Dagnall, Susan (1910-52) - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, March 24, 2007

I admit that I had some curiosity to be sated by this article, as might anyone who has heard how Tolkien's story about a hobbit, told for his own children, reached publication through Dagnall's intervention and so launched him on his public career. Susan Dagnall is one of those people who inhabit the fringes of history, make an appearance or an introduction, and retire again into obscurity. Perhaps she does not rate much more space than she gets here.

But in an article as short and insignificant as this one, it is doubly important that it be tied into the rest of the Encyclopedia by See also cross-references, and that it give 'Further Reading' references for those who want them. This very abbreviated treatment of a complex episode left me with several questions: Did Dagnall study under Tolkien, or was she new to him when she appeared and asked to read the Hobbit manuscript? Who was Elaine Griffiths, and how had she come to read the story? Why did she never finish the revision to the Clark Hall Beowulf? What happened to the Beowulf project? Was it usual for a young woman like Dagnall three years out of Oxford to be the editor of a scholarly work, or have I misread her role as summarized here? As the article stands, I'm on my own at this point, since there is no See also or 'Further Reading' at all.

The two Encyclopedia articles on Beowulf translations, which both refer to Tolkien's involvement with the revision of Clark Hall's translation, inform me that Charles L. Wrenn was the final editor, but make no mention of Griffiths and give no reference back to this Dagnall article. The Encyclopedia's index lists Griffiths twice, but not for her appearance here in the Dagnall article. The article on "The Hobbit" and Anderson's article on "Publishing History" both give slightly different perspectives on this episode, but also do not refer to this article. The "Oxford" article about this period in Tolkien's life does not cover any of this material or these people at all.

Going outside the Encyclopedia, in Carpenter's The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien retells the Susan Dagnall/Hobbit story several times over the years, with differing details that can be ascribed to Tolkien's faulty memory. But Anderson's account here differs from any of Tolkien's accounts in these details. Instead he follows those in Carpenter's Biography most closely; I wish Anderson had given his sources if only to confirm that this is the "correct" story. And Carpenter's Biography, not surprisingly, also tells us more about Griffith's acquaintance with Tolkien and more of the story of the revision to the Clark Hall Beowulf.

David Bratman has already commented on the strange choice of giving Dagnall an article of her own, while the Unwins and their publishing firm get none. I would add that Elaine Griffiths, and for that matter perhaps Charles L. Wrenn, seem to be at least as deserving of a short article as Susan Dagnall or any of the lesser Inklings.

 

Danes: Contributions to English Culture - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, July 6, 2007

It's hard to see what the point of this article is, separated as it is from its more effective companion "Danish Language". Evans seems to be similarly confused, opening with the inane observation that the history of England would be different if the Danes had not invaded and occupied part of it for several centuries; and the ridiculous one that Tolkien's career would not have been possible without the Danish linguistic influence on English in the Middle Ages and Danish philological scholarship in the modern era.

An extended history follows of the era of the Danelaw and the English national reaction to it, finally culminating with some actual (and  interesting) examples of the Danish "contributions" to English culture: an extensive new vocabulary, and "ideas of representative local government, trial by jury, and other legal and political customs".

Recognizing that all this has a relationship to Tolkien studies so basic as to be absurd, Evans moves on to the early 19th century. He shows that the Dane Rasmus Rask's scholarship underlies much of the classic profession of philology, and that much early Scandinavian literature was preserved in Danish libraries. Again, this vaguely relates to Tolkien -- since it relates to every English medievalist who has ever lived.

Finally, we get Beowulf from the Danish perspective, but with no assurances whether any of the cited scholarship favoring Danish interpretations of origin and location is regarded as valid by modern critics. Ditto for The Battle of Maldon: we are told that the "Danes" in the poem were probably Norwegian vikings, but the events recounted could have involved Danes, since they were in England at the same time and acted much the same way.

I can't help but feel that this article has a lot of useful information that is in the wrong place and under the wrong title. And I was left with a nagging wish for a better explanation of the differences between "Scandinavians", "Danes", "Norwegians", and "Vikings" -- not to mention a brief review of who the "English" were back then, whose culture received such extensive contributions from the "Danes". It is confusing to be told that Beowulf is "the earliest English epic" just before reading that it was claimed to be a Danish poem by its first, Danish, editor.

 

Danish Language - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, January 21, 2007

This article walks a fine line between its nominal topic and its connection to Tolkien. Starting with some general linguistic comments on Danish, Evans gently moves into the history of Danish as it intersected with English in the 9-11th centuries, and from there by easy stages gets into Tolkien's contributions to distinguishing the ultimate impact of Danish on Old English (and by extension, later English). The examples are mostly vocabularic (and so easy for a non-specialist reader to absorb), not syntactical or literary.

I can hardly dispute Evans' synthesis of this subject, of which I knew nothing and now know something. I wonder if in place of actual vocabulary lists, more space could have been put toward an analysis of the impact of Tolkien's 1920s Danish loan-words scholarship on later English philogical studies? In other words, were his contributions as listed here considered valuable or remarkable at the time? and are they still the latest word in the subject?

 

Dante – Merlin DeTardo

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 4, 2007

I have slightly mixed feelings about this entry. On the one hand, it’s well researched and written, but on the other hand, it seems to be so much ado about, well, not nothing, but very little.

Boiling DeTardo’s essay down to its essential points for a moment, we have that 1) Tolkien didn’t care too much for Dante, and he specifically felt his work showed a tendency toward pettiness; and that 2) there are similarities between their writings, but these are purely speculative, or might only “show Tolkien and Dante working from the same … ideas.” In fact, I’m not aware of (and couldn’t find) even a single scholarly publication focusing on any extended comparison of Tolkien and Dante. On this basis, I wonder why the entry was deemed important enough for inclusion in the Encyclopedia (especially at the cost of, say, an entry on Geoffrey Chaucer or Middle English).

