Eärendil - Alexandra Bolintineanu

Comments by squire, March 20, 2007

After a bit of a rocky start, this article settles into a solid and very informative piece of work. Bolintineanu deftly covers "Eärendel's" origins in an Old English lyric, his inclusion in Tolkien's early mythological poetry, his incorporation into the Lost Tales, and his development in the 1930s from a questing Mariner hero into a Christ-like Messenger and self-sacrificing Redeemer of Middle-earth's sins as represented by the stolen Silmarils. Her closing emphasis on Tolkien's use of Eärendil to provide mythic continuity between the Silmarillion legends and The Lord of the Rings is excellent. Given the constraints of word count, it is excusable that she does not touch the difficult late textual history that underlies Eärendil's eventual published appearance in The Silmarillion.

By "rocky start" I mean that the first four paragraphs, covering the story of Eärendil as it appears in the published The Silmarillion, lack context and fail to focus the reader on what the rest of the article will be about.

The 'Further Reading' list is excellent, though the See also references could certainly be more comprehensive, given how important Eärendil is in the legendarium. One slip: Bolintineanu in her Silmarillion summary says that Elwing, Eärendil's wife, is descended from Beren and Lúthien, but later in discussing LotR she calls Eärendil "a descendant of Beren and Lúthien".

 

Earth - Patrick Curry

Comments by squire, July 11, 2007

This is way too big a topic for 260 words. Curry struggles to sum up Tolkien's late-in-life flat-earth v. round-earth problem, and makes nothing very clear in the short space given. Unhelpful too are errors like placing the Change of the World at the end of the First Age, failure to track double-quotation marks, and a lack of a real-world chronology to help order the development of Tolkien's various cosmological ideas.

But has Curry even taken the assignment as intended? Thematically, this is supposed to be under "Theological/Philosophical Concepts and Philosophers", not "Places in Tolkien's Work (Middle-earth)". The latter category has articles on "Arda" (twice as long as this one, and twice as good) which covers Tolkien's Earth as planet/cosmology; and "Middle-earth" (twenty times as long, etc.) which covers Tolkien's Earth as place/geography.

I wonder if "Earth" here wasn't supposed to be considered as an element, or a literary symbol, or something else more "philosophical", especially from a medieval point of view. Or, there are many places I can think of where Tolkien treats the Earth almost as a character in his fiction. Curry may have been blind-sided here by the editorial assignment process.

 

East, The – John F.G. Magoun

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 17, 2007

After having read Magoun’s essay on the South, I was looking for a little bit more here in his treatment of the East than I actually found. Perhaps one problem is that this entry is about twenty percent shorter than the other – though I have no idea why that would be (just as I still have no guess why there aren’t essays on the West and the North, or better yet, a single, larger entry covering the use and symbolism of all four points of the compass).

Right at the beginning, Magoun’s citation from “Letters, 163, 212” will confuse readers. It appears he is citing two occurrences in Letters, one on p.163 and another on p.212; but what he’s really doing here is citing letter #163 (to W.H. Auden), p.212. As far as I’m aware, this is not the standard called for in the Encyclopedia. And regarding this particular citation, I can’t help but think that the letter to Milton Waldman (#131) might have been more persuasive for backing up Magoun’s assertion: “the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the east” (Letters 144).

Magoun does a solid if not particularly exciting job focusing on matters of symbolism and interpretation and on broadly surveying the received critical views on the East, but I longed for more. For example, on the protracted struggles between Gondor and the East, with the King Tarostar taking the name Rómendacil (“East-Victor”)? And what about the detail that Book IV of LotR was to be called The Ring Goes East? These are small points, perhaps, and there are many others – but for me, they add up. Without such details, the entry feels a bit loose, a bit empty, a bit rote.

A few additional quibbles:

  • It’s rómen, not romen. Also, I don’t think it’s completely accurate to refer to “Land of the Sunrise” as the literal meaning of rómen. More accurate would be “the rising place” – see RŌ- and MEN- in the Etymologies. Picky, I know, but “Land of the Sunrise” is more a poetic rendering than a literal translation.

  • Magoun writes in the same sentence about the connection of the Elvish words rómen, rhûn with the sun and the awakening of the Elves. But the Elves arose before the Sun. Of course, Magoun knows this, but I think there’s a significant chance of unintentionally misleading less informed readers.

  • It would have been nice to see here (and perhaps also in the essay on the South) some mention of the Ithryn Luin, the two Blue Wizards whom Tolkien connects with the East (Unfinished Tales 389-90) – and, earlier, with both the East and South (Letters 280). “Wizards” finds a place in the See also, so perhaps this was in the back of Magoun’s mind.

  • In the final paragraph Magoun misses, I think, an important opportunity to contrast Tolkien’s moral compass with C.S. Lewis’s. Magoun points out that Tolkien places his paradise not in the East but in the West, unlike the majority of Christian writers, but Lewis’s moral geography is exactly the opposite of Tolkien’s (that is, Lewis’s is consistent with the tradition Christian model). This would have made a nice, concrete example of Tolkien’s diversion.

  • Had there been room, Magoun could have extended his analysis beyond Middle-earth, for example, to Smith of Wootton Major, where we also find and East-West axis (Smith was “the best smith between Far Easton and the West-wood”).

  • Turning to the 'Further Reading' and See also sections, these are very solid, better than most. I only question the value of Day’s World of Tolkien. I was surprised, too, not to find “The South” in the See also.

Easterlings - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, June 24, 2007

Straubhaar reviews the story-presence of the various invading tribes of eastern Men in the annals of Middle-earth, both in the First Age (i.e., in The Silmarillion) and the Third Age (in The Lord of the Rings). The presentation is almost entirely within the fiction, except the last paragraph which suggests possible real-world inspirations for Tolkien's geo-ethnography. As such, much of the recounting is hard to follow without a familiarity with the stories; the waves of strange names just wash over you.

It would have been a far more useful article to have abandoned this chronicle format, and focus instead on what is missing: a meaningful discussion of the relationship of the Edain (and later the Dunedain) with the Easterlings (both came from the East, after all), and an idea of Tolkien's overall vision of who and what his tribes Men are, in his stories and as analogues from real history. Are the Easterlings "evil", or just hostile? How do they regard Morgoth in the First Age, and Sauron, and Mordor in the Third? How are they different from the Haradrim? Are the Huns really the only example we should look to for historical sources?

The 'Further Reading' list is restricted to Jordanes's book on the Goths, which is also cited in the article; and Said's Orientalism which would have been an excellent starting point for the theoretical consideration of the cultural and literary relationship between West and East that Straubhaar does not offer. See also is absurdly restricted to Straubhaar's two articles on the Goths, but the subject is much bigger than that. For starters, Straubhaar's own article on "Huns" is omitted! And I know my parallel article "East, The" does not refer to this article "Easterlings", because it was not on the list of Encyclopedia topics at the time of my submission; but the reverse can't also be true.

 

Education - Amelia Harper

Comments by squire, July 6, 2007

This is long, but quite thorough and good in essence. Since this article is one of the main biographical essays in the "Life [of Tolkien]" thematic category, it properly covers more than just the technical details of Tolkien's primary and secondary education. It often clearly dissects the formation of his character: his untutored brilliance, his gift for language, his male sociability, his artist's dilatoriness. On the other hand, I wished Harper had provided more details about some other incidents:

  • Tolkien's removal from King Edward's and placement in an inferior Catholic school. His mother comes off here as being so zealously concerned for his nascent Catholicism that she derailed his education for a year; this should have been tied more securely into the chronology of Mabel's conversion. In fact the articles on Hilary and Mabel convey quite different impressions of the events of this entire period, something the editors should have taken more care to keep in line.

  • G. B. Smith was not the only influence that turned Tolkien towards poetry at King Edward's, at least if the article about his schoolmaster in literature, "Reynolds, R. W.", is correct. It is interesting to draw from this section the conclusion that Mabel did not include poetry in her son's home-schooling; and to wonder what else she may have neglected.

  • His "ill-health" in his first year at school presages a comment that his broken nose led to "repeated bouts of nasal problems" in later life. Readers of Tolkien's letters will notice how often he suffered from "ill-health", and yet he led a fairly active life. If not in this article, then somewhere I wish Tolkien's biographers would explore this question in more depth, to see if it connects in any way with his work methods and his creativity.

Harper's writing is generally clear and straightforward. Her short introductory paragraph is a very attractive feature in an article of this length. Only occasionally does she tend to ramble; and she irregularly wastes space with prose explanations for her Tolkien quotes that could have been handled by a more consistent use of inline citations.

