lack of space or time, this article suffers from rather odd choices in this regard.

Houghton devotes half his article to the legendary Foreword, in which Christopher Tolkien explained why he was publishing his father's earliest drafts and variations on the legends that had already been published in The Silmarillion. Although this essay does appear in this book, it applies to most of HoME; one wonders if it couldn't have been more quickly summarized and the reader referred to the Encyclopedia article that discusses the HoME as a whole.

Then, for whatever reason of word count or editing, Houghton has no room left, and races through a mere naming of the ten chapters (or Tales) that constitute the book itself. He also includes a daunting list of the additional material (poems, lexicons, maps) that makes this book such a bear to write about briefly. Although he properly warns that "nearly every page contains some new information", he barely attempts to comment on the more interesting features of the old Tales to a reader familiar with Tolkien's later works including The Silmarillion. Instead, he manages to get hung up on telling the framing story of Eriol at too much length. His final notes on the importance of these early attempts at legend-creation are rambling and too short, though the closer about Edith and Ronald is cute.

There is also a problem with tense in the writing: as Houghton describes Christopher Tolkien's 1983 Foreword, he begins to write in the present or even future tense, mimicking the voice of the original editor. This could have been fixed by a relatively simple rewrite to establish the proper distance between author and subject.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, March 18, 2007

Houghton opens well, explaining clearly and briefly how The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the History of Middle-earth volumes differ in presentation.  At this point he should have moved on to survey the tales, but as squire notes, Houghton then devotes another full column of text to a summary of Christopher Tolkien’s important foreword that, though it appears in Lost Tales I, would be more appropriately treated in the articles on The Silmarillion and the History overview.  That said, Houghton’s See also section does point readers to the other two articles, and his comments on the foreword are good, though if the History as a whole is to be treated here, something more than a general statement that the History’s format has left scholars “dissatisfied” should have been included to explain critical response to the series.

Should Houghton have devoted a couple paragraphs to each of the book’s ten tales, to match Paul Edmund Thomas’s much longer article on Lost Tales II?  I don’t think so, given that the other History volumes, like this one, are treated in articles each 1,000-1,500 words long (a little more for The Lost Road, a bit less for The Peoples of Middle-earth), less than half the length of Thomas’s piece.  But a general summary of the narrative is necessary here, and missing: Houghton apparently assumes that readers of his article have already digested The Silmarillion and will recognize the tales here by their titles alone.  His in-depth analysis, generally well-done, is devoted almost entirely to the book’s framing material.  Additionally, Houghton wastes space merely listing the page numbers encompassed by each of the tales, along with all the poems appearing in this volume, without comment.  Why, when there’s a entire article devoted to the poems in The History of Middle-earth?

At least Houghton provides some brief critical discussion of the Lost Tales, noting their style, debt to Victorian ideas, biographical connections, and place in Tolkien’s English mythology.  But he raises and leaves unanswered one important question, when he writes that the volume contains much “new information, not all of it equally significant”.  Houghton states as an example of this that the variations in names “attract less attention” than Tolkien’s earliest tale of the Sun and Moon. This comment's subjective point of view is unclear, but it seems to imply that the book is more valuable as a critical resource than as fiction.  Is that Houghton's belief?  If so, why?  He never says.


Book of Lost Tales II - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, February 3, 2007

The gods must be crazy, the reader mutters as he turns from BoLT I to the following article, about BoLT II. Although the books are of equal length, the article about the second one is almost three times as long!

Because of this, Thomas is able to give a column-long précis of each of the six Tales or sketches of Tales, and still have room at the end to give some commentary and references to such scholarship as exists on this most understudied work of Tolkien's. Since these books are essentially one book split for publishing convenience into two volumes, this odd divergence of word-count allowed by the editors is particularly strange. Houghton, writing about BoLT I in far more straitened circumstances, was either misled or misinformed about his options -- though Thomas's command of his subject and his prose is evidently greater in any case.

