Caedmon - Amelia Harper

Comments by squire, February 16, 2007

This is one of those minor entries that feel juiceless, if not useless. The only fact of interest given to a student of Tolkien's life is the poet Caedmon's use of Old English Middangeard in his first and seminal poem. Though Harper seems to claim that Tolkien took "Middle-earth" from Caedmon's specific usage (echoing his adoption of "Earendel" from the OE poem Crist), a close reading of her statement and his letter that she cites shows that she does not.

Which leaves us with very little connection indeed between Caedmon and Tolkien! Harper might have cited her comment that Tolkien felt that later OE poems in the same style should not be attributed to Caedmon; that could have led to more thoughts that Tolkien had recorded about the poet.

Finally there is this hoary old link, drawing on Tom Shippey's authority: Caedmon was a poet, one of the first poets to write in English. Tolkien was an English poet too, so there's kind of a connection, right? But if we take Shippey too literally, applying to Tolkien the ancient historian's evaluation of Caedmon ("many others following him began also to make songs of virtue"), we may be compelled to regard The Sword of Shannara as virtuous.

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 16, 2007

I agree: a very, very, very minor connection to Tolkien, one that scarcely justifies an entry of this length. I found only one other (and also very small) link that Harper might have mentioned. In his landmark essay, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien wrote that “far from being a confused semi-pagan ... he [the Beowulf poet] brought probably first to his task a knowledge of Christian poetry, especially that of the Cædmon school, and especially Genesis.” A very small point indeed, but it links Caedmon to Beowulf, which we know was very important to Tolkien (much more so than Caedmon’s own poetry). But if one is going to attempt the entry, one ought to ferret out all the (few) places where Tolkien mentions Caedmon. Actually, for my money, Harper might have just included the original Caedmon poem in full.

Michael Drout, in the notes to his edition of Beowulf and the Critics (2002), provides a capsule summary of Caedmon which could have been useful to Harper. He explains that “In a dream an angel came to him [Caedmon] and commanded him to ‘sing the creation.’” Harper summarizes the encounter with the angel but misses this last part. This could allow for a (highly speculative) connection to Tolkien’s Ainulindalë.

In the end, though, I suppose I’m really just grasping at straws, trying to find a way to justify the entry’s inclusion in the Encyclopedia at all. Realistically, the one small Caedmon / “Middle-earth” connection belongs in the entry on “Middle-earth” (where the poet goes unmentioned).

 

Calendars - Arden R. Smith

Comments by squire, May 30, 2007

Tolkien's interest in calendrical systems is somewhat anomalous, since it shows an intense interest in historical astronomy and mathematics on his part that plays little part in his fiction. However, as a scholar of past eras' timelines and different cultures' dating systems, he was obviously familiar with the various calendrical problems when he began to rough out his systems for Middle-earth in the 1930s and 1940s. The result is a fascinating spinoff from his famously imaginative but ordered brain: in the end he bragged that he had invented a calendar system that was more accurate to the sun than the Gregorian one.

His calendars also tempt readers to try to fill in the missing information of just exactly when the dated events in his timeline happened in relation to our current system. This is a problem that is tougher than it seems, since buried in his rules is the note that equinoxes and solstices were marked by the first days of months, not ten days earlier as they are today (e.g. April 1 coincided with the beginning of spring, the vernal equinox, by the Elves' reckoning, not March 21); and yet he seems to contradict himself when he then makes September 22 (beginning of Fall), December 25 (beginning of winter), and March 25 (beginning of spring) significant dates in The Lord of the Rings. The only conclusion may be that his Calendars, which play very little part in his stories, are a part of his "great game" that got away from him, and have as much meaning as his conceit that Westron is a real language from which the Red Book was translated into English, so that Merry's "real" name was Kali the whole time.

This is just a quick sample of the kind of analysis we should expect from an article of scholarship and criticism that would distinguish this Encyclopedia from A Guide to Middle-earth, yet Smith does nothing more than (quite skillfully) condense the calendrical and chronological LotR appendices and associated notes from HoME for (it seems) the reader's reference. His only comments of interest are his lifted eyebrow that the Second Age did not end with the Change of the World, and his note that in a letter Tolkien apparently tried to locate the destruction of the Ring at some point about 6000 years ago. Why then forego the observation that that is about the date that was once calculated for Genesis according to the Bible's internal chronology?

The 'See also' is sadly abbreviated with no references to "Elvish", "Old English", "Elves", "Númenóreans" (oops! no such article!) or the Hobbits or the relevant HoME volumes. The lack of a 'Further Reading' list suggests that no one has ever really studied Tolkien's calendars and timelines, but I find that hard to believe.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

“Time! Time!” …is remarkably missing from Smith’s See also list.  His text, meanwhile, restricts itself to calendars in the Middle-earth stories, but as the “Farmer Giles of Ham” article remembers, that story is marked off by Catholic feast dates.  There is also the “Twenty-four Feast” in Smith of Wootton Major, as well as a 120-year chronology that was published with its 2005 edition.

 

Capitalism - Hal G. P. Colebatch

Comments by squire, May 3, 2007

Colebatch does about everything one can do with this topic, considering that Tolkien evidently had no interest in it. Using "inference" and "suggestion" as his tools of inquiry, he prods and examines all of Middle-earth for an elevated economic consciousness. He finds little besides the correlation of the Free Peoples' personal freedom with a "liberalistic" economic order: free trade, moderate wealth and the right of property are virtues in Middle-earth. But capitalism as a hyperproductive system is missing; and as Colebatch puts it, there are neither capitalist heroes nor villains in Tolkien's world.

Since there is no 'Further Reading' list, it is not easy to say how far Colebatch might have gotten by treating the subject secondarily. I believe there is at least some critical, leftish, literature that argues that Tolkien's nostalgic or romantic Tory traditionalism constitutes by itself an inherent endorsement of capitalism. I imagine others have attempted to refute this approach as not being particularly useful for understanding Tolkien; that seems to be this article's implicit conclusion.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

Leftist criticism of Tolkien is presented in “Marxist Readings of Tolkien”.  That article and this one don’t mention each other, though each refers to the entry on “Communism” (which also points back to both of them).  Such criticism views Tolkien negatively in part because he had nothing to say about the evils of capitalism.

Given Tolkien’s silence on capitalism, it is fortunate that Colebatch expands his comments to include Tolkien’s presentation of economics in more general terms.  He could have said more on these lines by also considering Farmer Giles of Ham, “Leaf by Niggle”, and both the essay and story called Smith of Wootton Major.  In the essay, Tolkien explicitly writes that “commercial success” was causing a decline in the “artistic quality” of the village’s crafts.  On the other hand, in the story, Smith is admiringly said to know “how to turn an honest penny into twopence, as the saying went”.