I wish I knew what she included here from Grotta's infamous biography; I've heard that parts of it are accurate and contain unique information, while other parts are wildly unreliable. Grotta aside, the 'Further Reading' is no more limited that one would expect, though evidently there is far more to be known about Tolkien for those willing to embark on primary-source research (see Hammond & Scull, Tolkien Companion & Guide, 2006).  See also is reasonably complete, save perhaps "Oxford" and the articles on the TCBS members, and Reynolds.

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

From Grotta’s biography, Harper takes the claim that Mabel Tolkien had been a governess before marrying – I think this is unsubstantiated.  At least Harper had the sense not to use Grotta’s next two sentences, which say that Mabel had been a missionary, ministering to the Sultan’s harem in Zanzibar.

 

Egypt: Relationship to Númenóreans - John Walsh

Comments by squire, February 13, 2007

At 200-odd words, whether this article is useful or not hardly seems worth debating. Walsh names three points of connection between Ancient Egypt and Númenor (why the "Númenóreans" in the title?), and in the approved style, sums them up again in his final sentence.

With more room, perhaps Walsh might have inquired why, not how, Tolkien crafted this similarity. He might also have pursued what he drops here after one mention, the matter of the tombs and the ancestor worship -- which seems more significant on the whole than Tolkien's cheap rip-off of the Egyptian crown, or "Ar-Pharazon"'s evocation of "Pharaoh".

Or, perhaps, this entire article could have been folded into the "Númenor" article... oh, wait. There is no Númenor article. *scratches head*

The lack of critical references, Further Reading, or See Also entries is not surprising.

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 14, 2007

Even within the very limited word count of an article like this one, I miss a couple of important details. One is the “faintly Semitic flavour” of Adunaic (the language of the Númenóreans). This provides a linguistic link to the Egyptians, whose language was one of the earliest siblings of the Semitic branch. There is also a footnote in The Notion Club Papers pointing out the Egyptian source for the Atlantis legend, which Plato recorded in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, and which is part of the background of Númenor.

Rather than this very narrowly focused article (no fault of Walsh’s), I would rather have seen a longer entry on connections in Tolkien to the larger Semitic / Middle Eastern world. This could have included all of the present entry (but more fully developed, including critical interpretation of the meaning of the relationship; see Squire’s comments also) – plus Tolkien’s comparisons of the Dwarves to the Jews and their language to Hebrew, speculations on Erech / Uruk (even though Tolkien protested the association, there are points to be raised), etc.

 

Eldamar - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, February 13, 2007

Given an obviously abbreviated word-count, Drout goes for the gold and skips any consideration of the place of Eldamar in the annals of the Elves in the Silmarillion cycle. Nothing about the Kin-slaying; nothing about the differences between the Teleri, the Noldor and the Vanyar Elves and their varying relations to the Undying Lands; nothing from the History of Middle-earth, or the transmission of the White Tree or the reception of mortals in Elvenhome.

No, instead he focuses on the description of Eldamar, quoted at length, and makes a pretty mini-essay on the Elvish esthetic as a unique "harmony of the natural and the cultural". A reference to the medieval poem Pearl is a nice touch -- a balancing reference to later, perhaps lesser, instances of this esthetic in Middle-earth, such as in Lorien, Rivendell, and even Gondor (in the time of Atanatar Alcarin, "men said precious stones are pebbles in Gondor for children to play with") would have been nice. But word counts are word counts.

Well, why not? Goes for the gold, and gets it.

 

Elements - Cecilia Barella

Comments by squire, July 13, 2007

Barella starts slow, with too much space spent on establishing that the Four Elements go all the way back in Western culture. Her next section is better, drawing clear lines from the classical elements to some of the major symbolic divisions in Tolkien's legendarium: the three Elvish Rings (any candidates for the Ring of  "Earth"?), and the four most powerful of the Valar.

Unfortunately, her final section of analysis falls apart. Many of her story examples (all from The Lord of the Rings) seem too speculative, indecisive, or inconclusive to carry much critical weight. This may partly be because Tolkien himself hesitated to overplay this kind of symbolism, as is seen in his underuse of the Valar themselves (with their clear Elemental associations) in both The Silmarillion and the LotR.

Barella's point about Fire being "dual-natured" is perhaps the most interesting and deserving of further investigation, carrying as it does connotations of Light, Life, Heat, Death, and Destruction and Rebirth: witness Gandalf's challenge to the Balrog, in which both wizard and demon are servants of their respective Flames.

The references and bibliography are too short for a subject of this scope, despite the brevity of the article.

 

Elendilmir - Miryam Librán Moreno

Comments by squire, July 13, 2007

Librán Moreno falls into a giant hole of bad exposition, due to her decision to retell the story of this royal jewel indiscriminately from within several of Tolkien's various narrative fictions. She says in her first long paragraph that the Elendilmir of Arnor was worn by 36 generations of royalty down to Aragorn Elessar, clearly implying that this is the same jewel that Elendil, founder of Arnor, inherited from his royal ancestors in Númenor.

But this is not the case as Tolkien conceived the story, as she herself informs us in the next two paragraphs. In Unfinished Tales, written after the Elendilmir was invented for Aragorn and his Arnorian backstory in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien arranged for the original Númenorean Elendilmir to be lost in the Anduin river, when its wearer Isildur died in the disaster of the Gladden Fields a few years after Arnor's foundation. It was then replicated by an Elvish jewelsmith of Rivendell; but the original was finally recovered, three millennia later. The rest of her account distinguishes between the "true Elendilmir" and the "second Elendilmir" -- as it should have from the beginning.

Perhaps some of the very involved retelling of this history could have been truncated in favor of a discussion of Aragorn's heritage and his use of physical tokens to assert his authority when he, as King, finally Returns: the Sword, the Ring, the Elfstone, Athelas, to all of which the Elendilmir might have been compared: which is most authentic, which most potent within the story? And why are there so many?

It is pleasant to turn from all this confusion to the final paragraph, with its fine and erudite exploration of the Roman and medieval ancestors of the tradition of a "jewel on the brow" as a token of royalty.

The 'Further Reading' list collects the classical references, with no Tolkien studies evidently in existence on the Elendilmir. See also is much too brief: why not "Unfinished Tales", "Dante", "Virgil", "Sam", "Arnor" (oops, no such thing), "Isildur" (ditto), "Númenor" (ditto), .. oh, well, perhaps she was doing her best.

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

This is a long article for an object that Tolkien mentions just six times in The Lord of the Rings and developed only in notes to a story that was published posthumously in Unfinished Tales.  To judge from Librán Moreno’s ‘Further Reading’ list, her article is the first in-depth examination of the Elendilmir and its possible literary sources, and her achievement is more than sufficient to justify the unexpected decision to make this a topic in the Encyclopedia. (What inspired that choice?)  As in Librán Moreno’s “Latin Language” article, she demonstrates impressive erudition here.

But considered as original research, the article falls short.  Probably a thorough analysis of the Elendilmir would require examination of the LotR manuscripts –for example, the image that Bombadil conjures, of Aragorn “with a star on his brow”, can’t be found in the drafts presented in The Return of the Shadow or The Treason of Isengard– and such an effort certainly is more than could be asked for an encyclopedia article.  But at least Librán Moreno could have laid out the facts more clearly to benefit future scholarship. 

To start with, she never mentions that particular image.  She muddies the internal history of the Elendilmir somewhat, as noted by squire, and with a further error in her reference to Elendil as Silmariën’s “great grandson” (more than fifteen generations had passed in the two millennia that separated them: see The Peoples of Middle-earth).  More importantly, her article lacks a clear textual history, to show how Tolkien developed his ideas about the Elendilmir, which he apparently created only when LotR was in proof: see The War of the Ring (p. 370).  Oddly, Librán Moreno, who includes multiple citations of The Return of the King and Unfinished Tales, never cites War, which also includes a note by Christopher Tolkien (p. 309) that supports Librán Moreno’s statement that the Elendilmir (in both its incarnations) differs from the “Star of the Dúnedain” that Aragorn gives to Sam.  Finally, her description of the Elendilmir misses some valuable detail: according to Tolkien’s notes for the LotR index, it was “of diamond” and “had five rays”. 

Only with all these facts clearly arrayed can one evaluate the likelihood of Tolkien having drawn on the classical sources Librán Moreno suggests, and discover what he meant by doing so.