As a post script on this point, I suppose I would just add that "Dante" is categorized in Literary Sources, but to my knowledge, nobody has ever demonstrated that Dante was a source for Tolkien – except only in perhaps the broadest possible sense, in which all the literature one reads goes into the leaf-mould. If Dante's going to be called a source, shouldn't there be at least one extended study we could point to?

All that being said, however, I would again point out the merits of the essay. The most interesting tidbit, of which I had no idea whatsoever, was that there are notes in the Bodleian for a Dante lecture Tolkien gave to the Oxford Dante Society. There’s little enough direct evidence of any influence of Dante on Tolkien – at most, one can point out similarities – but DeTardo presents a broad sampling of what little is out there on the subject. He might have mentioned other similarities, too, though.

For my part, the freezing waste of Angband has always put me in mind of Dante’s depiction of the lowest level of Hell (Inferno, Canto XXXIV). I can’t help but wonder whether Dante was in the back of Tolkien’s mind here (one of Tolkien’s associates, Frederick Scopes, brought a copy of the Inferno to their military training camp – see Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, p. 50 – which may have helped).

The 'Further Reading' is better than one would have expected. DeTardo could have added Tom Shippey’s “The Foolhardy Philologist” (The Times Literary Supplement), in which he, too, calls The Lord of the Rings a “Dantesque comedy”, though DeTardo makes essentially the same statement through Patrick Grant.

The See also is, I think, just a bit broad. DeTardo includes a cross-reference to essentially everything he mentioned in his essay, even though some of them have little or nothing to add to the consideration of Dante vis-à-vis Tolkien (e.g., is “Latin Language” or “Latin Literature” or even “Virgil” really that useful here?). I suppose it comes down to what one believes a ‘See also’ is for, exactly. The “Middle English” entry does not exist, and there are a few other small errata as well (e.g., the Lewis, Sayers, and Williams entries are missing their dates).

 

D'Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (1899-1986) - Douglas Anderson

Comments by squire, April 11, 2007

Anderson has nicely struck that difficult balance between subject, and subject's relation to Tolkien, that so bedevils contributors to the Encyclopedia who tackle the entries on Tolkien's colleagues and fellow medievalists.

Still, amidst the dates and scholarly papers, I wish there was more about Prof. D'Ardenne's personality and her relationship with Tolkien -- if there is anything more. She seems to come and go from his life almost randomly across the years between 1932 and 1954, with aftershocks of publication all the way to 1981. Yet the impression is one of warm professional affection, if the anecdote about Farmer Giles is anything to go by.

And how - if we are allowed to ask this - does Tolkien's relationship with D'Ardenne fit with his letter (#43) to his son, characterizing female scholars as incapable of intellectual progress except under the tutelage of a man?

Weirdly, though Anderson implies that D'Ardenne's thesis on the subject is an unacknowledged highlight of Tolkien's own scholarship, the 'Further Reading' does not refer to the article on "Juliana", whose bibliography puts this one to shame.

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

She seems to come and go from his life almost randomly.

In fact, Tolkien wrote in March 1945 of  “my lost friend Mlle. Simonne d’Ardenne, who has suddenly reappeared, having miraculously survived the German occupation, and … waving the MSS. of a large work we began together…” (Letters, p. 114).

Anderson’s note on d’Ardenne’s connection to Tolkien’s 1953 essay on the Middle English word “losenger”, which Tolkien had presented in a 1951 visit to Liège, probably answers the question that Jason Fisher raised about the Encyclopedia’s “French Language” article: why was Tolkien’s paper the only English work in a French volume?  It turns out he came to Liège unprepared to give the lecture!  Who would believe that neither this article, nor those on “French Language” or “Middle English ‘Losenger’”, refers readers to the other two?

 

Darkness - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, May 14, 2007

This is too weak for such an important topic. Pearce dithers, repeats himself, quotes extensively, and offers very little insight into how Tolkien uses darkness as a literary device. Typically, he misuses Sam's song about the Sun above the clouds in Mordor to contrast the hobbits' perception of God with the Elves' vision of the stars in the night - ignoring Sam and Frodo's later epiphany of seeing the single star through the break in the clouds in the next chapter. His only 'Further Reading' references are to two of his own books.

However, to be fair, I feel he has also been set up. Why are there separate articles on "Darkness" and "Light"? It is impossible to talk sensibly about the one in Tolkien without including the other. Whatever the reasons, I am somehow not surprised that Pearce does not refer to "Light" in his See also list, any more than Flieger refers to "Darkness" in her companion article on "Light".

In this important thematic category "Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers", there is an almost fatal amount of topical atomization. At least "Good and Evil", "Justice and Injustice", and "Fortune and Fate" were combined as pairs - while "Heaven" and "Hell", "Angels" and "Devils", and here "Darkness" and "Light" were not. But really, why not also combine "Fortune and Fate" with "Free Will", and "Justice and Injustice" with "Law"? A logical rethinking of this theme's assignments could possibly have resulted in half as many articles, each at twice the length, and all much improved in average quality.

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

Pearce should have acknowledged some of the exceptions to his claim that “Light is, therefore, at the heart of Creation, and its absence, Darkness, is associated from the beginning with evil.”  For instance, Tom Bombadil says in LotR that he “knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless”.  And in Tolkien’s unfinished story, “Tal-Elmar”, from The Peoples of Middle-earth, the Númenórean colonists say that their black sails “are the fair night before the coming of the Enemy, and upon the black are set the silver stars of Elbereth”.

I haven’t seen Alex Lewis’s 1989 article “Splintered Darkness” (Mallorn 26, pp. 31–33), but Drout and Wynne’s description here suggests it might usefully bolster Pearce’s bibliography, which now includes only two works by himself.

 

Death - Christopher Garbowski

Comments by squire, May 3, 2007

In this excellent essay Garbowski focuses, quite properly, on Tolkien's overarching theme of the meaning to Men of mortality in an imagined world where immortality is possible. The highlight is his concluding perception that The Lord of the Rings was written at a crossroads in Tolkien's life where he began to reconsider his belief in the blessings of mortality.

