Faërie - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

Absolutely brilliant! Beautifully structured and written, with a highly dramatic and satisfying ending.

As one reads, of course, one thinks of other points in Tolkien that she skips over, for instance the use of "fey" to describe Theoden during his charge, or the enchantment of Thingol when he first takes Melian's hand and 'long-years' pass before they speak their first words together. Several short poems by Tolkien also deserved mention, like The Sea-Bell and The Last Ship. But any really good article must inspire its readers to explore further than its allotted range, through use of a good bibliography.

Unfortunately, as with many Encyclopedia articles and bibliographies by the acknowledged experts on the topic, Flieger's is focused on her own recent scholarship. She neglects in fact even to cite her own A Question of Time which she draws on in this essay. Even if other Tolkien texts and critics must bob undiscussed and uncited in her brilliant wake, a reference to at least one standard reference work on Faërie would have been most valuable.

 

Fairies - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

A good summary of the Fairy problem in Tolkien. What's not entirely clear is just why Tolkien in his maturity came to reject the idea of diminutive fairies as part of his mythology: Spangenberg suggests both literary and philological motives, but doesn't cite any statement of Tolkien's on the question. I also missed some mention of a time frame that would relate his changing views to his written fiction; along with his early poems, the Book of Lost Tales features little fairies mixed up with human-size fairies/elves, but it was abandoned in the early 1920s.

I appreciated the mention of Light as Leaf on Linden-tree, which seems to get little coverage in the Encyclopedia. I wish we were directed to a source that would give the text of "Goblin Feet". Finally, along with her references to standard Tolkien texts and criticism, I think it might have been valuable to give the reader at least one general book on the subject of fairies in mythology.

It is unfortunate that Spangenberg devotes the last third of her article to the land of Faërie, when Verlyn Flieger has written two pages on the same subject in the preceding article. And the following article raises similar questions. Another puzzler from the editorial assignment department.

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

Spangenberg, like Verlyn Flieger in the previous article, notes Tolkien’s several spellings for “Faërie”, which is the particular variant used to title Flieger’s article.  Amusingly, Spangenberg’s See also list, the best in the three fairy entries, gives Flieger’s article as “Faëry”, while Dimitra Fimi in the next article has the Flieger entry listed as “Faerie”.  (Really this set is a duo plus one, as the concept of Faërie is quite different from the creatures called fairies: this article overlaps Fimi’s more than Flieger’s work.)  But even this entry’s See also list could be improved: Spangenberg mentions the “image of a fairy woman dancing in a glade” but not Smith of Wootton Major, Tolkien’s last use of the image, and the Smith article isn’t cross-referenced.

Speaking of Smith, Spangenberg notes Tolkien’s progression from “fairy” to “elf”, but not his partial return to the earlier nomenclature in that story, where “elf” is absent (apart from the name “Alf”) and “fairy” is used only by the ignorant Nokes, but the term “Faery” is used with approval.  But then, she doesn’t note how long Tolkien continued to use “fairy” for “elf”, right through the first edition of The Hobbit

There is also some confusion and oversimplification in Spangenberg’s history of Tolkien’s terms for elvish languages, which she presents as “fairy language” > “Elf-Latin” > “Elvish” > “Quenya and Sindarin”.  Actually “Elf-Latin” in her source is a modern English rendering of “Eressëan” (that is, the language of elves in Aman); and “Qenya”, at any rate, appeared more than twenty years earlier, in 1915. 

Finally, since Spangenberg refers readers to the entries on Spenser and Shakespeare, she might have noted how Tolkien connected the two when referring to his use of the word “elves”, which he meant “to be understood in its ancient meanings, which continued as late as Spenser – a murrain on Will Shakespeare and his damned cobwebs” (Letter #131).  But her article is pretty full.

There’s also an oddity in Spangenberg’s ‘Further Reading’ list, which lists one of Tom Shippey’s works as “Tolkien Studies I article”.   The actual title is “Light-elves, Dark-elves, and Others: Tolkien’s Elvish Problem”.

 

Fairyology, Victorian - Dimitra Fimi

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

Well, well, well. And here's the third part of this unassembled puzzle. Another excellent article, expanding on Spangenberg's preceding piece, whose strengths when read by itself diminish considerably in the context of the existence of Flieger's and Fimi's articles on adjacent pages.