 

Carolingians – Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

“The Carolingians,” Lobdell writes, “seem to have played little role in Tolkien’s imagination.” Oh dear, not a promising beginning for this entry — another in a series of entries whose very inclusion in the Encyclopedia can (and should) be questioned.

Lobdell can do little more than to suggest that Peregrin Took’s nickname “Pippin” is connected with the Carolingian Pippin III. Other scholars have done likewise (e.g., Hammond and Scull); although, as I have written elsewhere, I’m not convinced this is the case at all. “Pippin” is the familiar, diminutive of “Peregrin”, and as such, is not meant to be taken as an example of the “high-sounding first-names … of Frankish and Gothic origin” to which Tolkien alludes in Appendix F of LotR. Lobdell mentions another Carolingian name, Lotho, and here he is probably right; but he then proceeds to offer a selection of names he notes are not Carolingian, straying well off the topic. One of these, by the way, requires clarification. “Frodo (correctly Froda),” he writes, “is Danish or Old English” — Froda is the correct Old English form, but the Scandinavian form is actually Fróði (from Old Norse fróðr “knowing, learned, well-informed”).

The entry just isn’t of any great interest or relevance. A bit more might have been done with the comparison to the Ruling Stewards of Gondor, for example, to increase its value. But there’s precious little raw material for Lobdell to work with in any case. When a 'Further Reading' list offers nothing at all pertaining to Tolkien, it’s a sign the entry itself may be otiose.

I can think of one reference Lobdell could have included, however: David Day’s Tolkien’s Ring, Chapter 7 “Carolingian Legends”. Not a book I normally recommend highly, it is nevertheless one of the few that makes some attempt to connect Tolkien to the Carolingians. There are also several scattered references to the Carolingians in Hammond and Scull’s Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. And, considering that he invoked him in the final paragraph of the entry, Lobdell ought to have included “Denethor” in the 'See also';  “Huns” and “Goths” should also have been included here.

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

Lobdell’s “Frodo (correctly Froda)” is probably a too-shortened reference to Tolkien’s mock-translation note (in Appendix F of The Lord of the Rings) that some “genuine” Hobbit names in LotR were simply transliterated into English, with the last letter changed from “a” to “o” because masculine Hobbit names ended with “a”.  “Bilbo”, for example, is imagined to have originally been “Bilba”.  As Tom Shippey has observed (The Road to Middle-earth, pp. 204-209), this might mean that Frodo is really Froda – though Tolkien doesn’t confirm that in LotR – and “Froda” is a notable name in Germanic mythology.

 

Catholicism, Roman - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by squire, January 9, 2007

As a non-Catholic, I admit to being baffled by the occasional arcane theological point that Birzer throws into this workaday article on Tolkien's religion. Still, the gist is good: Tolkien's sincere Catholic faith and devotion were an integral part of his artistic personality, and this fleshes that truism out with valuable details and examples.

Without volunteering do better myself, I sense that this piece suffers from lack of focus, or perhaps needs a stronger narrative concept. I would have liked even more analysis of the impact of Catholicism on Tolkien's fiction, at the expense of some of the finer details of Catholic doctrine that take up so much of the article. And there are also annoying editorial lapses, such as a duplicate quotation, missing information (like the fact that Tolkien's son John was a Catholic priest), and a particularly obscure peroration.

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

This article is better than Birzer’s shorter entry on “Christianity” mostly because Birzer has more room to examine many of the same points.  On the other hand, Birzer is too casual with the space allotted, providing a serviceable but sloppy introduction to Tolkien’s Catholicism.

Birzer’s article can be divided roughly in two: In the first half, he examines the importance of Catholicism to Tolkien’s life, noting the development of his beliefs, then their nature and practice, in particular the importance Tolkien attached to veneration of the Virgin Mary and to the Eucharist.  The article’s second half relates Tolkien’s faith to his fiction, noting connections between the Eucharist and lembas, and identifying Marianist references in a broad range of Tolkien’s works.  There is almost no mention of other critics’ views on Tolkien and Catholicism, which Birzer covers in a separate article on “Christian Readings of Tolkien”.

Some statements need more support.  Birzer asserts that the “impress” of Tolkien’s “mother’s death … permeated his academic work” along with his fiction, but never backs up that claim.  Also, though it’s true that:

  1. Humphrey Carpenter (Biography, p. 49) says that Father Francis Morgan “had been as a father” to Tolkien;

  2. Michael Coren’s encyclopedia article on Morgan (without identifying the source) quotes Tolkien calling Morgan “more than a father”; and

  3. Tolkien writes in letter #332 that he thought of Morgan as a “second father”;

none of these remarks quite justifies Birzer’s comment that Tolkien felt that Morgan was “his true father”.  And when Birzer writes that Tolkien was “intimately familiar with the teachings” of St. Thomas Aquinas, he forgets his own article on "Aquinas, Thomas", where he admits that this can’t be proved, since Aquinas is not mentioned in any of Tolkien’s published writings.

This article is poorly edited.  Birzer describes a period when Tolkien lapsed in his religious practice as “sometime during the early 1920s”, but a few sentences later he quotes Tolkien himself describing that time as including his residence at 22 Northmoor Road, where Tolkien lived from 1925 to 1930.  Squire has noted how the same Tolkien quotation appears twice in successive paragraphs (the Catholic Church as a “trap”): this is the result of Birzer’s use of a long excerpt from Clyde Kilby, whose work includes two Tolkien quotes also appearing in Letters.  Later Birzer repeats himself again, when he writes twice in the same paragraph that for Catholics, the Eucharist is the “Body and Blood of Christ”.  Other mistakes includes a misspelling of “Wootton Major” and the identification of Galadriel as an “Elven queen” (Tolkien specifically wrote that “[s]he is not in fact one” – Letters, p. 274).  The use of internal citation is inconsistent.  For example, when in one paragraph Birzer quotes from Tolkien’s letters #43, 89, and 250; the first and third letters are cited (but read “Letters, 53” for “Letters, 112”), but the second quote, about Tolkien’s vision of a guardian angel, has no source listed.  And Birzer wrongly attributes Tolkien’s comments on the name “Coventry”, from his letter to the Catholic Herald, to “Letters, 112” (again!); in that letter, Tolkien merely tells his son, Christopher, that he had written to the Herald.  Finally, the 'See also' list is missing at least Eucharist, lembas, Fr. Francis Morgan, and Mabel Tolkien.