This focus, however, means that many other related manifestations of the question of death in Tolkien's stories remain unexamined. For instance, Garbowski skips over the heroic death-wish seen in Húrin's last stand in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, in Théoden's and later Éomer's charges and Éowyn's desperate venture, and in the Homecoming of Beorhtnoth story; death by judgement, as seen in the laws of most of the societies of Middle-earth, and as debated on an interpersonal level by Túrin and the outlaws and by Frodo and Gandalf regarding Gollum; suicide (which does have its own entry, though neither cross-references the other) which is treated differently for Denethor, Sam, and Túrin; the state of cursed deathlessness experienced by the Ringwraiths and the Army of the Dead, as well as the question of those who, once dead, refuse the call of Mandos to judgement and become possessions of the Dark Lord. And of course there is the saga of Númenor, and the whole odd question of just what did happen to Beren.

The See also list is much too short, missing not just "Suicide" as mentioned already, but even Garbowski's own articles on "Immortality" and "Mandos". Adding "Men, Middle-earth" and the articles on the characters and stories I've mentioned above might have filled in for readers those facets of the question that this article did not cover. As all too often with Garbowski's fine entries, there is no 'Further Reading' list.

 

Denethor - Alex Davis

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

Well done, but so brief as to make compliments difficult. Davis seems to have had to omit both the rivalry of Denethor with Aragorn, and Tolkien's contrast of him to King Theoden of Rohan. The summary of critical opinion seems incomplete and rushed, and the final sentence is not very helpful.

Well, that's what you get for 500 words!

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

The article on Théoden did manage to fit in a contrast with Denethor, but this entry is much the stronger piece. Davis focuses closely on Denethor, omitting unnecessary “historical” information as he deftly summarizes Denethor’s story in LotR, with regular reference to his subject’s character.  Davis builds on this strong framework when he turns to critical interpretation in his last paragraph (apart from that last, weak sentence).  Unfortunately, there is no See also list, which ought to direct readers to at least "Aragorn", "Boromir", "Despair", "Gandalf", "Gondor", "Kingship", "Knowledge", "Palantíri", "Pippin", "Politics", "Power", "Pride", and "Théoden".

One erratum, possibly caused by Davis’ tight word-count:  he notes that Denethor “appears to have been shown and wrongly assumes that Sauron has taken possession of the Ring”.  Denethor may have seen Frodo captured and assumed that Sauron therefore had the Ring, but Sauron cannot have shown Denethor the Ring: the palantíri only show real images.

 

Denham Tracts, The - Dustin Eaton

Comments by squire, July 11, 2007

Oh, well. I don't mind this article. It is as small in its scope and importance as hobbits themselves were before they emerged to trouble the counsels, etc., and yet it is as Gandalf might say, interesting in of itself. Still, I asked myself some questions.

Could it have been radically trimmed and included as a paragraph in the "Hobbits" article? Yes, absolutely. Since it wasn't, should Eaton at least have pursued the cold trail of whether Tolkien might have read the Denham Tracts, perhaps when he was actively investigating medieval and folk vocabularies in northern England during his time in Leeds, as documented in several other articles (see below)? Yes - for instance, the work might be read through for evidence of other folk usages that Tolkien may have mined for his fiction and scholarship.

And mightn't we learn which Tolkien buff first brought the Denham Tracts/"hobbit" connection to the public eye? Yes, easily, since the "Hobbits" article reveals it was Douglas Anderson in The Annotated Hobbit -- though that article neither identifies the "1895 compilation of folkloric terms" nor gives a reference to this article. The "Hobbits" article, as it should, reviews the entire "hobbit" word-origin question, which is more complex than a simple question of borrowing an obscure old word.

If it did happen: even Eaton manages to throw some doubt on whether Michael Denham documented a true folk-usage of "hobbit" from northern England, although my impression of the Tracts from this article is that it is a kind of reprinting of a series of field-notebooks, which might as well be believed as not. Although the majestic OED has given notice that it will include the Denham Tracts citation for "hobbit" in some future edition, Tolkien's re-use or reinvention of the word retains its pride of place in English literature.

Anderson's work should be in the 'Further Reading', obviously. See also might well have acknowledged "Fairies", "New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District, A", and "Haigh, Walter E. (1856-1931)", which all show Tolkien's interest in this kind of research.

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

Although Douglas Anderson’s notes in The Annotated Hobbit include a good summary of the word “hobbit” as found in The Denham Tracts of 1895, he doesn’t claim there to have made that 1976 discovery.  Elsewhere, John Rateliff credits Katharine Briggs with that work.

 

Denmark: Reception of Tolkien - Anna Karlskov Skyggebjerg

Comments by squire, July 11, 2007

In a very engaging way, Skyggebjerg takes us past the "usual story" of Tolkien's growing popularity in various countries (like Denmark) due to various translations (everything but History of Middle-earth, apparently), and focuses on the Danish literary response in the form of fantasy novels. While it doesn't seem like very strong criticism to congratulate recent authors on "break[ing] with Tolkien's theoretical demands", this is one of the only instances I know of where an author (like Kaaberbøl) even acknowledged On Fairy-stories as a guidepost to the writing of fantasy fiction in the first place.

The mention of Queen Margrethe II's illustrations of Tolkien is welcome, too. The only thing missing is any mention of Danish scholarship on Tolkien, his relation to older Danish traditions of folklore (though see "Danes: Contributions to English Culture" for some tidbits), and perhaps some discussion of the quality of the Danish translations in capturing Tolkien's unique English style.

With no 'Further Reading' and a scanty See also, one imagines that Skyggebjerg simply didn't get the memo. A list of sources would particularly have been helpful for further research, but she does give at least some references in her text.

 

Deor - Joe R. Christopher

Comments by squire, June 16, 2007

Absolutely fascinating. Although the first section, giving details of the Anglo-Saxon poem, is overlong, the second section more than makes up for it. Christopher makes connections I had never imagined, although I thought I was familiar with the Tolkien scholarship he has mined so deeply here. This is the kind of article that makes the Encyclopedia worth owning, and reading.