 

Elessar - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, July 13, 2007

It is interesting to read this article immediately after the one on the Elendilmir (neither of which refers to the other). The partial accident of alphabetization (both words take their leading El- from the same Elvish root = "light/Elves") brings together two separate jewels wielded by Aragorn, the restored King-Hero of The Lord of the Rings. Both capture some quality of heavenly light. One conveys Aragorn's right royalty and his mortal heritage, the other his role as healer/restorer and his Elvish heritage. And as revealed in drafts from Unfinished Tales, both only received their deep backstories, going back to earlier Ages of the World, after their story-role was locked into LotR. In one of its two indeterminate origin legends, the Elessar even recapitulates the Elendilmir's fate of being lost and replicated in a second "lesser" incarnation.

Thomas's handling of his material is defter by far -- aided no doubt the fact that the Elessar has more symbolic baggage to talk about. He never confuses story details with his narrative account of Tolkien's imaginative inventions, as the previous article does. Unfortunately, he also never really ties the Elessar in to a more general consideration of Tolkien's use of jewels and tokens to convey power, Kingship, virtues, or other moral values. He does, thankfully, refer to the "Jewels" article which briefly covers the subject - but it does not reciprocate the cross-reference.

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

This is a less ambitious article than the preceding study of the Elendilmir, but it is likewise weakest on the textual history of its subject.  Thomas says the first appearance of the Elessar “in Tolkien’s writings” is in the chapter, “Farewell to Lórien”, in The Lord of the Rings, when Galadriel gives the stone to Aragorn.  This is correct, but not in the sense that Thomas seems to intend, since he cites LotR but not the drafts presented in The Treason of Isengard.  Readers first encounter the Elessar not in that scene but unnamed, seven chapters earlier, in Bilbo’s song of Eärendil: “upon his breast an emerald”, a line imagined to have been added by Aragorn, who wanted Bilbo to mention a “green stone”.  However, it was in writing the Lórien scene that Tolkien first conceived of the gem, briefly bestowed by him on Gimli, but inspired by the name “Elfstone” that he had earlier given without significance to Aragorn.  (Unfortunately, it’s not possible to tell from the drafts in Treason if the emerald was already present in Bilbo’s poem, or added after this change was made in the later chapter.)

Additionally, Thomas notes that Aragorn’s name of “Elessar” was “foretold”, but never says where, a puzzler for LotR readers: it was by Gandalf to Galadriel in a text published in Unfinished Tales.

 

Elf-shot – Leslie A. Donovan

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 16, 2007

Donovan makes a valiant attempt to connect this arcane topic to Tolkien in an entry of very limited words and equally narrow scope. Her summary of the common interpretation of elf-shot is solid, if almost completely unrelated to Tolkien – though I would have included the Old English form as well (ylfa gescot), since it is often encountered. She does better in the second half of her entry by linking elf-shot to Smith of Wootton Major.

Donovan goes on to suggest, quite plausibly, that Frodo’s Morgul-knife injury on Weathertop may owe something to the elf-shot tradition. But this theory, of course, owes something to Edward Pettit’s essay, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Use of an Old English Charm” (Mallorn 40: 39-44), which Donovan does not cite. Perhaps she was unaware of the essay, which also offers a couple of other possible connections (missing from Donovan’s entry) between Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon elf-shot charms. The essay obviously deserved to be in the Further Reading. Carol Leibiger does include it in her excellent Further Reading for the entry on “Charms”, to which Donovan directs interested readers.

Donovan’s entry unfortunately came too early to cite Gilliver, Marshall, and Weiner’s The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary. They discuss elf-shot, with some nice, specific details, in their word study of “elf”.

Tolkien himself writes about elf-shot explicitly only once, as far as I know. In his review essay, “Philology: General Works” for 1925 (printed in 1927 in The Year’s Work in English Studies Vol. 6 (1925): 32-66), Tolkien writes that “the longer article by Professor Horn on the OE charm against elfshot is full of interest. Though it does not achieve the impossible by bringing any very brilliant illumination into this dark corner, it does something: more than has yet been done.” Tolkien would certainly have been well aware of elf-shot, but this is the only explicit mention I have found. I’m not sure whether it ought to have been in Donovan’s already very short entry, but then again, it’s hard to turn down a direct mention of a subject as abstruse as this one.

Another question: is it possible that Tolkien made the bow and arrow the most common weapon of certain of the Elves of Middle-earth because of the elf-shot tradition? It would not be unlike Tolkien to hide such an allusion in his work.

 

Elrond - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, April 26, 2007

Thomas takes the interesting and valuable approach of reconstructing the career of Elrond as a character in the order of his various appearances in Tolkien's stories, starting with the "Sketch" of 1926. This way, we see how his introduction in The Hobbit in the 1930s is almost a random re-use of an existing but quite undeveloped character. His majestic self in The Lord of the Rings, as honed in the 1940s, is the climax of two decades of literary growth, and his past history as recounted at the Council of Elrond is one of the many connectors between the unpublished Silmarillion and the new work that careful readers thrilled to.

That said, I think Thomas could have been more explicit at the beginning that this would be his mode of presentation; the bald opening paragraph on Elrond's ancestry does not serve his essay very well. More importantly, Thomas leaves himself no room for a critical consideration, either his own or other scholars', of Elrond's character in these stories.

To focus for example on The Lord of the Rings: Elrond is the embodiment of the sad wisdom of the Third Age Elves of Middle-earth, who are willing to sacrifice their future and their past to destroy the Ring and save the world. He personifies how The Lord of the Rings is a vast coda to the Elves' misadventures in the Silmarillion. Ironically Elrond himself is neither a High Elf nor even fully an Elf, but his personal sacrifice in the War of the Ring will be the most unbearable of all the Elves we meet. His identity as Halfelven becomes a symbol of the need for the various Free Peoples to unite against the Dark Lord, and he is the first of "the Wise and the Great" (after Gandalf) to confront the irony of the hobbits doing what "mighty Elf Lords" cannot.

Tolkien comments retrospectively on these aspects of the LotR's Elrond in his Letters and perceptive critics (like Kocher) pick up the clues from the text alone; it is hardly so clear to most readers on their first encounter with LotR. This hiding of depth of character and history in what seems like an almost stereotypically wise and infallible storybook Lord is typical of Tolkien's methods, and Elrond (epitomized by his Council) is possibly a prime example of what turns some people away from the LotR.

The See also list is pretty comprehensive. Consistent with my note about a lack of critical consideration, there is no 'Further Reading' list at all.

 

Elves - Bradford Lee Eden

Comments by squire, April 11, 2007

Inadequate. Highly inadequate.

Eden staggers through the basics of Tolkien's Elf-lore, covering their literary origins and invented languages, their history as related in the published Silmarillion and even the question of their immortality. The sheer number of awkward or opaque sentences, the distracting asides and off-topic discursions, the unexplained references and mildly factual errors (Tolkien's early feelings about diminutive "pointy-eared" elves were demonstrably ambiguous; the missing mythology was "English", not "British"; the starlight was Varda's, not Yavanna's) are enough to dismay any reader; but the subject is really too big to be handled in so brief an article, as Eden concedes several times.

With that admitted, all other criticism pales before the lack of any (but one!) references to the vast and thorough body of critical writing on Tolkien's Elves, either in the body of the article or in the 'Further Reading' list. It verges on hubris or self-delusion to submit a essay on this subject with only Burns's fine, but hardly definitive, article on Perilous Realms offered to the inquisitive reader. Similarly, the See also list should properly be one of the longest in the Encyclopedia, given the centrality of the Elves to Tolkien's life and works.

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

Eden’s best paragraph is a summary of the elves’ journey west from Cuiviénen to Valinor, which is clear and direct.  Unfortunately, it is superfluous, because the next article is devotedly entirely to elvish “Kindreds and Migrations”.

One error in particular caught my eye, from Eden’s second paragraph: “Of all the Victorian writers, only George MacDonald’s fantasies influenced Tolkien.”  First, MacDonald’s fantasies aren’t writers.  Second, Eden has nothing more to say about MacDonald, not even specifying what about his work influenced Tolkien.  Third, this assertion flies in the face of several other Encyclopedia articles, including those on “Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” and “Morris, William” (Tolkien in 1914 expressed a wish to write a story “somewhat on the lines of Morris’ romances” – Letters, p. 7).  Fourth, although those contradictory articles naturally don’t appear in Eden’s See also list, neither does “Macdonald, George”!  Nor do many other subjects mentioned in Eden’s article, like “Fairies”; “Immortality”; “Koivië-néni and Cuiviénen”; “Languages Invented by Tolkien”; “MacDonald, George”; “Orfeo, Sir”; “Shakespeare”; “Spenser, Edmund”; or “Ylfe, Álfar, Elves”.