 

Cave, The - Jared Lobdell

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

I previously had overlooked Humphrey’s Carpenter’s brief explanation, in The Inklings, of “The Cave”, a group of English professors at Oxford, so I am grateful to Lobdell for bringing it to my attention here.  Lobdell’s article, partly derived from his own interview with one Cave member, also concludes with the interesting suggestion that Tolkien’s participation in this informal club was a way to further his academic agenda.

Unfortunately, Lobdell’s explanation of the group is not very helpful: he writes that they conspired against David Nicol Smith, but he never explains who Smith is or what the group hoped to achieve in his despite (and this entry appears to include the encyclopedia’s only reference to Smith).  Also, three of the article’s five paragraphs are spent merely listing the publications of Cave members.

Comments by squire, March 29, 2007

While I believe I got the gist of Lobdell's thesis, I found this article very confusing and obscurely written, with lots of references that it seems the reader is expected to understand without explanation.

As N.E. Brigand says, David Nicol Smith's position is never made clear; but then neither is the Cave's, really. Lobdell refers to two Cave members, Lord David Cecil and Gordon, who are not included in his initial list. Nor is it obvious why the three whose complete bibliographies are tediously catalogued have earned that incoherent honor.

 

Caves and Mines - Jessica Burke

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

Burke’s slightly awkward opening paragraph promises an explanation for the “mythological, psychoanalytical, and philosophical implications” of Tolkien’s caves, along with some comment on their more prosaic narrative functions, and on the cultural aspect of mines in his tales.  The awkwardness continues through the article; while the analysis is mostly absent.

The article’s chief problem may be its uneasy division into separate sections on caves and mines.  For story purposes, all underground passages, including mines, are “caves”, whose symbolism and function can be examined under that heading.  So Burke, after introducing “caves” with the weak remark that “[t]here are structures that could be deemed caves”, lists four examples, and quite reasonably includes the Dwarves’ halls under the Lonely Mountain.  Likewise her more detailed remarks on the symbolic use Tolkien makes of specific caves include comments on the Mines of Moria.  But on turning to “mines”, her first statement opposes them to “caves”.

Actually mines are a subset of caves with a specific additional meanings for Tolkien: for example, they reflect the imagined cultures that built them, and when presented as ruins (as often), they carry the weight of history and the idea of the “long defeat”.  Likewise hobbit holes, which Burke reasonably identifies as a kind of cave, serve also to represent “comfort”, as Tolkien explicitly notes in The Hobbit.  Burke notes only a little of this, focusing more on “mining” than on the relation between the places and their associated peoples.  While the subject of mining may be significant enough to merit separation from the article on “Technology in Middle-earth” (absent from Burke’s See also list), that topic is presented here as little more than a list of prominent miners.  Along the way she misidentifies the Noldorin elves, “foremost craftsmen of all the Eldar” as equivalent to the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, who were specifically the smith’s guild in Eregion in the Second Age.

Burke does at least cite the theories of Plato, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell, and apply them briefly to some incidents in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but she shouldn’t have claimed that Tolkien was “keenly aware of all the symbolism behind the use of the cave image” without evidence.  Her conclusion is poor, just a list of some underground locations in Tolkien’s writing.

Comments by squire, June 14, 2007

The best that can be said here is that Burke identifies a few of the important ways to think about underground passages and dwellings in Tolkien's works. What is lacking, as N. E. Brigand points out, is any systematic approach to the various forms that Tolkien's "caves" assume. For instance, taking a cave or cavern as a natural formation, there is only the Aglarond with its amazing limestone formations that send Gimli into a rare aesthetic ecstasy (arguably there is Henneth Annun too, another place of beauty). All the other instances of caves named by Burke have been excavated or modified from their natural state, presumably using "mining" methods. Likewise, most serve as dwellings as well as passages or mines, and the distinctions have meanings that Burke does not handle well.

As far as the difference between Caves and Mines goes, it is regrettable that Burke took the editors' title so literally; valuable space is lost in splitting the article in two that could have gone towards some more analysis. But within this subcategory, she scants the idea that mines are morally ambiguous, since they provide the raw material not just for beautiful crafts, the inventions of Aulë, but also for the means of war and other destructive technologies, the inventions of Morgoth. Thus it is important to note that both Dwarves and Orcs (Goblins, in The Hobbit) delve mines, with only slightly different moral approaches to their work; while it is never clear just how or why Elves live underground as much as they do, or whether they dug their own mines in Valinor. Certainly under Celebrimbor in Hollin the Dwarves mined while the Noldorin Elves crafted.

Without addressing all the errata, I'll mention that Angband in the north of Middle-earth should be known as Morgoth's lair, not Sauron's. It was only commanded as an outpost by Sauron in the early times, before the destruction of Utumno, Melkor's primary cavernous retreat in the far east.  The list of caves at the end is problematic and anything but complete; one notable absence, as from the article, is Shelob's Lair.

 

Cecil, Lord David (1902-86) - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, June 30, 2007

The one mention of Tolkien in this charming portrait of Cecil seems almost obligatory rather than being the point of the article. It certainly doesn't enlarge my understanding of Tolkien, his life and work, and his intellectual interaction with his peers, by much, if at all.

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but when I read about one of the Inklings in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, I expect to learn either 1) what the Inkling said about Tolkien or The Lord of the Rings or 2) which character the Inkling is in The Notion Club Papers. I consider it lucky beyond chance if I also get to hear how the Inkling's intellectual or social talents related to one of the above encounters with Tolkien. I daren't hope for some record of what Tolkien thought of the Inkling in turn; that seems to be out of Tolkien's range, whether in his Letters or any other officially sanctioned records.

All the rest -- the Inkling's birthdates, the marriages, the careers in or around Oxford, the charming and/or annoying characteristics, the scholarly and erudite publications -- are just window dressing. The point of window dressing is to frame and decorate what's seen in the window. Here that view is either quite unremarkable, or has been forgotten in favor of some very fine drapery fabrics.

 

Charms - Carol A. Leibiger

Comments by squire, June 30, 2007

This is a good example of how to get the most bang for the buck from a question of medieval literature's influence on Tolkien's fiction. Leibiger gives a concise explanation of the "charm" in Anglo-Saxon literature, then offers two examples of how Tolkien employs analogous devices in The Lord of the RIngs.

The first, the idea that the Nine Walkers vs. the Nine Riders might have been inspired by the "Nine Herbs Charm" that dispels "nine poisons and nine infections" seems a bit far-fetched. Leibiger (or her source Pettit) undercuts this perception by pointing out that the count of nine (the square of the powerful number three) has had significance almost universally in the human imagination.

The second example, "Against a Sudden Stitch", is quite successful. The detailed magic inherent in Strider's chanting over the broken Morgul-blade on Weathertop, and the fact that the fragment that Elrond later recovers from Frodo is melted, both follow closely the rituals described in the above-named charm.