The only quibble I can offer (it's the law) is that two paragraphs is less than an ideal organization of an article of this complexity. Christopher lists five major links between the Deor poem and Tolkien's fiction; couldn't each of them have rated their own paragraph, for ease of following the discourse?

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 19, 2007

I agree with squire that this is an excellent entry, and like all good entries, it inspired me to take a closer look at the subject in question. Christopher makes some very interesting connections — for the most part, apparently original scholarship — but I have to call one (admittedly minor) point into question. Drout may identify Éadgifu as the antecedent of the modern name Edith, as Christopher reports, but is it? If so, it's news to me. The usual etymology for Edith is éad “rich, blessed” + guð “war, battle”. Who’s right? Or did both forms dovetail into modern Edith?

Also, for the corrigenda, I think “scop” should be “scop”, since the word is highly specialized Old English terminology; and for “jeu de sprit”, read “jeu d’esprit”.

 

Descent - John Walsh

Comments by squire, March 1, 2007

One cannot decently dissent about the descents that Walsh identifies in Tolkien's works (except that Lúthien does not go to Angband to rescue Beren). What one can do is demand something more than an inaccurate or irrelevant catalogue of supposed correspondences between these five episodes and those in classical mythology and literature.

The point of such an article should not be to try to prove that Tolkien was familiar with Classical myths. It should be to analyze what the "descent to the underworld" meant in those myths, and what Tolkien may have meant by his frequent use of underground descents, and whether the two classes of story-element actually do have anything in common. And surely the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have had something to say about the psychological, emotional, and religious associations of the underground journey in mythical literature?

Finally, it is a shame that Walsh writes at so simple a level. As an essay, the article is all too reminiscent of high school, with its repetition of main points and constant hammering of improbable or unlikely connections that follow his pre-selected scheme. The citation of one book only, "Underworld Journeys in Tolkien and Virgil", says far more about this contributor than it does about the topic at hand.

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

I’m not sure Walsh should have limited himself to descents below ground, or the “theme of descent into the underworld”.  Can’t the act of descending have other meanings?  What is meant by Frodo and Sam’s rope-descent from the cliffs of the Emyn Muil, for instance, surely a significant use of the motif in The Lord of the Rings?  Or Lúthien’s escape from her tree-house prison?  Also, Walsh misreads The Hobbit when he says that Bilbo, captured with the dwarves by goblins, “eventually slips away and encounters Gollum” – Bilbo falls in a goblin attack, knocks his head, and is overlooked in the dark.  On the plus side, Walsh’s connection of the Balrog to the Aeneid is interesting.  But lacking a See also list, he can’t direct readers to the article on “Virgil” (or those on “Dante”, “Monsters”, “Moria”, or “Shelob”, among others).

 

Despair (Wanhope) – Anthony S. Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 27, 2007

This essay fails to satisfy. The writing is clumsy and imprecise and the overall treatment of the subject facile and superficial.

Since the essay is categorized with “Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers”, the authors are on the right track in calling despair/wanhope a sin, and its opposite, hope, a virtue, but they leave their discussion right at the surface. The entry is too short to waste almost half of it citing previous uses of the word in Chaucer and Langland, interesting though they might be. A little later in the essay, they write, “To die in despair, or wanhope, is not to allow room for salvation, the ultimate sin of Christianity,” making it sound – for all their obvious intention to the contrary – like salvation is the ultimate sin of Christianity!

When they do get to Tolkien, having already expended about half their word count, that discussion is superficial also. Mostly, they talk about Denethor (only briefly mentioning Samwise and Túrin). I would like to have seen more exploration of the core idea of despair, as well as more of its relationship to fear, deception, cowardice, hope, and courage - both within Tolkien’s Secondary World as well as in the Primary World (e.g., in the Great War). And why not note the point Shippey makes in “Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy” – that The Lord of the Rings, like so much of Old Norse literature, is “almost without hope”, but that this is one of its strengths? In a nutshell: more Tolkien! And if one wants to cite usage, why not cite Tolkien’s own use of the word (e.g., Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth)?

Then, in their conclusion, the authors turn away from their subject completely, speaking more to the point of “Northern Courage” instead.

A number of details simply aren’t accurate. The essay starts, “The Old English noun ‘wan “hope”’ …”, but “wan ‘hope’” (whatever might be meant by these pesky nested quotation marks) is not an Old English noun. It’s Modern English in form, and I don’t find an Old English form anywhere (certainly not in Bosworth-Toller). It appears the word “wanhope” is, in fact, derived from Dutch / Flemish and not from Anglo-Saxon at all (see The Lost Beauties of the English Language, Charles Mackay, 1874, p. 258). Burdge and Burke give a date (ca. 1325) for when "wanhope" was replaced in English by "despair", but do not give its source. In the discussion of Tolkien's usage of the concept, they say that Denethor fears “the possible loss of his throne to Aragorn”, but Denethor has no throne to lose, and admits as much himself. More accurate would have been to say he feared the loss of his authority – “I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart,” he says. I know what the authors intended, but more care was needed.

The 'Further Reading' might have added Gilliver, et al., The Ring of Words (specifically, see pp. 27-8). In the See also, for “Anglo-Saxon History”, read “History, Anglo-Saxon”; the entry “Chaucer, Geoffrey” does not exist (why not, when there is one on William Langland?!), and neither does “Kalevala”. I would add “Northern Courage” and “Sin” to the list.

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

Mostly, they talk about Denethor…

A Google search quickly explains why: Burdge and Burke here quote from the first page of Michael Drout’s article “Tolkien’s Prose Style and Its Literary and Rhetorical Effects”, citing his assertion that “the problem of pride and despair among the powerful” is a significant and ancient literary idea (and paraphrasing Drout’s line, “among the great themes of English literature”, a bit too closely, as “among the greatest themes in English Literature”).  Drout’s essay is likely the impetus for this entry.  However, Burdge and Burke never mention Drout’s very use of the word “wanhope” ten pages later to characterize Denethor’s despair: “In a medieval context, this would be the sin of ‘wanhope’, of abandoning faith in God and refusing to believe that one can be saved in even the darkest of circumstances” (p. 147).