Additionally, most of Tolkien’s reincarnated elves were not “returned to Middle-earth” but remain in Aman.  Elves follow the “Straight Road” to Valinor, not the “Long Road”.  It is not “impossible” to assert a “denial of the possibility of reincarnation”.  That Beowulf is the “earliest surviving poem in the English language” is certainly a debatable proposition.  And it’s odd, that of medieval tales where encounters with elves have “disastrous effects for the humans involved”, Eden should cite only the poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Orfeo, both of which have happy endings.

 

Elves: Kindreds and Migrations - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, April 11, 2007

The only thing more confusing in The Silmarillion than the different Elf-kindreds and their migrations is the actual geneologies of the royal Elves within each kindred. Dickerson has taken a noble stab at summarizing the kindreds and their movements. I hate to say he could have been clearer - though he could have - because it's so darn confusing no matter how clearly one puts it.

The reason for this - and Dickerson creditably begins to address this, though he doesn't follow through - is that Tolkien just didn't ever use all the insane variety of tribes within tribes, clans within clans, that he takes such care to delineate in the early parts of The Silmarillion. Without credible and characteristic stories to support their existence, the Vanyar, Teleri, Avari and Nandor "play little role" in the legendarium, as Dickerson says. What's left is, essentially, the Noldor and the Sindar; and their interaction provides all the story one could wish for.

More meaningfully, as Dickerson notes in his too-short critical summary, the Noldor and the Sindar are the speakers of the two Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin; and from that perspective it is possible to rudely state that the entire Elvish ethnography is so much window-dressing to give life to Tolkien's two invented languages.

Rudely - because Flieger at least seems to think there is more to this subject than just linguistics. I wish Dickerson had dug a little deeper into the kind of analysis she offers.

As so often, one wonders why this article and "Elves" were not combined. The thematic categories of Creatures and Peoples of Middle-earth for "Elves" versus Characters for "Elves: Kindreds and Migrations" seem pretty arbitrary, if not actually unhelpful.

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

This article, generally helpful but limited (as squire observes) seems to have grown out of Tom Shippey’s remarks, in The Road to Middle-earth (3rd ed., pp. 248-50), on the importance that a clear understanding of elvish genealogy holds for a proper appreciation of The Silmarillion.  A See also reference to “Family Trees” would thus have been appropriate. 

There are some minor confusions along the way: Olwë is twice described as leading Elwë’s elves before being identified as Elwë’s brother, and Dickerson never explains why Fingolfin rather than Maedhros “becomes high king of the Noldor” on the death of Maedhros’s father, Fëanor.  Dickerson is also slack in his citation of The Silmarilion: Rúmil’s “fitting signs for recording of speech” is a phrase from “Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor”; likewise the term “Earth-gems” is Tolkien’s from “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië”.  Here neither phrase is set off with quotation marks.

Most amusing is the line that follows Dickerson’s observation on Tolkien’s changing structure across years of manuscripts: “Nonetheless, in the published Silmarillion, there was a consistent scheme” – you don’t say!

 

Elves: Reincarnation - Michaël Devaux, translation by David Ledanois

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

This essay is a generally useful aid to a tricky subject.  Devaux begins strongly by contextualizing his topic with Tolkien’s comments on death and immortality. Then he notes the possibility of Dwarvish reincarnation and Beren’s unique return from death, before turning to the nature of Elvish rebirth.  The key texts are all mentioned, albeit somewhat confusingly, and after a thorough description of Tolkien’s various explanations of Elvish reincarnation, Devaux closes with a brief comparison to reincarnation in real mythologies.  Unfortunately, he never moves past mechanics and sources to examine why Tolkien put so much effort into this subject.

Devaux cites a text by Tolkien that is unknown to me, and also doesn’t turn up on an internet search: “Fragments on Elvish Reincarnation”. It is apparently an expanded version of material from Morgoth’s Ring and The Peoples of Middle-earth, published in 2005 in Tolkien, l’effigie des elfes.  Since that work was edited by Devaux himself, it is presumably Ledanois’s translation here that is responsible for the comment that material in “Fragments” that was missing from the HoMe volumes “appears” to be “of a more technical nature”.  This technical material includes something that Devaux/Ledanois mysteriously calls “the principle of the identity of the indiscernibles”.

There is some further awkwardness in the translation, as for example, “Tolkien is prone to repent concerning who is to carry out the remaking”.  And Devaux’s long paragraph on Tolkien’s several attempts to work out the methodology of reincarnation is given almost entirely in the present tense, which makes it hard to understand how Tolkien’s ideas evolved.

Of Tolkien scholars, Devaux cites only Stratford Caldecott and himself.  And in his text, he mentions Beren; Finwë and Míriel; Glorfindel; Immortality; and Mandos, but their articles are absent from his See also list.

 

Elvish Compositions and Grammars - Carl F. Hostetter

Comments by squire, March 24, 2007

This is an amazing but indigestible catalogue of all the "chief" (?) instances of Tolkien's writings in Elvish of any flavor, as well as all his philological commentaries about his languages. (The title is misleading, since instances of Dwarvish, Adûnaic, the Black Speech and Westron are included here too.)

Specifically, it is an exhaustive accounting of every single word or phrase of Tolkien's invented languages in all of Tolkien's known works, whether in his fiction, his posthumously published ephemera, or in the two specialty Elvish language journals. In its purely chronological organization and lack of distinction between language and literature, it is clearly of most interest to those who aspire to achieve an authoritative understanding of Elvish vocabulary, grammar, and related linguistic matters as they developed across the span of Tolkien's life. As a reference tool and work of archival scholarship, it is stunning and testifies to Hostetter's unchallenged expertise in the subject of Tolkien's languages.

However, there is no commentary or analysis of the meaning of this long and varied list to Tolkien's life or his non-Elvish works of fiction or scholarship. Nor is there any explanation of the provenance or publishing order of the numerous edited manuscripts. Readers who might want to understand more about the "ongoing project" of compiling and publishing Tolkien's linguistic works, but who do not intend to start buying all the itemized reprints of the relevant journal articles, are left high and dry.

In fact this entire chronological index should have been a final, appendicial, section to Hostetter's mammoth and truly encyclopedic article, "Languages Invented by Tolkien", to which it is perfectly complementary. Since that entry is already twelve pages long, the addition of four more could hardly be objectionable, absent a total reconception of the proper treatment of Tolkien's languages in the Encyclopedia.

This article, so-called, does answer one puzzle I noted a while ago: that Tom Shippey's article "Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages" specifically excluded consideration of Elvish as well as English. Shippey does not refer his readers to this article, but here are, listed but not discussed, poems in Qenya/Quenya ("Narqelion", "Oilima Markirya", "Nieninque", "Earendel", "Firiel's Song"); Noldorin (untitled on Damrod); and Sindarin (untitled begins "Ir ithil..."). If the Encyclopedia set as its goal a critical consideration of all of Tolkien's poetry, including that written in Old English and Gothic, why did it stop at Elvish?

Hostetter also includes, though only as sources for the study of Elvish languages, all instances of Tolkien's compositions in Elvish prose and his commentaries on Elvish history. Most appear in Tolkien's published fiction or in the History of Middle-earth series, and so may have gotten some consideration in the relevant Encyclopedia articles.

But some do not, and the same question applies: aren't these discursive writings in a different class from the patently philological exercises like the "Etymologies", "Early Qenya Grammar", etc.? "Sí Qente Feanor" ("Now said Fëanor") on that Elf's contempt for Men; five Catholic prayers translated into Quenya;  "Ósanwe-kenta: Enquiry into the Communication of Thought"; and "The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor" surely rate a little more critical attention in the Encyclopedia than they get here.

 

Enchantment - Patrick Curry

Comments by squire, May 31, 2007

This is good as far as it goes, which seems from the 'Further Reading' list to be just as far as a condensation of Curry's 1999 article on the topic will take us. Curry reviews the distinction that Tolkien made between magic and enchantment in his "On Fairy-stories" essay, and explores some of the real-world spiritual effects of enchantment as experienced through story, especially the story of The Lord of the Rings.