Leibiger backs up these detailed examples with other quick citations from Zimmer's study of the subject, noting both the similarities and the differences from the medieval type in Tolkien's use of the charm. All in all, an excellent introduction to the topic and an invitation to the reader to delve deeper, using the fine 'Further Reading' list. The 'See also' should include "Song Contests" and "Weapons, Named".

 

“Chaucer as Philologist: The Reeve’s Tale” – Simon Horobin

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 15, 2007

The publication in question is one of the more difficult to find, but important, pieces of Tolkien’s early scholarship. Horobin does an admirable job both in summarizing Tolkien’s argument in the original paper and in explaining how Tolkien’s view has had to be reconsidered over the years following, as more was learned about Middle English scribal practice as well as the provenance of the major surviving manuscripts of The Reeve’s Tale. All that is missing from the discussion, really, is a slightly more pointed assessment of the importance and place of Tolkien’s paper among the contemporary work on the topic.

Two oversights strike me as worth mentioning. First, while Horobin tells us that Tolkien’s essay was “based on a paper read at a meeting of the Philological Society in Oxford on May 16, 1931,” he fails to mention a more germane point, its print publication: Transactions of the Philological Society (1934): 1-70. It may be possible this was in a 'Further Reading' section subsequently cut from the Encyclopedia. Second, I think that a mention of Tom Shippey’s essay, “Creation from Philology in The Lord of the Rings” (J.R.R. Tolkien: Scholar and Storyteller, ed. Salu and Farrell), could have been helpful in bridging Tolkien’s philological view of Chaucer’s creative process with his own -- in other words, for explaining why Tolkien’s early paper on Chaucer should still interest students of Tolkien today.

Finally, there’s no 'Further Reading' provided, but I would point out that much of the meat of this entry can be found (expanded on at greater length) in Horobin’s excellent essay, “J.R.R. Tolkien as a Philologist: A Reconsideration of the Northernisms in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale”, English Studies 82 (2001): 97-105.

 

Childhood of Tolkien – Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

I really don’t quite understand the fragmentation of the biographical entries on Tolkien in the Encyclopedia. One has to read this entry, plus at least “World War I”, “Education”, “Marriage”, and “Oxford” — most of which aren’t immediately obvious as predominantly biographical entries — and there are still major gaps. Well, be that as it may, Lobdell’s entry conveys most of the facts of Tolkien’s first years, if rather dully. There are a few nice points, like the discussion of Afrikaans, but Lobdell relies overmuch on too many lengthy quotations (this time, most are from The Tolkien Family Album). When Lobdell himself is doing the writing, there are clumsy phrases (e.g., “the older child and older son”, “in speaking of himself as a child …, Tolkien wrote, ‘speaking for myself as a child …’”) and a general lack of organization.

In the entry, Lobdell tells us to “see Roverandom”, but omits that entry (which he himself wrote) from his See also. Obviously, an oversight. He also mentions John Buchan, but again omits the entry on that author from the See also. Other omissions include at least “Education”, “Languages: Early Introduction and Interest”, and “Shelob”. The 'Further Reading', on this occasion, is perfectly adequate.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 1, 2008

Actually, Lobdell does refer readers to his “Roverandom” article, and also to his entry on “Sauron”, but only in the body of his text; these cross-references should be removed to the See also list (which should also refer readers to “Education”, the next entry in the Encyclopedia’s biographical series).  It’s odd that Lobdell here contradicts his own remarks in “Roverandom”.  There he notes that the wave drowning Atlantis may derive from E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, but in this entry, he says that is “unlikely”.

Lobdell describes Fr. Francis Morgan as “Hiberno-Spanish”, but Carpenter’s biography describes him as “Half Welsh and half Anglo-Spanish” (p. 34) – Irish is unmentioned.

 

Children’s Literature and Tolkien – Penelope Davie

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 28, 2007

The opening is a little weak, and not particularly clear to me. The Lord of the Rings itself, not just The Hobbit, was dismissed as “juvenile trash” by one influential critic. And “much less critical writing on Tolkien’s other children’s works exists” – does this mean the writing that exists is less critical, that there’s less of it, or that the works being considered are those of Tolkien’s children? Of course, I know what she meant to say, but a little more precision in the writing would be helpful.

I’m also a little unclear on the headings breaking up the entry. Why the division between “Tolkien’s Children’s Books” and “Children’s Literature” – this seems unnecessary. Davie does do a nice job summarizing the scholarship on Tolkien’s works for children, but I would have expected an entry of this type (and categorized with the other, broad “Critical History and Scholarship” articles) to do more to describe the larger context of children’s literature in which Tolkien, perhaps reluctantly, found himself.

I like the point Davie makes about how the posthumous published works Roverandom and Mr. Bliss are really aimed at an adult, even scholarly audience. That’s a fresh take on the subject, and it makes me wonder what opportunities may have been lost in attracting younger readers to Tolkien by these publishing choices. Likewise, Davie approaches the question that has bedeviled The Hobbit for decades: is it a children’s work about a littler person and a magic ring, or is it a prequel for the larger, more “adult” Lord of the Rings? Unfortunately, Davie doesn’t really engage the question.

The 'Further Reading' is first-rate, and to the generally thorough See also, I would add “Barrie, J.M. (1860-1937)”, “Lewis, C.S. (1898-1963)”, “MacDonald, George (1824-1905)”, “Wyke-Smith, A.E. and The Marvelous Land of Snergs”, and perhaps “Childhood of Tolkien”.

 

Christ - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, February 12, 2007

Just as Pearce seems to have gone overboard in logically showing how, because Tolkien was a devout Catholic and the Ring was destroyed in The Lord of the Rings on March 25, so the One Ring is Original Sin, Frodo is a Christ figure and Mordor is Golgotha -- he pulls back. He admits that Tolkien wanted to avoid just such a one-on-one allegory between his fantasy epic and his real-world religion. So he adds Gandalf and Aragorn to the mixture of "Christs" that appear in the story. His ending is very good.

With Aragorn's healing powers, at least, I think it should have been recognized that medieval Kings, healing and all, were held to be Christ's delegates on earth, rather than Christ. And Pearce focuses exclusively on the March 25 date, neglecting to mention the Fellowship's departure from Rivendell on December 25. Still, given his reasonable caveats, I don't think he is wrong to pursue this line of thinking. And his bibliography seems to give a decent assortment of further reading on the endlessly debated topic of whether and how Christ is in LotR.