Despite that missing key word, and some clumsy writing, Burdge and Burke do summarize Drout’s analysis of Denethor’s despair fairly accurately.  But as Jason Fisher notes, their decision to emphasize this analysis, and stumble from it through the etymology of “wanhope”, keeps them from mentioning even one use of the word “wanhope” by Tolkien; The Ring of Words, by Gilliver, Marshall and Weiner, is of much assistance here, pointing to examples in the early “Lay of the Children of Húrin” and the late “Wanderings of Húrin” (in HoMe volumes III and XI, respectively).  Not to mention “The Istari” from Unfinished Tales, where Gandalf is described as the “Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress".

More importantly, Burdge and Burke misunderstand Tolkien’s very presentation of despair.  Merely losing hope is not a sin: several characters in LotR, including Sam, Frodo, and Aragorn, carry on at times despite their feelings of hopelessness.  Despair is not, as Burdge and Burke claim, “the ‘long defeat’ they must battle against”.  For Tolkien, defeat was inevitable, and salvation would come only from God.

Finally, no source is given for the translation from Piers Plowman –“And said, ‘Beware of Despair who would thee betray’”– which is unnecessary, imprecise, and obviously adds two introductory words to their quotation from the original: “Ware thee—for Wanhope wolde thee bitraye”.

 

Devil’s Coach-Horses – Jared Lobdell

 

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 6, 2007

 

As in his entry, “Gothic Language”, Lobdell has (in my view) squandered precious space in the Encyclopedia with unnecessary quotation. He starts off with a lengthy one from the Middle English, together with its equally lengthy translation. Indeed, the first several paragraphs of the entry consist more of quotation than of commentary.

 

That being said, the entry is pretty good overall – factual, though a bit rambling. Its main problem is that it assumes the reader is already a specialist in the field, in this case Old and Middle English language and literature. Still, the topic at hand, it may be argued, is indeed a specialist’s topic. What’s missing for the non-specialist is an assessment of the importance and larger context of the work.

 

Though “The Devil’s Coach-Horses” closely concerns a passage in the text of Hali Meiðhad, and though Lobdell does include Furnivall’s edition of the text in his bibliography, he misses the opportunity to remark on Tolkien’s review of that edition, published in The Times Literary Supplement in 1923. And though he includes Tolkien’s important essay, “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad” in the bibliography, he offers no comment on it (nor is there an entry for it in the Encyclopedia, although Arne Zettersten alludes to it in his entries on the “AB Language” and the “Ancrene Wisse”). Without these important comparisons and context, this article becomes essentially a long, arcane digression.

 

Lobdell’s observations on the Old High German gûl and its possible (pre-)echo of nazgûl is a fascinating idea, though very probably just as “accidental” as the similarity Tolkien adduces in the note. Also, Lobdell’s quotation isn’t quite correct. In Tolkien’s footnote, it’s “mod. G. Gaul ‘nag’”, and not “mod. Germ. ‘Gaul’ = nag”, as Lobdell has it. More importantly, it’s presumptuous to suggest a connection without evidence, especially as the coinage of nazgûl occurred some twenty years later. In the Black Speech gûl means “wraith”, which is not very close in sense to OHG gûl  “boar”, even if the image of the Devil on a coach-horse resonates nicely with the Nazgûl on their steeds. Still, it’s an interesting curiosity to find it in this early essay, and it’s just possible it stuck in the back of Tolkien’s mind.

 

The entry also deserved some straightforward editing. Sentences like “the phrase ... has indeed more of the seventeenth (or eighteenth or nineteenth) than the twelfth or thirteenth (or seventh) century about it” really call out for the red pencil.

 

Devils - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by Entwife Wandlimb, January  20, 2007

Spangenberg runs the website digitalmedievalist.com, and her medieval studies inform her excellent entry.  Her first paragraph describes Tolkien's beliefs on the subject and his deep discomfort with Lewis's Screwtape Letters.  Her second, and last, paragraph is a fascinating survey of how Tolkien's work as a medievalist touched on devils in Anglo-Saxon literature.  Spangenberg covers a lot of ground in her brief entry without sacrificing readability.  I am intrigued by her "See also" list: two Beowulf entries, "Elf-Shot"; "Genesis"; and "Juliana".  Curiously absent from that list is the "Satan and Lucifer" entry, which, by design or happy chance, "Devils" complements perfectly.

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

Concerning obituaries for C.S. Lewis, Tolkien writes in a 1963 letter, “How little truth there may be in literary appraisals one may learn from them” and he identifies some errors.  He concludes with reference to the Daily Telegraph’s claim that “Lewis himself was never very fond of The Screwtape Letters”.  Spangenberg writes here that Tolkien “says that he now knows why Lewis dedicated it to him (Letters, 342), which Tolkien found less than flattering.”  Perhaps.  But Tolkien actually writes, “He dedicated it to me.  I wondered why.  Now I know – says they.”

 

Doors and Gates - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, April 24, 2007

Stanton is on to some good ideas here, as his first paragraph reviews in broad terms some of the story-functions and forms of the many doors and gates that are found in Tolkien's stories. Unfortunately, he then retreats to giving a few examples of where they occur in the plotlines of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, with a lot more story-description than analysis. The comparisons he does give, such as between the closed west gate of Moria and the wide-open door of the Paths of the Dead, or how Gandalf is "associated" with the appearances of the Morannon in Books IV, V and VI, are not particularly effective.

Aside from his careless neglect of the rest of Tolkien's fiction, this is disappointing. This entry is in the category of "Themes and Thematic Elements". I expected some kind of theoretical framework, perhaps based on studies from folklore, mythology, and psychology, by which to investigate how Tolkien uses this powerful device. Some well-known insights - such as how the secret door to Erebor is a double with Bilbo's own door to Bag-End, or how the Witch-King breaks down not one but two doors to the sound of a cock crowing - are missed by Stanton even though he mentions both doors in this article.