The discourse is deep but a little flabby, and at times he seems to go overboard, such as when he compares Tolkien's interest in this subject with the philosophy of the "Frankfurt School" over the past two centuries. It's all very well to show off some similarities of Tolkien's concern with enchantment and their professed "disenchantment" with modernity, but if he's going to drag Weber and Foucault into this, he owes it to them and us to show how those men's views differed from Tolkien's as well.

At a larger scale, it is disappointing to see Curry stick to examining Tolkien's uses of Enchantment and Faerie solely in The Lord of the Rings. Besides the key story "Smith of Wootton Major", many of his poems deserve a look from this angle. And then there's The Silmarillion. I don't believe the heroic, tragic Elves of the War of the Jewels, seen from the Elvish perspective they're written in, particularly demonstrate Tolkien's theory of enchantment via a secondary world; or if they do, it is in radically different mode than the elegiac mechanism employed in LotR. Tolkien began his exploration of fantasy with myth, not enchantment, and moved toward the latter vehicle as he got older - as can be seen in the gradual prominence of Men compared to Elves in his later Silmarillion tales. An early example is Beren's transformation into a Man from an Elf so that he might be "enchanted" by Lúthien; and much later, we see Tolkien adding numerous philosophic dialogues to his First Age tales, regarding the difference between Men and Elves, after he realized what a breakthrough LotR was in expressing the theory he had propounded in the Lang lecture ten years earlier.

Finally, on a more mundane level, Curry does mention the "perils" of enchantment, but I'd have liked some discussion of the connection between Enchantment and Spells, particularly the malign effect that Tolkien conjures in his dragon-spells by Glaurung and Smaug; the magic of Saruman's melodious but evil rhetoric; and the reputation among mortals that Galadriel, Melian, and other inhabitants of Faërie have for "weaving nets of deceit".

 

England, Twentieth Century - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, January 23, 2007

This article seems to twist and squirm to keep the reader from identifying just what is so unsatisfactory about it. Perhaps the best way I can put it is that the author seems to assume that the reader already knows everything about the subject that he does, and the resulting essay is a thus an aimless ramble through the apparently boringly familiar highlights of Tolkien's political spleen.

In reality, I guess that many readers today could have used a brief but clear summary of the jarring changes that England underwent in the twentieth century (aside from the Wars, which as Lobdell notes have their own articles). The rise of social democracy, collapse of industrial and trade supremacy, loss of Empire, semi-totalitarian regimentation of the wartime state, national impoverishment, and finally the institutionalization of democratic state socialism are all factors that underlie the grumpy reactionary comments that Lobdell excerpts from Tolkien's letters.

Based on such information, a more chronologically-ordered review of Tolkien's opinions over the decades would also have reflected the fact that both a century and Tolkien's lifetime are long enough, without worrying about their boundary dates, to allow growth and changes in a man's perception of his times. Such an approach might finally have noted that contemporary criticism, looking back, focuses on how Tolkien's pseudo-medievalist reaction to the twentieth century can actually be seen as being very "modern" -- that is, very "twentieth century"!

What readers could perhaps have used less of are: knowing but unexplained or inaccurate historical references, quibbles about the definition of "twentieth century", distracting parenthesized asides, and meaningless rhetorical paradoxes.

It is, of course, most interesting to hear from Lobdell a personal anecdote about Tolkien's reaction to a joke about "Sending the Twentieth Century Back to the Factory"!

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

I agree with squire’s comments, and will add that Lobdell wastes most of his opening paragraph arguing with his editor about the boundaries of his subject.

Lobdell also writes, without identifying his sources, that Tolkien “was a reader of newspapers”, who “listened to the BBC during World War II”, “detested” apartheid, and “found to his surprise that he was remembered as a rugger player” at a school reunion. This information does not come from Tom Shippey’s Author of the Century, which is the only work in Lobdell’s bibliography. The references are from Niekas #18 (as noted in Scull and Hammond’s Reader’s Guide, p. 822), Letter #81, the “Valedictory Address” (MC, 238), and Letter #58, respectively.

 

"English and Welsh" - John Garth

Comments by squire, May 1, 2007

What a classic of concise exposition. Garth takes what I suspect is a very difficult piece of work (it seems Tolkien thought so), and brings out several themes of interest in relation to Tolkien's professional work in philology, his own personality, and his imaginative fantasy: which three areas are the subject of this Encyclopedia.

It is gratifying to read that Tolkien's speculations on the survival of Welsh formations in the English language and culture have since been shown to have been almost instinctively correct. Garth cites Faull (one who did some of this work) as calling Tolkien's lecture "inspired rhetoric" rather than "sober" scholarship!

Tolkien's views on "race" and ancestry are shown to be an interesting combination of a realistic understanding of the inevitability of linguistic, cultural and racial heterogeneity throughout European history, and a mystical or romantic belief in the survival of ancestral "linguistic taste" despite such intermixing. Garth's best moment here is his tracing of Tolkien's famous example of a "beautiful" word formation (cellar door) to its current-day apocryphal status as "the most beautiful phrase in English", misattributed to Poe, Mencken, and others.

Finally we see Tolkien admitting that he has had a highly personal relationship with Welsh and its associated Celtic cultures. It afforded him an extended range of expression in his imaginative languages, the result of which had only been glimpsed by his lecture audience in the previous year or two as The Lord of the Rings was being published. Whether or not the listeners at his lecture understood what he was talking about, we readers of this excellent article do.

The 'Further Reading' list is excellent, of course (love that Wikipedia reference to "Cellar door"!). See also, however, could have been more substantial, with references to "Mythology, Celtic", "Sauron Defeated" and "Languages Invented by Tolkien" for starters; as well as a few more of the many articles on racism, I suppose. The lack of a reference to "Welsh Language" - could Garth have missed it? - is however no loss.

 

Ents - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, January 30, 2007

This is very good as far as it goes. Dickerson makes some excellent points about the Ents as "philologists" and as medieval trolls transformed by Tolkien's imagination into a giant tree-folk. His opening (which conveys the mistaken impression that the Ents were written into the Silmarillion before they appeared in The Lord of the Rings) and his closing (which speculates on a deeper etymological meaning for Ent than Tolkien seems to have intended) are somewhat weaker.

As seems to be so often the case in the Encyclopedia, Dickerson depends solely on his own brilliance and that of his collaborator Evans. He ignores such well-known approaches to the Ents as Kocher's, which emphasizes their sexual dysfunction, and Flieger's, which considers them in the context of Tolkien's self-deceptive ideology of his always "taking the part of the trees". And that's just off the top of my head - I'm sure there is a relatively rich critical literature about the Ents, and I wish it was summarized and cited here.

The Ents are one of Tolkien's most original contributions to the land of Faërie, right behind the Hobbits. As Treebeard might say about this article, 'The Ents could say more on their side, if they had time!'

 

Environmentalism and Eco-criticism - Patrick Curry

Comments by squire, May 23, 2007

Curry sketches out an intriguing argument that The Lord of the Rings deserves to be honored as an early work of "eco-critical" modern literature, because of the morally central role that nature plays in the story, and because it has inspired a generation or two of ecological activists from the 1960s onwards; yet he maintains that "green" literary critics have ignored it because their modernist training tells them it is reactionary, escapist, unironic, and "insufficiently difficult to read".

It's a fascinating angle, and I only wish that Curry had more specifics to offer. His emphasis on the Ring's relation to nature in LotR is overstated; his glib indictment of the modernist "green" critics is too easy and unsourced; and his celebration of the UK's 1990s anti-motorways movement's debt to Tolkien seems speculative. He is also rather vague on just what modern eco-criticism does demand of its literature besides unreadability; and he brushes past the distinction between modern environmentalism and the ideology of the Romantic authors of the 19th century. His argument is not helped by his acknowledgement that Tolkien has not been shown to have been influenced by the Romantics.

Curry also does not address how Tolkien's undoubted personal environmentalism was often subverted by his sense of story and mythology. From his portrayal of hostile forests and mountains in the legendarium, to his invention of "Morgoth's Taint" in which the entire earth is corrupted with evil practically from the moment of its creation, Tolkien does not hesitate to make untamed Nature the bad guy from the point of view of his humanistic heroes. If as Curry says, Tolkien's stories plead that Nature's destruction "is not justified by our purposes alone", it is less clear that Tolkien believes the same about Nature's taming or exploitation.