All that is missing - and this is a quibble - is some inline commentary relating each Tale to its later development in Tolkien's legendarium, especially with reference to the published Silmarillion that most Encyclopedia readers might have some familiarity with. His summaries are quite good and useful by themselves though, and any shortening necessary to allow for accessory comments might have made them less useful or even unreadable.


Boromir - Alex Davis

Comments by squire, December 17, 2006

This workmanlike article hits all the right high notes. I might disagree with the writer's interpretation of Boromir, but at least he has an interpretation. And in an article as short as this one, who can quibble with Davis's extensive review of the "critical assessment" of Boromir?

That said, I should have liked a quick one-paragraph review of the first Boromir, from the Silmarillion, and a note on why Tolkien chose to re-use the name in just the way he did. As well, a little more credit to Faramir as the little brother who could, and how we see Boromir through Faramir's and Denethor's eyes in the latter part of LotR, where Boromir is a major character in absentia, might have added critical depth to this piece.

I admit, I don't exactly see what Davis might have cut within his word count to make room for my additional requests!

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

There is also a third Boromir, an earlier steward of Gondor mentioned only in the LotR appendices, who was probably created by Tolkien late, to give the better-known character a namesake to emulate: he “was a great captain, and even the Witch-king feared him”.  But Davis was plainly pressed for space, and does quite well with the material he does present, making good use of critical references and Tolkien’s letters.  I particularly like his description of the prophetic dream that Boromir “claims to share with his brother”, which quietly alludes to a frequent point of debate among readers.

Only the See also list truly disappoints, missing “Denethor”, “Faramir”, “Aragorn”, “Gondor”, and “Sacrifice”.


Bournemouth - David Bratman

Comments by squire, July 5, 2007

This is rather humdrum. I wish Bratman had cut back on the details of location, history, etc. and instead given us a little more about the impact of the move to Bournemouth on Tolkien's last few years. For instance, did the "disruption" of Tolkien's papers have any real impact on his productivity? Which works later seen in Unfinished Tales and HoME XII did he write there? And don't I remember someone commenting (it has to be Carpenter) that Tolkien really didn' t like Bournemouth's dullness, but felt he owed Edith a few years of a life more to her liking (visits with friends, chats, strolls, etc.) after she had given him so much of her life in the intellectual hothouse of Oxford?

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

It is indeed Carpenter’s Biography that describes Tolkien’s feelings about Bournemouth, and the Tolkiens’ reasons for moving there; Bratman alludes to the first part of this when he writes that “Tolkien regretted the lack of intellectual companionship”.  Unfortunately Carpenter is not mentioned here: there is no ‘Further Reading’ list (and also no See also list).

Comments by Jason Fisher, December 30, 2007

N.E. Brigand is correct that Carpenter's Biography discusses the move to Bournemouth (as well as Auden's disparaging comments on the house, which irritated the Tolkiens). But I would add that Clyde Kilby also talks about the house (and the Auden incident) in Tolkien and The Silmarillion (1976), a year before Carpenter's biography appeared. It was the Sandfield Road house where Kilby visited Tolkien and "assisted" him with his work on The Silmarillion.


Boyens, Philippa – David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 16,2007

Two out of the three screenwriters of the New Line adaptations of The Lord of the Rings got their own entries, so why not Fran Walsh? Or perhaps a better question is why Philippa Boyens got an entry at all; both Boyens and Walsh could easily have been footnoted in the entry on Peter Jackson. Nevertheless, this entry is lucidly written and well documented; however, I have a difficult time seeing the importance of it to the larger matters of scholarship on and critical assessment of Tolkien. Really, the only important matters this entry raises are largely treated in the lengthy entry on Jackson as well as the other entries on film adaptations and adaptors already.

The 'Further Reading', as I hinted above, is quite good for the entry, but the short See also could have benefited from additional points of reference: “Race in Tolkien Films”, “Bakshi, Ralph”, and “Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.”