At least the article, for all its simplicity, makes the reader think more about the subject.

 

Doubles - Marjorie Burns

Comments by squire, March 27, 2007

This starts out interesting and gradually becomes less so, as Burns broadens her terms and scope until it all becomes meaningless.

At first it seems that "doubles" is meant to refer to paired individual characters with strongly contrasting personalities, temperaments or fates. Burns's examples include Frodo and Gollum, Gandalf and Saruman, Galadriel and Shelob, and Denethor and Théoden. Her case is good so far, though she barely begins to explain Tolkien's reasons for investing so strongly in this device. She points out as well "doubles" in Tolkien's places and races, like Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul, or the Orcs and Elves. She unfortunately does not really go beyond The Lord of the Rings for her examples, putting her generalizations about "Tolkien" in some jeopardy. Nor does she say whether this is an unusual or common literary device.

Her next step is less easy to swallow, at least in the context of this topic: she shows that Tolkien's fiction also features numerous "repetitions" of certain characters, on "different hierarchical levels" as she puts it. Her point is clear enough, given such examples as Ungoliant and Shelob, Morgoth and Sauron and Saruman, and Galadriel and Varda/Goldberry/Melian.

But as we see from the last example, this kind of reading quickly gets out of hand. By the end she is asserting that "parallels and repetitions" are prevalent throughout Tolkien's works not just in characters but in "incidents, objects, and scenes".

Burns may be on to something fundamental to Tolkien's way of thinking about story and myth, and I suspect "Doubles" is not a large enough category to contain what that something is. But what's missing here is any kind of analysis of why these patterns are so prevalent in Tolkien's fiction, though the 'Further Reading' list looks like it has the right stuff. Lacking that kind of depth, the article by the end smells strongly of that ancient laundry-list of the unimaginative schoolroom: the universally applicable exercise, "compare and contrast."

 

Dragons - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, January 14, 2007

This is a comprehensive treatment, ranging from the Germanic literary sources of dragons to the specific dragon characters in Tolkien's legendarium. It's very well written and moves along nicely.

As far as improvements to be suggested, I only miss some critical consideration of the relationship of the dragons in Tolkien to his Dark Lords (Morgoth and Sauron) and to the nature of evil in general. Glaurung was Morgoth's direct representative in executing his curse on Túrin; and Smaug in The Hobbit is the prime evil of the story; his Desolation is a direct ancestor of the Dead Lands that Frodo encounters on his way to Mordor.

As often seems to happen when an authority on Tolkien writes about his special subject, Evans cites only his own work on Tolkien's dragons. However, he does also refer to what look like some fine works on dragons in the Germanic myths as well.

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

The opening three-fourths of this article are exceptionally strong, as Evans connects the dragons of Germanic legend to Tolkien’s scholarship and to the dragons in the “Silmarillion” tales, preeminently Glaurung.  At times, the writing could be clearer: Evans praises “the story of Túrin’s fight with Glaurung”, but there is no real fight described in those characters’ encounters – and Evans should specify the particular version of Glaurung’s death to which he refers (the “Narn i Chîn Húrin” is not mentioned).  Evans also might have made more of Grimm’s notion of “the dragon as a transformed human”, beyond a nod to the “Were-worms” mentioned in The Hobbit – the idea can have symbolic expression: Lake-town’s master suffers from a “dragon sickness”, Saruman is described as fallen from “dragon” to “jackdaw” in Unfinished Tales, and Glaurung easily can be read as shadow or double to Túrin (for example, both of them die by the same sword to the breast, just a few hours apart).  On the other hand, Evans catches some details often overlooked, like the dragon references in The Shaping of Middle-earth.

Evans finishes with a brief consideration of The Hobbit and a catch-all of Tolkien’s other dragons.  These are the article’s two weakest paragraphs, rushed and containing a few errors.  Tolkien may have based Smaug partly on Fáfnir, but Evans’ example of this influence, that Fáfnir’s “dying speech prophecies Sigurd’s doom”, sounds a lot more like Glaurung’s last words to Niënor.  Tom Shippey connects Fáfnir and Smaug more effectively in The Road to Middle-earth (p. 90) and also has some perceptive comments on Smaug’s language (“He might be a testy colonel approached by a stranger in a railway carriage”), but Evans never mentions Shippey.  Fram, who killed the dragon Scatha, was not a “Man of Rohan” but an ancestor of that country’s people, living about 500 years before the kingdom was founded.  Tolkien’s poem, “The Dragon’s Visit”, is not set in Middle-earth.  Nor originally was “The Hoard”, which was inspired by a line from Beowulf (see the Encyclopedia article on “Cruces in Medieval Literature”).

There are some notable omissions.  Not only does Evans completely ignore Tolkien’s dragon paintings, including those of Glaurung and Smaug, he never mentions Tolkien’s lecture on dragons described in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator.  The White Dragon in Roverandom is also missing.  Most unfortunate of all is the article’s conclusion, a one-sentence dismissal of Chrysophylax, who “has little to do with the main body of dragon lore in Middle-earth.”  If that was Evans’ subject, he should have said so at the start.

 

Dramatizations: Stage and Spoken - Elizabeth A. Whittingham

Comments by squire, March 4, 2007

It's appropriately encyclopedic, no doubt, but the bad organization and annoying copy-editing errors in this article are very distracting. The reviews of the various performances seem haphazard. The comment about the songs in the upcoming (as of writing) Toronto musical "growing from natural circumstances", unlike in "traditional musicals", is both ridiculous and redolent of a publicity office's press release.

Whittingham does not promise that she has included every example of dramatization of Tolkien's works, but I was surprised to miss a mention of the BBC broadcast of The Lord of the Rings from 1955-56, since Tolkien mentions listening to it in Letters (#175, 177, 193, 198). And of course for an article like this the lack of a discography and references to critical reviews is some kind of crime.