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

One modernist critic who addresses Tolkien’s environmentalist views is Michael Moorcock, a noted fantasy author, whose article “Epic Pooh” takes Tolkien to task for bad writing and for a “refusal to face or derive any pleasure from the realities of urban industrial life … it is simple neophobia which makes people hate the modern world and its changing society; it is xenophobia which makes them unable to imagine what rural beauty might lie beyond the boundaries of their particular Shire.”

 

Environmentalist Readings of Tolkien - Alfred K. Siewers

Comments by squire, May 23, 2007

You never know what you'll find when you turn the page. In this case, to my surprise, I found the exact same article as the one I just reviewed. This one is written in the 2000s, not (seemingly) the 1970s, and is written on a theoretical not a popular basis, but really, this instance of direct overlap of two articles is just as shocking as the "Adventures of Tom Bombadil" fiasco.

Siewers' depth and erudition make Curry's article look weaker than it does when taken by itself. Siewers addresses, and answers, several of my objections to the previous piece. For instance, he cites Flieger in contradiction to Curry's book, to the effect that Tolkien's portrayal of nature is quite nuanced. But Siewers goes on to cite scholarship, including his own, that tries to locate Tolkien's view of nature within the medieval spectrum of Celtic-to-Christian thought and literature rather than in contemporary ecological terms.

Praxis, binarized, patristic -- who can resist an article that tosses such terms about? Sure, Siewers' style is a little high-flown at times; on the other hand, his command of the subject is indubitable, and some of his references are simply precious (in a good way), like the connection of the rising of the river at the Ford in Fellowship to the "early Irish Cattle-Raid of Cooley".

The 'Further Reading' list is extensive, and juicy.

 

Éomer - Hilary Wynne

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

“When King Théoden fell in battle,” Wynne writes, “he named Éomer successor by directing that his banner be given to the young warrior”.  Actually Théoden had already declared Éomer as his heir in “The King of the Golden Hall” (thirteen days and twenty-one chapters earlier in the story). But why did Wynne feel the need to tell readers anything more specific than that Éomer succeeded Théoden?  She doesn’t do anything with that battlefield detail - as is true of most of her entry, a mere chronological reordering of Éomer’s appearances in the main text and appendices of LotR

Only in the last of Wynne’s six paragraphs does she address the importance of Éomer in LotR, noting the meaning of his names and (citing Tom Shippey) his “dashing valor in battle” as emblematic of the vigorous but less noble status of the Rohirrim compared to the Númenóreans.  Wynne mentions Faramir’s comments on those peoples here, but ought to have compared (or noted others’ comparisons of) Éomer and Faramir, since they are introduced in parallel episodes.  Likewise she needed to turn a critical eye to some of the incidents listed in her history, such as what Tolkien says about duty with Éomer’s disobedience in hunting Saruman’s orcs, and how Éomer’s grief and rage on the Pelennor illuminates the Rohirrim.

 

Éowyn - Katherine Hesser

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

Badly organized and repetitive, this article nevertheless makes a few interesting points about Éowyn: her battle "style" against the Nazgul is essentially defensive, and therefore presumably feminine even though she fights in masculine guise; and her attraction to Aragorn is a confusion of a woman's love for a man and a fighting man's devotion to his lord.

This kind of insight is not really enough when it comes to Éowyn, Tolkien's most compelling female character. Most of the article is a confusing account of her story conflated with a mish-mosh of reheated old-line feminist analysis that concludes that Middle-earth rejects "working mothers" in favor of "trophy wives"!

It is a shame that Hesser, who quotes extensively, leaves out Gandalf's analysis of Éowyn at the Houses of Healing. But it is more of a shame that the long quotes and summary of Eowyn's adventures could not have been truncated so that other critics could have been cited -- not to mention learned from. After all, even this article in its rambling way makes clear that Éowyn and the nature of her personal journey is the single most important point of entry for feminist criticism of Tolkien.

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

In the encyclopedia’s introduction, Michael Drout writes that he “asked contributors to approach disputed questions without tendentiousness and to attempt to explain the various sides of difficult issues”.  He also specifies that this very entry includes “possible parallels in twentieth-century culture.”  If only!  Hesser could at least have balanced her entry by referring readers to the articles on gender, sexuality, women, and feminist critical readings, but there is no See also list.

Also, how does Hesser know that Éowyn is “an accomplished fighter”?  Why does she write that Éowyn “worries about her banished brother”, when Éomer was imprisoned not banished?  Who is Hesser quoting when she writes that Éowyn tries “to rectify her ‘relegation to the female sidelines’” by adopting the guise of Dernhelm?  And what does she mean when she writes that Arwen forsakes immortality for “an abbreviated eternity with Aragorn”?

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

Squire and N.E. Brigand have already dealt with the entry pretty thoroughly; however, I wanted to offer one or two brief thoughts of my own. N.E. Brigand asks, “Why does [Hesser] write that Éowyn ‘worries about her banished brother’, when Éomer was imprisoned not banished?” The answer – though I shudder to pin Hesser down to it – is that Éomer is banished in Peter Jackson’s film version of The Two Towers. A disappointing slip; however, Hesser does get it right (“her brother Éomer is imprisoned”) near the end of the essay.

Another small point. In an ideal world, I would have liked some comment on the connection between the prophecies regarding the fates of the Lord of the Nazgûl and of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Tolkien famously “rewrote” the scene of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane Castle out of his disappointment with Shakespeare’s solution, and this may be similar situation, where Éowyn stands in for Macduff. Such connections would have given the entry more critical breadth. (Just as squire points out when he writes that “the long quotes and summary of Éowyn’s adventures could not have been truncated so that other critics could have been cited.”)

With that out of the way, I’d like to take a moment to caution against the tendency to oversimplify all treatment of Éowyn’s character into feminist readings. Yes, these are important, but I think it’s a mistake to reduce all discussion of her into these terms – as so often happens.

Much is made, for example, of the fact that Éowyn takes on the guise of a male soldier, as if no female could ever participate in battle among the Rohirrim. But how can this be taken for granted? Éowyn tells us herself that she’s a “shieldmaiden” who can “ride and wield blade.” Why would the Rohirrim have a word like “shieldmaiden”, and why would it be possible for a woman to be trained to fight with a sword in the first place, if it were patently impossible for her ever to find herself in battle? There’s too much oversimplification going on here, mostly in the name of fitting Éowyn into a feminist mold. Much of that critical discussion is very valid, of course, but it’s not the end of the story. And I think it too easily tempts readers into, for example, labeling her engagement with the Nazgûl “feminine fighting”, and so forth. What is inherently “feminine” about a defensive posture before a fallen father?

Questions like this must be addressed, I think, before simply assigning such labels to Éowyn without elaboration, just because they seem to fit. And how do feminist readings of Éowyn explain that, in the end, she adopts a more traditionally “feminine” role as wife and healer? I longed for a fuller treatment of this rich and intriguing character, but unfortunately, Hesser’s (like the majority of scholars writing about Éowyn) is essentially one-note.

 

Epic Poetry – Julaire Andelin

 

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 24, 2007

 

This is an adequate essay, for the most part, but it does stumble at many points, in both the details and the conclusions the author bases on them:

  • Andelin generalizes that, in epic poems in English, “stanzas are grouped so that the meter carries evenly.” What does that mean, the “meter carries evenly”? And what of epic poems in English that do not use a stanzaic structure (e.g., Chaucer)?

  • Epic poetry in English doesn’t even always rhyme, come to that (e.g., Milton’s Paradise Lost). A softening of Andelin’s generalizations in her discussion of epic form would have made me a little more comfortable with the rest her conclusions.

  • Andelin writes that Tolkien “was drawn to works of foreign languages, including those of Anglo-Saxon origins”, but I daresay Tolkien would not have considered Anglo-Saxon to be a “foreign” language at all.

  • The statements about word-form versus word-sense, while well-intentioned, strike me as too unfocused and underdeveloped. I won’t parse them individually, but I feel they should have been better developed if they were to be effectively deployed in support of the subject of the essay.

  • On “Tolkien’s background in Old English and Anglo-Saxon philology” – these are just two ways of saying the same thing; it’s redundant, really.

  • There is a conflation of the Old and Middle English in Andelin’s discussion of Sir Gawain that troubles me just a little bit. I feel Andelin could have been clearer in making her point.

  • It’s Gil-galad, not Gil-Galad.

  • There are some problems with the writing here also – shifts in tense, unexpected conditionals (e.g., “would give” in place of “gave”), improper word choices, misplacement of prepositional phrases, etc. Nothing that impairs the meaning severely, but much that could have been better edited.