What I miss in this article is a slightly bigger picture: where and how Christ was in Tolkien and all his works, not just LotR. Inevitably there would be a risk of overlap with the Birzer articles on "Christian Readings of Tolkien", "Christianity", and "Catholicism", but I would like to have read where Pearce assigns Eärendil and Manwë in the allegorical scheme of things. And no discussion of Christ in Tolkien's works should ever have left out the mystic Debate of Finrod and Andreth, with its tantalizing promise of the Coming of Eru into Arda to redeem his Children from Morgoth's Taint.

 

Christ: "Advent Lyrics" - Carl Phelpstead

Comments by squire, June 14, 2007

It takes a while, but eventually this article takes off. The first two or three paragraphs seem to overlap, and it's still unclear to me what the "Advent Lyrics" are: just the first "Christ" poem, called Christ I, or all three "Christ" poems, I, II, and III?

However, once Phelpstead gets going on the meaning and interpretation of the famous couplet about earendel, which so inspired Tolkien that it became one of the centerpieces of his Middle-earth mythological cycle, he really soars. Tolkien's scholarship, which established that the reference was to the Morning Star (Venus), symbolizing John the Baptist who heralded the arrival of Christ (the Sun), is fascinating. Phelpstead ends with a quick note of where the actual verse, not the character Eärendil, is inserted into Tolkien's stories. A final round-up of the critical literature does no more than introduce the really excellent 'Further Reading' list.

As an erratum for some future revised edition, Tolkien's thinly-fictionalized self-description of his feelings on first reading this line of the Christ poem is in 'The Notion Club Papers' in Sauron Defeated, not The Shaping of Middle-earth.

 

Christian Readings of Tolkien - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by squire, February 13, 2007

This is a good example of the purpose of this Encyclopedia. In my own efforts to keep up with books that are published about Tolkien, I'd noticed what seemed like a lot of recent books with the "Christian reading" approach. Birzer confirms my impression, saying that there has been a "new wave" of such books since 1998. He gives here an excellent review of the field, going back to the beginning.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that in a field like Tolkien studies he inevitably must review his own book in the third person, but it is unfortunate. It is also unacceptable not to put all the books (and the unattributed reviewer) he mentions into a "Further Reading" column at the end.

With three articles on Tolkien and his Catholic Christianity by Birzer, and one for good measure by Pearce, it seems more than ever a shame that the entire topic, considered critically, symbolically, biographically, and bibliographically, could not have been combined into one convenient omnibus.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 17, 2008

This article’s missing bibliography is especially troublesome for Birzer’s second paragraph, where he writes that Edmund Fuller, William Ready, and John Ryan “commented on Tolkien’s faith in the 1960s in their own works” – but he never gives their titles!  He also never provides the source for his quotation of Tolkien in the first paragraph.

I wish Birzer had tried to explain why so few religious studies on Tolkien were published for more than a decade before 1998, when Joseph Pearce’s Tolkien: Man and Myth appeared and “inspired a whole new wave of Christian evaluations of Tolkien”.  Based on the repeated references to the “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” in the Encyclopedia’s religious articles, I would have guessed that the 1993 appearance of that religious writing in Morgoth’s Ring gradually came to the attention of theology-minded scholars, but Pearce’s book, at any rate, doesn’t cite that work.

On the other hand, Birzer does list a good number of religious analyses of Tolkien, and offers the beginnings of some evaluation of their merits.  I particularly appreciated his observation that too few works look past The Lord of the Rings.

 

Christianity - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by squire, January 9, 2007

It is difficult not to compare this to its twin article, "Catholicism, Roman" by the same author. Especially since Birzer wrote both articles, I don't think it's unfair to expect the two to be rationally coordinated. But, unfortunately, much of this article duplicates the Catholicism one (or vice versa - it depends which you read first, I suppose). Many of the theological points and examples from Tolkien's writings are identical in both pieces.

I might even speculate (from a protestant perspective!) that Tolkien's view of Catholicism was that the Roman church was Christianity; and so the two should be identical as far as our analysis of the effect of his religion on his art is concerned!

If we depend on Birzer to prevent that dubious substitution from taking over his two articles, we are disappointed.

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

Taking my cue from squire, I tackled this article before examining “Catholicism, Roman”, to see if their value, relative to each other, depended on reading order.  My first response after finishing this article was that it was better than squire described, a passable introduction to the subject in three sections.  Quoting from Tolkien’s letters and interviews with others (though he never identifies his sources), Birzer begins by stressing the centrality of Christianity in Tolkien’s life and its expression in his works.  Then he explains Tolkien’s feelings toward Protestantism.  Birzer closes by reasserting the importance of Christianity to Tolkien, supported by a long quote from On Fairy-stories.  It’s a bit disjointed, but the parts are acceptable.

However, after reading the “Catholicism” article, this one seems a pointless reduction, especially in light of Birzer’s comment here that “For Tolkien, Christianity meant specifically Roman Catholicism”.  Given that fact, this article should have been either cut in favor of the Catholicism article, or focused more tightly on Tolkien’s mixed feelings about other Christian sects (and I’m not sure where that leaves the “Church of England” article by Joseph Pearce).

Structured that way, perhaps Birzer could have clarified his assertion that, “When pushed on it, Tolkien offered a broad-tent vision of Christianity.  But in the main, he held Protestants in low regard”.  Though Birzer offers examples of Tolkien’s dissatisfaction with Protestantism, what about Tolkien’s 1940s participation in an Oxford ecumenical council, or the fact that he named his third son for his friend Christopher Wiseman, whose Methodist reverend father Tolkien described as “one of the most delightful Christian men I have met” (Letters, 395)?

 

Church of England - Joseph Pearce

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

On facing encyclopedia pages, Bradley Birzer writing on “Christianity” and Pearce here quote Tolkien’s statement that Anglicanism was “a pathetic and shadowy medley of half-remembered traditions and mutilated beliefs”.  Neither identifies the source of that quote, which is p. 73 of Carpenter’s biography; apparently Tolkien wrote it in the early 1910s.  There’s not much wrong with this short article (though Mabel Tolkien was 34 not 35 at her death) but as written, there’s not much need for it, either; it covers the same ground as several other articles.  In his comments on the conversions of Tolkien’s mother and wife to Catholicism Pearce paraphrases pp. 21 and 34-35 of his own book, Tolkien: Man and Myth (without citation, though it is the only work in his bibliography).

Comments by squire, March 18, 2007

Pearce should be clearer on which of Mabel Tolkien's "Anglican relatives" were her persecutors following her conversion to Catholicism. A brief inspection of the sources at hand shows me only that Tolkien blamed Mabel's death on her relatives, who were anti-Catholic Protestants of a number of denominations, with no particular emphasis on the C. of E.