More broadly, I thought it was well known that Tolkien addressed the dramaturgical problem of staged fantasy tales in "On Fairy-stories". It would have been good to read some analysis of that piece here, with respect to the "popular" stage adaptations of The Hobbit, and the more imaginative audio-only versions of Hobbit and LotR. Also, Whittingham barely addresses the problems of adapting Tolkien's books for dramatic performance (however, see the excellent dissection of the problem in a film context in the "Peter Jackson" article, which is oddly not cross-referenced here). And on the other hand, does a simple reading aloud of the entire book without additional effects, such as those by Shaw and Inglis, even qualify as a "dramatization"?

Her tantalizing last-minute mention of audio books of Tolkien's non-fiction translations (Sir Gawain, etc.) should have been left out or radically expanded; for this Tolkien (not Lord of the Rings) Encyclopedia, I would have voted for the expansion.

P.S. Are there any 1950s space operas that were not "poorly made"?

 

Dreams - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, April 15, 2007

Incoherent.

I'm still not sure what Novalis is, a book or a writer; and even worse, I'm still not sure whether Lobdell thinks Tolkien was or was not influenced by it in his use of dreams in his stories. The unhelpful use of quotes, the meaningless parenthesized qualifiers, the unattributed citations, the contorted syntax - all keep the reader from understanding almost anything Lobdell has to say on this subject. It's a shame, since the topic is so interesting and has been examined so well by the very scholars that Lobdell cites in his 'Further Reading' list.

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 19, 2007

Squire’s review is a bit terse (though accurate), so I thought I would offer a few more detailed thoughts of my own.

 

Like squire, I was unclear or who or what Novalis was. Now I know (thanks to Wikipedia!), but what’s still missing is any reason Lobdell would think to connect Tolkien to him in the first place. To my knowledge, Tolkien never comments on Novalis, and the best Lobdell can do is to say “that Tolkien was aware of Novalis can scarcely be doubted.” May be. Tolkien was aware of Max Müller, too, and disagreed with his views strenuously. Indeed, Lobdell offers up Novalis eagerly, then notes that one of his key views on dreams “ties in well enough with MacDonald but not well at all with Tolkien.” In his “conclusion”, Lobdell explicitly tells us that we don’t need Novalis, so to what end has he spent more than half of his entry talking about him? Lobdell does something similar when he refers to “Frodo’s important dreams,” then undermines himself by dismissing the first of them as “without significance.” Mercy!

 

Worse, why do we need to see the quoted aphorisms (in two languages!) of someone Lobdell cannot even demonstrate was of any use or interest to Tolkien? Wouldn’t it have been better to look for analogues or sources we know interested Tolkien (e.g., The Dream of the Rood)? And as for Novalis’s character, Bergmann, whom Lobdell avers was “certainly one of the progenitors of Tolkien’s Dwarves,” what is Lobdell’s reason for this certainty? Especially in the face of more firmly established models (e.g., the Dwarves of the Old Norse canon, admitted by Tolkien himself).

 

All of this inconclusive speculation takes away space better devoted to more germane material, such as:

These are just a few examples – not all of which would have fit into this short entry, of course – of what Lobdell chose to omit for the sake of his curious exposition on Novalis. One small bright spot was Lobdell’s inclusion of a contrasting use of dreams as a plot element in C.S. Lewis, parenthetical though it was. But then he ruins this with an unnecessary and transparently ulterior reference to his own book, A Tolkien Compass.

Druids - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by squire, April 28, 2007

It's hard to make out just what this article is doing here. Spangenberg wrestles heroically with the problem that druids, evidently, have nothing to do with Tolkien.

She spends an inordinate amount of space explaining not just what the druids were, but that Tolkien "would have" or "might have" been familiar with them and the etymology of their name. Nothing comes of it except Tom Shippey's vague suggestion that the "Drú-" of Drúedain, the "Wild Men" or "Woses" in Return of the King, may be borrowed from "druid" with a possible meaning of "magic". Her citation of Unfinished Tales for the "Drú-" is not from Shippey, who lets his speculation stand without reference to Tolkien. But the UT essay on the Drúedain postdates Tolkien's coining of the word in LotR by several decades, and his opaque explanation of the root "drughu" as their own word for themselves in their own, non-Elvish, language, smells of post-facto etymology.

So score a (small) point for the druids there - probably. Unfortunately, that's it. Spangenberg proceeds to demonstrate that the Istari or wizards of Tolkien's mythology have nothing to do with the magical druids of Celtic culture. She does make one final, interesting but unsourced remark: that modern-day "neo-pagan" druids see Tolkien and the figure of Gandalf as inspirational to their faith - perhaps because of Tolkien's fondness for trees!

 One can't help but wonder why this topic made it into the Encyclopedia; is there some Tolkien scholarship on the druid connection somewhere, that the editors were aware of but that Spangenberg missed?

 

Dundas-Grant, Jim (1896-1985) - David Bratman

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

As with Colin Duriez’s article on J.A.W. Bennett, I checked this article on Dundas-Grant, an Inklings member unknown to me, against his entry in the new Scull-Hammond Reader’s Guide.  Unlike Duriez’s piece, David Bratman’s clear, short article is as complete and relevant as the offering by Scull and Hammond.  Unfortunately, there seems to be little to say about Dundas-Grant.  The encyclopedia’s thematic index lists separate biographical articles on fourteen people under the subheading “Inklings” (though that list includes Alan Bliss and Dorothy Sayers, who were not members).  Shouldn’t those for whom no clear influence on or by Tolkien can be shown have been left for the general “Inklings” article?

 

Dutch Language - René van Rossenberg

Comments by squire, July 11, 2007

What a cheery piece! Rossenberg limits himself to Tolkien's personal competence in Dutch, and gives a good account of that, with plenty of colorful examples. Tolkien's knowledge here tended to be vocabularic and conversational, and so he was better able to criticize his translators' choices for words and place-names than he was the matter of overall style.