Ultimately, I feel Andelin doesn’t do a clear or convincing enough job in drawing solid conclusions about Tolkien’s use of the epic tradition. I would have like to have seen more discussion of The Lays of Beleriand, for example. The essay isn’t bad, but it also isn’t great.

 

In the See also, “Lays of Beleriand” should be “Lays of Beleriand, The”, “Middle English Vocabulary” should be “Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922)”, the entry “Rhyme Schemes and Meter” does not exist, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo: Edited by Christopher Tolkien” should be “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, Edited by Christopher Tolkien”. And why point readers to “Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages” but not to any of the other “Poems” entries?

 

Eru - Bradley J. Birzer

Comments by squire, April 16, 2007

Birzer gets carried away in a seeming ecstasy of Eru-worship at the beginning of this article, as he thrillingly but confusingly recounts the creation-myth of the "Ainulindalë". The next two paragraphs on Eru's later appearances in the story-cycle are slightly calmer, but again lack clarity and perspective and even a good grip on the number of interventions of Eru in the legendarium at "vital moments".

The fourth and last paragraph could well have been the first, with a sensible and concise discussion of the mythic and religious roots of Tolkien's conception of a One God for his stories. The conclusion, on the relationship of Eru to the Christian Trinity, is unfortunately again weak.

The biggest problem here, I think, is that Birzer ignores Tolkien's own life-long development of Eru as a story-figure, as documented in the History of Middle-earth volumes, and the conflict it aroused with his own strong religious faith. For instance, Tolkien's conception of the relation of the Music to the Creation changed radically in the 1930s, which is also when the Change of the World consequent to the destruction of Numenor was first imagined; the details and nature of the "Last Battle" were never finalized; and the idea of Eru incarnating in Arda as the Savior of Men - on which Birzer must pin his contention that Eru is congruent with the Trinity - was a late speculation by Tolkien from the 1950s that has no place in any of his other writings, published or unpublished.

Eru appears only once, in the Appendices, in The Lord of the Rings. That book recounts the end of the Third Age of the World, but it is missing from Birzer's list of  "each of the vital moments" in Tolkien's legendarium when Eru intervenes directly. The question arises: if Eru "exists" why is he absent from Tolkien's most important and fully-realized story?

Tolkien regarded his fantasy fiction as a "sub-creation" in imitation and honor of God's real creation of the "story" of the real world and its human inhabitants. When Tolkien tried to create Eru as a story-God at the hierarchical apex of an imagined world of which he himself was in a way already the figurative God, the inherent contradictions seem almost to have paralyzed him. The depth and nature of Tolkien's commitment to his own creation of a God for his stories is to me the most fascinating and important aspect of Eru, especially in relation to his parallel development of a kind of pantheon (the Valar) who are nominally the demiurgic actors in his imagined mythology.

Birzer gives an inadequate See also list; and no 'Further Reading' at all, which is almost scandalous.

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

Verlyn Flieger’s Interrupted Music is among the several critical works that Birzer might have cited, for comments like this: “The supreme godhead, Eru (Ilúvatar), is neither the Judaic God of Hosts who alternately punishes and rewards his people nor the traditional Christian God of love and forgiveness.  Rather, he is a curiously remote, and for the most part, inactive figure, uninvolved, save for one exceptional moment, in the world he had conceived” (p. 140).  But Birzer doesn’t once consider Eru as a character.

 

Esperanto - Arden R. Smith

Comments by squire, July 13, 2007

It's hard to tell what the value of this article is. It seems primarily to stand in contrast to Tolkien's own theories about inventing languages, as documented in Smith's article on "'A Secret Vice'". The most interesting points are three:

  • where Tolkien admits to admiring Esperanto because it was devised by a single man; 

  • where he later declares that Esperanto (and other, unnamed, artificial languages) failed to come alive as languages because "their authors never invented any Esperanto legends"; and finally,

  • where Smith points out that Tolkien's Elvish grammars mimicked the complexities of real languages, in clear contrast to Esperanto which aspired to a completely regular and simple grammar to assist it in being adopted as a universal language.

What is the point? Did Tolkien imagine, because he had written legends of the Elves, that his Elvish languages were more "successful" than Esperanto? Did he admire Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, as a fellow "enthusiast" for the Secret Vice of inventing languages, though the object of the two men's exercises were patently opposed? Does Esperanto, as a language or concept, really have anything to do with Tolkien or his Elvish languages, besides being a manmade language that peaked in popularity during Tolkien's youth?

Smith does not make a convincing case on any of these fronts.

I should note that Smith here seems to imply that 'A Hobby for the Home', aka 'A Secret Vice', Tolkien's essay on the theory and practice of inventing languages, was never made public until after his death. In the Encyclopedia article on this essay/lecture, Smith says it was delivered to an audience once, if not twice, though never set in print.

 

Essays Presented to Charles Williams - Charles H. Fischer and Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, July 14, 2007

It is difficult to criticize this well-researched and well-written article, but I will try.

Every word that Thomas and Fischer set down is interesting to anyone who sees J. R. R. Tolkien as only one mind in an entire intellectual milieu, most readily characterized as the world of the Inklings. In this article, the Inklings shine as they pay tribute to one of their own, the prematurely dead Charles Williams. Each contributory essay, by Sayers, Lewis (fils et fils), Barfield, and Mathew, is brilliantly summarized - except Tolkien's which is simply given a reference to the entire Encyclopedia article on his "On Fairy-stories".

And that's the rub: where is Tolkien in all this? Implicitly: everywhere. He loved this stuff. Explicitly: nowhere. None of the summaries is tied to the central perspective of Tolkien's life and works that is the organizing principle of this Encyclopedia.

The same principle has led me to criticize the existence of articles on every Inkling that had too little to do with Tolkien on an effective literary or personal level. For instance, in this article, Dorothy Sayers's essay on Dante is described very well. Yet, according to the article on her, she never attended an Inklings meeting (being a woman and all, you know); and she never met Tolkien. That was a marginal article accordingly; this one is beyond the pale.

The thematic category tells its own tale: this article is under the category: "Scholarship by Tolkien: Medieval Literature". Say what? The only mention of Tolkien here is a cross reference to another article (which is not really on medieval literature, either, but let it pass). The scary thing about this article is that the 'Further Reading' and See also lists are a researcher's dream - if the researcher is looking not into Tolkien, but Tolkien's literary context.

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

While I agree entirely with squire that this article fails to make Essays Presented to Charles Williams relevant to the Encyclopedia, there is an argument that a separate article on this collection was more deserving than one on, say, The Tolkien Reader (presumably included because that collection, like this one, was published during Tolkien’s lifetime and thus with his approval) or the two entries on 1920s poetry anthologies in which Tolkien’s work appeared.  Though Fischer and Thomas don’t mention it, Scull and Hammond’s Companion and Guide report that Tolkien worked with C.S. Lewis on the Essays’ organization even before Charles Williams’ death, when it was intended as a festschrift occasioned by his impending departure from Oxford.

There is one further reference in the entry to Tolkien besides the cross-reference to the “On Fairy-stories” article.  Fischer and Thomas note that among the texts examined by C.S. Lewis in his contribution, “On Stories”, is The Hobbit.  Unfortunately, they don’t say what Lewis wrote there about it.

 

Estate - Chester N. Scoville

Comments by squire, March 29, 2007

The shadow of an 800-pound gorilla looms over this article. While it does convey a lot of information about the Tolkien Estate, and in an odd but apparently necessary detour, the Tolkien Enterprises company, it leaves as many questions unanswered as not.

Who are currently the direct beneficiaries of the Estate? How are Tolkien's grandchildren involved, as his children reach advanced ages or pass away? Who will direct the Tolkien Copyright Trust, obviously meant to preserve Christopher Tolkien's intentions as to the proper treatment of his father's work when he is gone? What is the Estate's relationship with Houghton Mifflin and the English publishers that succeeded Allen & Unwin? If we are to implicitly criticize the "enormous" quantity of film-related merchandise that Tolkien Enterprises is responsible for, should we not cast an equally jaded eye on the fairly enormous number of editions of Tolkien's books that appear, courtesy of the Estate, each more elegantly packaged or authoritatively edited than the last? What has the role of the Estate been, not in protecting Tolkien's reputation and property by suppressing internet piracy, but in allegedly erecting barriers to the study of his literary and personal papers? How do the Tolkien Estate's "vigorous" policies regarding copyright enforcement compare with those of other popular authors' estates?