The Encyclopedia article on the Suffields mentions only her father, who was a bigoted Nonconformist, hardly an Anglican. Carpenter's biography (which Pearce does not cite) is a little more informative, naming Mabel's brother-in-law as a proud Anglican. His wrath seems to have been mostly directed at his wife May, Mabel's sister, who converted to Catholicism at the same time; but he did cut Mabel off from some financial support he had been giving her. Carpenter leaves unnamed "other members of her family" who were hostile to Mabel's conversion, while noting that many in the Tolkien family were Baptists! Carpenter does state that Mabel was married in the C. of E. and had been attending a "high" Anglican church just before converting, so plainly some in her and her husband's immediate family were C. of E.! (Have I missed somewhere a mention of Mabel's mother's name and ancestry?)

More generally, the article suffers from too tight a focus on Mabel. It is not extravagant to speculate that J. R. R. Tolkien may have absorbed prejudice against his faith in early 20th century England from other quarters than his family memories; nor when measuring his bitterness should we ignore the angry and defensive Catholic doctrine about the C. of E. that Tolkien was taught from a young age.

Carpenter places Tolkien's demand that his fiancée Edith break cleanly and publicly with the C. of E. in that context. If I understand Carpenter, who does not quote specific letters, Tolkien seems to have referred at that time to his mother's persecution for becoming a Catholic, not of her persecution by Anglican relatives per se. Tolkien's letters (#83, #306) from later in his life support this more ideological rather than sentimental interpretation, when we look for his feelings toward the C. of E. specifically, as opposed to Protestantism generally. That Pearce does not cite these letters, easily found via the index, is another indication of the weakness of this piece.

Finally, as N.E. Brigand notes, why was this article not merged with the one on Christianity? Or, since Pearce treats the entire subject entirely from a biographical angle, why not list it in the thematic category for Tolkien's "Life" rather than in "Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers"? Although it might be fun to try to make a case that schisms and heresies in Tolkien's fiction always lead to perdition, so that for instance Ar-Pharazon's devil-worship can be read as "applicable" but not "allegorical" to the Anglican faith!

 

Class in Tolkien’s Works – David Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 28, 2007

For its brevity, this is an excellent introduction to a large, complex subject. The writing is clear and engaging, the points well supported by the authorities cited, and the arguments logical and cogent. If I could have wished for anything, it would just have been more detail and more breadth. I’ll just make two specific points here.

Oberhelman points out that Tolkien’s “social origins in Sarehole” seem to place him at odds with his apparently “conservative views on social class.” Tom Shippey has written about this very issue in, of all the unlikely places, his review of Robert S. Blackham’s The Roots of Tolkien’s Middle Earth [sic], published in Tolkien Studies 4 (2007). I would add that another variable in the equation of Tolkien’s views on class might be his very early childhood as a “rooinek” in South Africa around the time of the Boer Wars. He was, of course, too young to feel his social position in colonial Africa at the time; however, he must have had some feelings about it later in life, no?

Second, had Oberhelman been given a more generous word count, I think he might have extended the discussion beyond Middle-earth and into other works by Tolkien. Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham, even Mr. Bliss, all reveal aspects of Tolkien’s attitudes to social class and hierarchy.

The 'Further Reading' section is very good. Oberhelman even includes Marjorie Burns’s paper from Marquette, 2004, which has subsequently been printed in the Proceedings of that conference. The 'See also' is also solid; I would only think of adding “Aragorn”, “Childhood of Tolkien”, “Heroes and Heroism”, and “World War I”.

 

Coghill, Nevill Henry Kendal Aylmer (1899-1980) - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, July 10, 2007

As with most Inklings articles, this covers a bit more of Coghill's life than I feel I want to know; on the other hand, Duriez seems to have given us every kind of connection Coghill had with Tolkien, so the problem is not misplaced priorities so much as excessive verbiage. And we do get some sense of his personality, always a virtue in these uncountable Inklings pieces. What I miss is any record of what he thought of Tolkien's writings.

In lieu of that kind of focus, I found most interesting the account of Coghill's avocation as a director of Oxford theatrical productions (the idea that he directed Burton and Taylor in a 1966 film boggles the mind but Duriez breezes right past that one), and as a popular reader of medieval literature on the public radio. One wonders if he had anything to do with Tolkien's stints as a reader on the BBC, e.g. the 'Sir Gawain' piece. More directly relevant, Tolkien performed "as Chaucer" in summer entertainments that Coghill arranged in the late 1930s. This brings up the question of Tolkien's talents and aptitudes in the realm of theatre, a subject that in my opinion is far from fully explored in the existing body of Tolkien criticism. But I can't blame Duriez for ignoring that here.

The See also list is much too brief, given all the names dropped in the article. Start by adding "Dyson, Hugo", "Kolbítar", "Auden, W. H.", "Book of Lost Tales II", and "Williams, Charles". And why do C. T. Onions and George (not E. V.) Gordon not have their own articles?

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

A “Kolbítar” cross-reference would have allowed Duriez to cut down his first paragraph, where he lists six of the group’s members and their college affiliations.  He would then have had room to expand a little on Coghill’s feelings for Tolkien’s work (for example, Humphrey Carpenter says he enjoyed The Hobbit – see The Inklings, p. 135). 

Although Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and The Inklings both appear in Duriez’ bibliography, he sometimes makes careless use of them: the opening description of Coghill as “the younger son of an Anglo-Irish baronet” comes verbatim from Inklings (p. 256); and the claim that Tolkien “modeled Treebeard’s manner [way] of speaking (Hrum, Hroom) on the megaphonic [booming] voice of C.S. Lewis” comes from Biography (p. 198) with just two words changed (I give them in brackets).  The latter comment is also misleadingly positioned, appearing immediately before a reference to Tolkien’s 1938-39 Chaucer presentations, which occurred before Tolkien created the character of Treebeard.  Finally, when Duriez describes Tolkien as “grieved” to be unable to contribute to a festschrift for Coghill in 1965, and notes Tolkien’s amusement at Coghill’s “adj. [adjective] ‘hobbit-forming,’ applied to my [his] books” (the brackets indicate Duriez’s substitutions) he should but does not cite Letters #275 and #319, respectively, and does not use quotation marks for the latter remark.

Comments by Jason Fisher, December 30, 2007

There is one small addition I would have liked to see in Duriez's otherwise thorough entry. Nevill Coghill and Christopher Tolkien together edited several of the Canterbury Tales for publication: The Pardoner's Tale (1958), The Nun's Priest's Tale (1959), and The Man of Law's Tale (1969).

 

Collecting – Anthony S. Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 3, 2007

This essay bothers me. First of all, I can’t see any reason to include it in the Encyclopedia in the first place. Of what relevance is it to the Encyclopedia’s stated goal of representing “Scholarship and Critical Assessment”? Second, it’s light on substance. I was left thinking, “So what?” And I’m a collector myself, so that’s not a good sign. Third, it really needed the hand of an editor. The essay is loosely, vaguely, sometimes poorly written. A few examples:

  • “Collecting related to Tolkien … has grown in popularity as quickly as Tolkien’s name has entered fandom” – What sort of comparison is this?