Dutch was one of the first foreign languages for a Lord of the Rings publication, and so it brought Tolkien face to face with the problems of translating his imaginary world and its highly specific and meaningful vocabulary. Given Rossenberg's emphasis on this aspect of Dutch, it would have been nice to hear his thoughts on how well the various translations work, both in terms of style and cross-cultural flavor.

 

Dwarves - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, June 18, 2007

There is a tremendous amount of good information here. I think too much of it is about the philological and folkloric ancestry of dwarves, and too little is about Tolkien's own creation and use of this "race" of the "Free Peoples" in his fiction.

For instance, the long paragraph on the Indo-European words connoting a hurtful spirit, descending to the Germanic languages, and the Old English usage that added diminutive stature to the mix, is fascinating, but more than is needed in so brief an article. Instead I wish there had been more analysis like Nelson's observation about dwarves' greed; or a fuller explanation of Evans's cryptic remarks that the dwarves' creation myth in The Silmarillion "may indicate anxieties about the independent value of art." Paul Kocher is uncited; he devoted several pages to a consideration of the race of the Dwarves as they appear in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, though not The Silmarillion which was unpublished at that time.

That example shows how necessary is some awareness of Tolkien's own development of his concept of dwarves: the Naugrim of the Quenta Silmarillion do not really have much connection with the comic thirteen dwarves of Thorin's company in The Hobbit, though they share some fictional characteristics. Then in The Lord of the Rings Gimli becomes a major character in his own right, with qualities unseen in any of Tolkien's earlier dwarves; and surely he was influential in the sensitive reconstruction of Mim the Dwarf in the Tale of Túrin that was revised after LotR was finished.

The relationship between the Dwarves and the Noldorin Elves is underexplored too: Tolkien seems at times to have wanted his Elves to be Dwarves as far as a command of craft was concerned, because of his deep interest in the conflicts that arise from an artist's possessiveness towards his creation. A short note wrongly says that Gimli's and Legolas's friendship was a later example of the Dwarves' "ready friendship" with the Noldor.

 

Dyson, Hugo (1896-1975) - Michael Coren

Comments by squire, June 2, 2007

This is a lively treatment of a lively man. Coren skillfully balances his biographical portrait of Dyson with details of Dyson's friendship with and effects on Tolkien (and C.S. Lewis as well). I found especially interesting the idea that Dyson liked the early Tolkien tale The Fall of Gondolin, but disliked the later (more "novelistic") Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I also noted Dyson's key role in conjunction with Tolkien on C.S. Lewis' religious "conversion" in 1931, when Dyson is not mentioned at all in the account of the same event in the Encyclopedia article on Lewis.

Coren does not give us much sense of Dyson's scholarship, intellectual heft and literary tastes, focusing more on his Falstaffian temperament. As a result, Dyson's negative reaction to Tolkien's fantasy works, so different from that of Lewis and the rest of the Inklings, is only explained with "Dyson never quite accepted the appeal" of the books, and "it is possible he resented Tolkien's public success" (which surely came after the time of the Inklings).

Yet can't we see Dyson as the first negative Tolkien critic, the choleric pioneer of the many critics and intellectuals who passionately disliked The Lord of the Rings after its publication? He was certainly no medievalist, but studied the transition of middle English into the modern era. Perhaps an investigation of where Dyson fits among the currents of twentieth-century academic taste, as sketched out in the article "Literary Context, Twentieth Century",  might help explain his apparent rejection of fantasy as a modern literary mode.

I also missed a mention of that apocryphal remark about "another **** Elf"!

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

Coren’s first paragraph is a close paraphrase of Humphrey Carpenter’s short biography of Dyson in the appendix to The Inklings, with two short phrases repeated (“educated at Brighton College” and “seriously wounded at Passchendaele”).  Carpenter and Coren also both note that Dyson was “always known as ‘Hugo’”, but Carpenter seems to mean that the Inklings always knew Dyson by that name, while Coren’s context suggests that the nickname extends back to Dyson’s childhood, without any supporting evidence that I can find.  Perhaps this is why Coren has Dyson’s full name as “Henry Victor Hugo Dyson” rather than the correct “Henry Victor Dyson Dyson”?

There are a few other small errors: Coren has Dyson joining the staff of the University of Reading in 1921, but both Carpenter and Coren’s other major source, a 1997 article by David Bratman, give that date as 1924.  The book on Alexander Pope that Dyson edited in 1933 is titled not Pope but Poetry & Prose.  Coren’s reference to C.S. Lewis’ “book on hell titled Who Goes Home?” should note that this was a working title; that book was published as The Great Divorce.  The description of Dyson’s arthritis and use of a fancy cane is misleading in its placement immediately following Dyson’s appearance in the 1965 film, Darling: Carpenter reports that Dyson was forced to rely on the cane by the late 1940s.

A few of Coren’s interpretations are unsupported or poorly developed.  It’s not clear how he knows that Dyson gave The Fall of Gondolin “absolute approval and praise” on its reading in 1920.  I can’t find that in The Inklings or Bratman’s article; Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien (which Coren doesn’t reference) only says that the tale “was well received by an undergraduate audience that included two young men named Nevill Coghill and Hugo Dyson”.  And when Coren writes that Dyson’s critical remarks on The Lord of the Rings “were expected”, he never says why. Finally, Coren describes Lewis as accepting “God, the Gospels, and even Jesus Christ as the Messiah” while rejecting “the organized and sacramental church” before his famous 1931 conversation with Dyson and Tolkien; then Coren writes that following their talk, Lewis “now believed in Christ”, which seems like no change at all.

Still, this is mostly an engaging and informative article.  It also has the virtue of referencing Bratman’s much longer work, from which I learned that Coren’s See also list should include "Cave, The", of which Dyson and Tolkien were members.  (The encyclopedia’s article on that group identifies David Nichol Smith as its chief antagonist, so it is most intriguing to learn from Bratman that Smith helped Dyson get a position at Oxford in 1945.)  Other missing cross-references include "The Book of Lost Tales II" and “'Mythopoeia'”.