If these questions are themselves thought questionable, I'd return to first principles and ask, what is the purpose of this article in J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, if not to raise them? The See also inexplicably omits two of Tolkien's children, not to mention at least the articles on Tolkien's fan community and "Lord of the Rings, Success of", "Publishing History", "Publications, Posthumous", and "Manuscripts by Tolkien". There is no 'Further Reading' list, yet surely Scoville had his sources, whether published or on the internet.

 

Eucatastrophe - Christopher Garbowski

Comments by squire, December 12, 2006

What a pleasure to read this article. Clear and concise. Technical, yet not over the head of the casual Tolkien reader. Garbowski explains the medieval story-theoretical roots that Tolkien drew from, Tolkien's seminal creation of the word and concept in his "On Fairy-stories" essay, and the humanist and religious overtones that the term invokes. He even refers to three Tolkien critics to show how the concept has been received and explained up to this time.

 

Eucharist - Thomas Fornet-Ponse

Comments by squire, July 14, 2007

This article treats the Eucharist first as a Catholic sacrament, and shows that it was very central to Tolkien's belief in the efficacy of Catholic faith. Drawing on this strong presentation of Tolkien's beliefs, there is a shorter section that attempts to puncture the idea that Tolkien's fictional Elvish "way-bread", lembas, was a reimagination of the host of the Eucharist.

Fornet-Ponse does direct the reader to the "Catholicism" and "Christianity" articles for more details of Tolkien's religious beliefs; but I think the first section here is still too long and unfocused in its discussion of the meaning of the Eucharist. What I found most interesting were his hints at Tolkien's connection of Christian grace with Death. Unfortunately, he did not then make any connections with Tolkien's philosophy as expressed in his legendarium.

On the other hand, he seems to work too hard to try to show that lembas is not the Host. He seems not to want to take the analogy as anything less than a totally literal equivalence, which he easily refutes but which no one would claim. Even his final sentence on this matter, declaring that the lembas-Eucharist connection "seems not a central one", is undercut by his concluding clause about how lembas in Quenya was called "life-bread".

The 'Further Reading' list seems to be limited to three books that are religiously oriented interpretations of Tolkien; while his See also list is fairly complete except it omits the article "Lembas", which - why am I not surprised? - does not refer to this one either. "Lembas", by the way, cites the exact same letter as this article does (# 213) but draws a diametrically opposed conclusion from Tolkien's acknowledgement that lembas may well share some characteristics with the Christian host.

 

Exile - Leslie A. Donovan

Comments by squire, July 17, 2007

This is first class. Donovan shows how the experience of exile fit into the framework of medieval society, gives examples of both individual and group exile that were treated by Old English literature as studied by Tolkien, and cleanly moves on to the uses Tolkien made of this theme in his fantasy fiction.

With perhaps a little less space given to the introductory explanations, Donovan might have analyzed the fiction with a little more finesse. For instance, it is interesting that the verse about Rohan "Where are the horse and the rider", said in the story to show the identity of the Rohirrim with the land they presently live in, is based partly on The Wanderer, one of Donovan's examples of an Anglo-Saxon poem of exile. Tolkien, in other words, has transformed the theme of the poem from exile in space, to (if this can be differentiated from elegy) "exile in time".

Similarly, the idea that the Noldor are exiles in Middle-earth, because they were expelled from the Undying Lands, is a relatively late angle of Tolkien's, dating from the time of The Lord of the Rings in the late 1930s and onward. The early Silmarillion stories highlight the theme of blood-feud and revenge on the part of the clan of Fëanor; few Elves in the Silmarillion are heard to regret their "exiled" life in Beleriand, until after LotR was written.

In fact, all of the examples of exile that are given in this article date from this middle period in Tolkien's imagination: The Hobbit's dwarves, the Númenóreans/Dúnedain, and even the interesting inclusion of the Ents. What does go back to the beginning in Tolkien is a parallel theme I wish Donovan had acknowledged, the idea of the romantic "outlaw". This is seen mostly in the tales of Túrin, Tuor, and Beren -- all Men not Elves, interestingly.

I wonder if it is possible to show (beyond this casual musing from memory) that "exile" became a more prominent theme in Tolkien's legendarium only as his stories, and he himself, matured into those middle years when memories of lost times begin to bite?

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

This is generally well-done, but there are a couple mistakes. Donovan describes the Noldor in Middle-earth as not merely exiles but as “expelled” from Valinor “for disobeying the Valar and killing some of their Elven kindred”, when in fact the Noldor were given a chance to return and repent, and some did: the others are self-exiled.  Additionally, Donovan refers to the exiled “Númenóreans in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales”; only the Dúnedain in Middle-earth after the Downfall so qualify, and they receive little attention in those two books.

One notable exile missing from Donovan’s survey is Gollum, at least as presented in LotR: he was cast out from his hobbit-tribe by his grandmother.

 

Existentialism - Robert Eaglestone

Comments by squire, January 24, 2007

A fine introduction to a subject that I, for one, am wholly unfamiliar with. Eaglestone artfully finesses the lack of any obvious connection between Tolkien and Existentialism as expounded by its most famous thinkers, Sartre and Heidigger, by positing that any modern writer of depth, including Tolkien, must inevitably encounter and confront the problems of existentialism, lower case (so to speak).

The following essay, limited to three existential issues (authenticity, technology, and language) are models of concision. Eaglestone's use of a telling citation from The Lord of the Rings at the end of each of subject discussion masterfully pulls us back to Tolkien just as the philosophical abyss seems deepest.

I noted the early retirement of Sartre from the stage, leaving Heidigger the sole authority for most of the article; and I wished indeed for a fuller bibliography than just Tom Shippey, a usual suspect here if ever there was one.

 

Exodus, edition of - L. J. Swain

Comments by squire, April 4, 2007

Here is another fine example of an article on Tolkien's less well-known professional work that also suggests how his philology may have cross-fertilized his fantasy writing.

I was glad to learn quite a bit about Tolkien's work on the Exodus poem. Once again, he failed to finish a major edition/translation to his own satisfaction, and once again, after his death, another scholar completed and published it. Swain is careful to point out that this was not just an outdated "vanity" edition, meant to ride on Tolkien's posthumous fame as a best-selling fantasy writer. He cites two other scholars besides Turville (the Exodus editor) on the long-lasting influence that Tolkien's lectures on Exodus have had on the Old English scholarly community. Swain's comments on how Tolkien's personality emerges from his editorial interpretations of the difficult poem are wonderful to read.

The examples of the influence of the Exodus poem on The Lord of the Rings are more difficult for me to evaluate, without perhaps more knowledge of the poem. The "shining cavalry" and "towering banners" of the Pharaoh's oncoming army do not make me think of Saruman's or Sauron's black orc-hosts, nor are besieged fortresses "caught" by the mountains behind them. However, the semi-miraculous and eucatastrophic outcomes of the battles of the Hornburg and Pelennor may certainly be seen to refer to the famous Biblical miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.

My understanding of the Sigelwara debate has never been solid, despite having read Tolkien's articles on it. It seems to me that Swain is, perhaps, pushing too hard the connection between Tolkien's philological inquiry into why Old English had an obscure word for translating "Ethiopia", and his imaginative concepts of balrogs and the Silmarils. Both of these visual images from Tolkien's fantasy world predate the scholarly article by a decade at least, suggesting that his imagination drove his interpretation rather than the other way around. That said, there is valuable ground to be mined in LotR for connections between jewels as light-images, coals as dark-images, and fire as a mediator of the two, as Flieger and others have shown.

Swain's ending is too abrupt; and his prose style throughout could use some tightening up - yet another example of a missing editorial hand. The 'Further Reading' list looks excellent, though I miss Flieger's "Sigelwara" discussion in Splintered Light. The See also list is very scanty, lacking the article on Joan Turville-Petre, and many other entries on Tolkien's professional work with Old English texts, poems, and translations.

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

The connection between Tolkien’s interpretation of sigelwara, and his balrogs and silmarils, was first put forward by Tom Shippey, I think.  Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth appears in Swain’s ‘Further Reading’ list, but Shippey is never mentioned in his text, not even when Swain puts quotation marks around the phrase “swart-face, red tongue, and ‘eyes like coals’”.  That’s Shippey describing the orc who spears Frodo in the Chamber of Mazarbul, in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century (p. 86).  Swain has apparently not seen Shippey’s “A Look at Exodus and Finn and Hengest” from Arda 1982-83.  Those lapses aside, this article is pretty good, for the reasons squire gives.