  • “The enthusiast will then move onto earlier editions” – Move onto them? Really?

  • “To obtain an edition inscribed by Tolkien himself elevates the collector to heights of rapture” – This doesn’t belong in an Encyclopedia.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography … details … every known detail of Tolkien’s work” – Setting aside the echo here, the assertion simply isn’t true.

Finally, why do we have a discussion of the resources at Marquette? And what is the relevance of Drout’s bibliographical articles in the 'Further Reading'?

Comments by squire, March 3, 2007

While Jason Fisher is correct that the article is very badly written, I don't think a study of the phenomenon of collecting Tolkieniana is conceptually outside the scope of the Encyclopedia. But where it belongs, I guess, is inside the "Fandom" article, also by Burdge and Burke.

Whether as a separate article, or in a larger one, the focus should have been on a "Cultural Studies" approach: an examination of which groups of people have collected Tolkien over the years, and why; how these particular fan or bibliophile communities interact with other groups with similar fan-type interests; and how the corporate marketing arms of the publishing, auction, and collectibles industries have fostered and fed off the commercialization of J. R. R. Tolkien.

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

I agree with squire that this subject needed to be viewed from the perspective of both buyer and seller.  To that end, a See also reference to the “Merchandising” article would have been appropriate but is missing – by this point, need I even note that the opposite is also true?

Why does this article mention Marquette University?  Because as Burdge and Burke note, that library holds a large collection, including not only many Tolkien’s manuscripts but also a great deal of secondary material.  And Marquette continues to collect: in July of 2006, its archivist, Matt Blessing, reported at a Toronto conference that Marquette had recently paid more for newly-available letters written by Tolkien than had been spent to acquire the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings.  It is odd that Burdge and Burke should mention Marquette’s Gary Hunnewell collection of Tolkien fanzines but not their similarly impressive Richard Blackwelder or Grace Funk collections of Tolkiena.

Likewise I think Drout’s bibliographies are listed simply as recent guides to the (collectible) secondary literature on Tolkien.

A correction: in their list of significant scholarly publications sought by Tolkien collectors, Burdge and Burke include “Medium Aevum (1940-59)”. The date range should probably be extended back to 1932, when Tolkien helped start, and then contributed the first part of “Sigelwara Land” to, that journal.

 

Colors – Victor Parker

Comments by Jason Fisher, August 28, 2007

This entry is interesting, if somewhat arbitrary, and for the most part well put together, but I find it strangely indecisive. It often second-guesses itself, leaving the reader wondering what, if any, conclusions it has actually drawn: “Tolkien often avails himself of this association unproblematically” versus “yet one must not suppose that Tolkien employs such symbolism methodically”, and the like. In fact, these quotations also demonstrate how overburdened with tedious, top-heavy diction the entry is.

Some additional quibbles and questions:

Parker asserts that “when Saruman falls from grace, his erstwhile white garments become multihued,” which makes it sound as if Saruman himself had no part to play in that. Rather, the change in color is by Saruman’s own volition, and he does not see it as the “diminution” of “unbroken light” that Parker (and readers) may deem it.

I like Parker’s mention of the medieval poem, Pearl, in connection with white; why doesn’t he mention Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in connection with green? A missed opportunity. Instead, we get the strange equation: “Middle-earth’s Elessar corresponds to the divinely lit Silmarils as the green grass of Rohan does to the sunlight.” I’m not really sure exactly what Parker means to say by this – or whether the analogy is accurate.

The 'Further Reading', while it looks impressive, is perhaps too narrow and arcane. At least three, and it could be as many as five, out of the eight references are in languages other than English, which was specifically proscribed in the contributors’ guidelines. Two of these are obviously encyclopedia entries, as they share the same title, “Farbe” [German “Color”]. And only one of the eight pertains directly to Tolkien. Was there really nothing else Parker could find?

The See also is awfully short. Parker ought to have included “Mountains”, “Rings of Power”, and “Wizards” – each with their associated colors – as well as “Arkenstone”, “Darkness”, “Light”, and “Phial”.

 

Comedy - Christopher Garbowski

Comments by squire, July 10, 2007

I'm not exactly sure of the difference between "Comedy" and "Humor", but the Encyclopedia's editors must be, or they would not have assigned two different articles on these subjects. Garbowski might well have defined his terms at the beginning, since I would guess most readers these days assume comedy = humor.

Still, he seems to stick mostly to terms of style here rather than effect. He starts to look for "comedy' in Tolkien using what I believe is the classic Aristotelian meaning of the term: a drama with a happy ending (i.e., where the hero doesn't die). On these grounds he dismisses The Silmarillion without a second thought, but it is unfortunate on a number of levels that he equally ignores The Hobbit, Tolkien's comic masterpiece, as being only a "children's story".

He next agrees with Rosebury that The Lord of the Rings is comedic - a point of view that is arguable, but by no means as obvious as he suggests. Other critics might well disagree that Middle-earth is "ultimately benign".

At this point he changes tack slightly, and moves on to more modern terms of discourse, where comedy connotes a lightness of tone that relieves a too-serious story, and shows that (of course) the hobbits perform this function in LotR. The rest of the article is a well-conducted analysis of this aspect of Tolkien's epic. Although Garbowski conscientiously tries to square the resulting circle with a series of qualifications, at this point I began to wonder how successfully he was balancing his claim that Tolkien could not afford any irony that might prick the believability of his secondary world, with the seemingly ironic role of the hobbits (except Frodo) as comic relief to the "high tone" and "utmost seriousness" of Middle-earth.

 

Communism - Hal G. P. Colebatch

Comments by squire - July 10, 2007

There are some good points of criticism here, but in general the article wanders too much between equating Communism with the totalitarianism of Stalin's USSR, and the more wide-ranging theories of the Left, both political and literary, in the West. Likewise there is some confusion between Tolkien's own opinion of Communism, and the presumed commentaries on it that might be found in his epic The Lord of the Rings.

Colebatch is on solid ground in pointing out Tolkien's love of religion, splendor, display, and hierarchy (all antithetical to classic Marxist-Leninism). He might however also have taken more note of his own apologies for Attlee's anti-Soviet socialism, which seem to dilute the definition of "Communism" in this article to critical near-uselessness. Like the "Industrialism" article did, he might then have concluded that Tolkien was as much anti-industrial and anti-modern, whether Capitalist or Communist or Nazi, as he was some kind of orthodox "anti-Communist".