Brut by Layamon - Carl Phelpstead

Comments by squire, July 5, 2007

I don't know what to make of this. Phelpstead's presentation seems impeccable, as always. Yet Tolkien is almost absent: "a small number of passing references", and "some echoes in Tolkien's creative work" are hardly inspiring qualifications to the limited identifications and citations that Phelpstead gives. Even more tellingly, this work was never translated or critically edited by Tolkien, despite being a Middle English alliterative poem in the West Midlands dialect! Hard to believe at this point in my reading of the Encyclopedia, but evidently true.

The 'Further Reading' reinforces the impression given that only Tom Shippey has ever bothered to read Layamon's Brut with Tolkien in mind. The See also is absurdly short, listing only "Arthurian Literature"; what about "Alliterative Revival", "Riddles", "Riddles: Sources", "Shakespeare", "On Fairy-stories", and all the various "Beowulf" articles?


Buchan, John (1875-1940) - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, January 9, 2007

The fun of an Encyclopedia is that it invites you to browse the articles and run across little gems like this one. I've never read Buchan, beyond one chapter of Mr Standfast, a WWI spy novel; the most famous of his books now is the thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps. I've always been mystified by the comments that Tolkien admired his work.

Shippey explains it all, concisely and clearly. Tolkien may be said to have admired and possibly been influenced by, not the thrillers and the spy novels, but the less well-known patriotic historical novels that Buchan also produced. Some of the connections and links between the two writers may seem far fetched ("Man with a recurrent dream"), but overall Shippey, having quite responsibly read enough Buchan to speak with authority, makes as good a case for a literary connection as one could hope for.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 25, 2007

This is an excellent article, for which I have just a few further notes. 

First, Buchan’s literary reputation may be better than Shippey suggests: Wikipedia notes Graham Greene’s praise of Buchan, W.H. Auden compared LotR to The Thirty-Nine Steps, and C.S. Lewis once claimed that Buchan and Wodehouse might someday be seen as the key authors of the early 20th Century. 

Second, Shippey’s is one of only two articles to cite Robert Giddings and Elizabeth Holland’s 1981 book, J.R.R. Tolkien: The Shores of Middle-earth, a work generally and deservedly scorned for loopy ideas and wild writing, but Giddings and Holland earn a mention here for their early recognition of Tolkien’s debt to popular fiction. 

Third, although Shippey has been pursuing this line since at least 1991 (see his remarks in the Tolkien Society collection, Digging Potatoes, Growing Trees, vol. 2) the Buchan article didn’t appear on the encyclopedia’s early lists of entries; perhaps this explains why Shippey gives Buchan about 1,000 words here, and Dale Nelson devotes another 2,000 words to Buchan (pp. 373-375) in his very long article on “Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”, and neither article refers readers to the other.


Butler, Samuel (1835-1902) - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, July 6, 2007

It's hard to respond to Stanton's explicit divorce of his subject from his article. Butler wrote a Victorian-era satire Erewhon imagining the enslavement of man to his machines, to which Tolkien referred in a letter deploring the mechanization of the Second World War. Stanton assures us that "it is doubtful that Tolkien was influenced by Butler in any significant way", before quoting extensively from Tolkien's fiction to demonstrate his deepset horror for industrial machinery and its effect on men's souls.

If none of this is about Butler, why then the article on "Industrialization" covers the same material with more depth and insight, even citing the same letter -- not to mention a later one (No. 96), missed by Stanton, that is even more apt for a discussion of Butler and Tolkien: "...the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What's their next move?"

Why have an article on Butler at all if you believe he has nothing to do with Tolkien? And if Tolkien was not influenced by Butler, why would he be thinking of Erewhon 73 years after it was written? Stanton's defense is that Butler was writing satire, but Tolkien was serious... Wouldn't this beg the question of how or why a satirical novel in the tradition of Swift is somehow less serious than a children's fairy tale, or an epic heroic romance?

Finally, why is this article categorized under "Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers" rather than "Literary Sources"?