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

Colebatch feels Sauron’s despotism resembles “Stalinist Communism”, and though he notes generally that “Tolkien strongly denied his stories were allegory”, he ought to have more specifically noted Tolkien’s rejection of Saruman as stand-in for the U.S.S.R., in his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings.

And whatever the “adversary culture” is, I’m not sure its nature was really the cause of the Beatles’ failure to film The Lord of the Rings.  If Colebatch wanted to head down that road in this entry, he should have mentioned the Beatles’ doubts about communism (“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”)  For that matter, the Beatles were not opposed to pageantry, and Tolkien himself saw “admirable motives” in “the behaviour of modern youth” of 1968, including “anti-drabness, a sort of romantic longing for ‘cavaliers’” (Letters, p. 393).

 

Criticism of Tolkien, Twentieth Century - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, November 15, 2006

This article suffers from an atrocious and self-indulgent style featuring innumerably parenthesized asides and a general sense that the writer is talking to himself and himself only. This is reinforced by the citations: three of the four are to his own work.

Lobdell chooses to restrict his article to surveying criticism of Tolkien by non-"Tolkien specialists" (so called "mainstream" critics). He then declares that criticism of Tolkien must be negative until the critic has become familiar enough with the material to understand it, at which point the critic has become a "Tolkien critic" or "interested party" and so can no longer be included in this article! Lobdell seems to feel this paradox excuses him from having to cite or analyze any of the criticism he is ostensibly writing an Encyclopedia article about.

By the end, he has *poof!* argued his own article out of existence.

Comments by N. E. Brigand, November 13, 2006

Harold Bloom and Isaac Asimov both tried their hands at Tolkien criticism—Bloom as a critic and anthologist of criticism and scholarship (and self-proclaimed polymath and expert) and Asimov, of course, as a self-proclaimed polymath and expert.
This paragraph could be entirely omitted in favor of using actual quotes from Bloom and Asimov below.

Bloom decided Edwin Muir was the best (partly) favorable critic of Tolkien (he himself not caring for the author or the book he was compiling commentaries on).
I think Bloom edited two anthologies of Tolkien criticism -- one on Tolkien and one on LotR -- and contributed a short introduction to each.  Both are part of general series of anthologies on English literature -- so Bloom may have been stuck with a list of titles and authors not entirely of his choosing.   In one of those introductions, Bloom cites Roger Sale as Tolkien's best critic -- perhaps he cites Muir in the other?

Asimov, of course, did not need (or need to quote) anyone’s opinion but his own.
There is no direct quotation in Lobdell's article; and his bibliography includes no citation of Bloom or Asimov, so it's pretty shabby for him to be chiding Asimov on this point.  Perhaps we could track down Asimov and Bloom's criticism of Tolkien in one of the three works by Lobdell himself that appear in his bibliography. 

Bloom’s views count as criticism of Tolkien (though he came late to the gate);
Waste of a sentence:  why not tell us what Bloom said?

Asimov’s most-quoted comments on Tolkien were (he said) a commentary on the symbolism of the One Ring and (I believe) a claim that modernity (or perhaps the modern world) wasn’t all bad.  But Tolkien never said it was, and there’s a world of difference between “not all bad” (which Tolkien could have agreed with) and (in the vernacular) “not all that bad” (which he would not have, if ever he would have accepted the phrase long enough to consider it).
What!?  Why not summarize, then uphold or refute Asimov's comments on symbolism?  Why not indicate which of Tolkien's comments on modernity Asimov was responding to?  Why argue "not all bad" isn't the same thing as "not all that bad" when neither is sourced to either Tolkien or Asimov?

It could be said, fundamentally, that no “mainstream critic” appreciated The Lord of the Rings or indeed was in a position to write criticism on it—most being unsure what it was and why readers liked it (not to say loved it, doted on it, used it as a lens through which to view the world).
But W.H. Auden liked LotR, as Lobdell himself mentioned earlier in the article.  As we have seen this week, so did Burton Raffel.  And Roger Sale, whom I mentioned above, had mixed feelings but responded very warmly to the portrayal of Frodo's journey.*

Brian Aldiss was a critic of fantasy and science fiction—thus not a mainstream critic because not a critic of mainstream literature—but he was a critic recognized by some mainstream critics and his comparison of Tolkien with P. G. Wodehouse echoes Colin Wilson.
This sentence goes in circles, wasting many words.  How about:

"Brian Aldiss, better-known for reviewing fantasy and science fiction but respected by mainstream critics, echoes Colin Wilson in his comparison of Tolkien with Wodehouse."

That went from 43 words to 25, giving Lobdell 18 words to actually quote Aldiss or someone else.

*The Wikipedia entry on Roger Sale includes this comment:

Sale is also credited with being among the first literary critics to seriously discuss the work of J.R.R. Tolkien (which had been largely dismissed as 'juvenile' and unworthy of analysis by most prominent critics, most notably Lionel Trilling).

 

Cruces in Medieval Literature - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, March 5, 2007

Shippey segues neatly from the general idea of the 'crux' as the single most interesting problem in interpreting a difficult medieval text, to several specific instances of 'cruces' -- Wood-wose, Gandalf, dragon-spell, Searu-man -- that Tolkien tackled and solved in ways that informed his fiction.

Segues too neatly, I'd say. Shippey almost seems to be implying that a general characteristic of solving a crux in Medieval scholarship is that it be incorporated into a fictional mythology! His passing mention of Tolkien's more conventional work on Exodus is overwhelmed by his succeeding examples that feature The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

As fascinating as the presentation is, I am left with two questions: how accepted by his peers were the latter solutions of Tolkien's, appearing as they did in his fantasy literature rather than in more regular academic guise? And more generally, how does the scholarly community acknowledge a proposed solution to a crux as correct, if the exercise is as speculative as Shippey seems to imply?

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

Has Shippey exhausted this method of research into Tolkien’s fiction?  He pioneered the approach in The Road to Middle-earth (1982), which is the only Tolkien scholarship in this article’s ‘Further Reading’ list.

 

Cynewulf - Christina M. Heckman

Comments by squire, July 11, 2007

Since every one of the works attributed to, or said to be influenced by, Cynewulf that has relevance to Tolkien's professional and fictional work, has an article of its own; and since Cynewulf as a person seems only to exist as a name cryptically signed in runes to several Anglo-Saxon poems, anyone who has read the other articles has to wonder what this one is bringing to the party.

It is not reassuring to read in "Christ: Advent Lyrics" that Cynewulf is no longer believed to be the author of Christ I, the poem in which the famous 'Earendel' couplet appears. This article's main point of interest, unfortunately, is the idea that Cynewulf wrote it.