Is Fairyology really a word? No matter. The references here are particularly enticing, with the contributor's book not standing solo on center stage for once. Since this article does not appear in the Thematic List of Entries, one suspects it was commissioned at the last minute, and suggests by its very presence, perhaps unfairly, that Spangenberg's article was considered to be inadequate. Why? why? why?

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 7, 2007

I agree with squire's point about the value of  "at least one general book on the subject of fairies in mythology," and in the case of Fimi's article, whose bibliography is quite nice otherwise, I would have liked to see at least one book on fairies from the Victorian period in addition to her references from today's scholarship on the subject. Such would be the sort of work Tolkien would have had at his disposal, and interested readers would therefore be able to compare and contrast Tolkien's ideas on fairies with those of the generations immediately preceding his own.

Volume II of Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie and Thomas Keightley's Fairy Mythology would have been ideal inclusions. A mention of Andrew Lang's fairy series would not have been out of place either, especially since Lang has no entry of his own; his early influence on Tolkien is well established. Ditto George MacDonald (though he does have his own entry, and Verlyn Flieger does refer to him in her entry on "Faërie").

'Fairies' and 'Fairyology' really ought to have been a single entry.

 

Fall of Man - Bradley Birzer

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

A very difficult subject, about which Birzer seems somewhat uncertain, despite his familiarity with the basic outlines of the problem.

I think his summary of the 'Debate of Finrod and Andreth' is not as clear as it could be; to wit, he fails to mention that Finrod is an immortal Elf and Andreth a mortal Woman, giving a multidimensionality to the problem that mere Biblical studies of the Fall of Man are spared. And if I remember, Tolkien wrote a fragment of a tale of the actual temptation and fall of primeval Men to Morgoth's temptations in their original home in the East, that the 'Debate' merely refers to. Not surprisingly, the story foreshadows the Fall of Númenor, Ages later. But as with Númenor, there is a band of Faithful Men who refuse to follow, or who repent of following, the tempter. These are the Edain who flee West to join the First Age Elves in the wars of the Silmarillion cycle: are they Fallen -- or not? Tolkien is never quite clear, partly because he was developing his thoughts on this question across several decades of writing about Men in Middle-earth.

Birzer properly notes the multiplicity of Falls (of both Men and Elves) that occur in Tolkien, and recognizes that Tolkien was mixing up the literary necessity of a Fall with the theological necessity. What Birzer seems not to get - or at least to convey clearly to the reader - is that the entire problem of the Fall of Man/Elf in Tolkien's fiction is immensely more complex than the straightforward cycle of Innocence, Fall, Sin, Redemption that forms the core of the Christian worldview.

Absent a bibliography, I'll note that Bonnal, Purtill, Wood, Lobdell, Harvey, Evans and Shippey all discuss the related questions of Eden and the Fall in their books on Tolkien.

 

Family Background - Colin Duriez

Comments by squire, April 25, 2007

In this brief but good article, Duriez reviews Tolkien's sense of identification with his paternal (Tolkien) and maternal (Suffield) ancestry, with the usual emphasis on the importance of the latter. That his 'See also' does not refer to the "Suffields" article suggests Duriez was unaware that he was producing a largely duplicative entry.

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

Was this intended to be the “Tolkien Family” article?  Or do the Suffields get one-and-a-half articles because of Tolkien’s own emphasis on his maternal ancestry?  And speaking of maternal ancestors, J.R.R.T. was as much a Stow as a Tolkien, and as much a Sparrow as a Suffield, but his grandmothers’ families get almost no attention in the Encyclopedia.

 

Family Trees - Jason Fisher

Comments by N.E. Brigand, May 6, 2007

“Family Trees and Genealogy” would be a more accurate title for Fisher’s article: quite sensibly, he doesn’t restrict himself to just the charts at the end of LotR and The Silmarillion, but identifies several ways that those diagrams illuminate larger issues in the stories, such as attitudes toward kinship and lineage.  I like the breadth of Fisher’s examination, though on several points his investigation could have gone deeper.  I mean this as a compliment: his article is good enough to make me ask some tough questions.

For example, the connection Fisher makes to the genealogies in Icelandic sagas is nice, but similar comments by Tom Shippey in The Road to Middle-earth (pp. 247-250) go unmentioned, as do any other critical works: are comments on Tolkien’s family trees so rare as to justify the total absence of a Further Reading list here?

Similarly, though it is helpful for Fisher to note how Tolkien’s genealogies relate to his philological purposes, some specific examples would be good, perhaps with reference also to “On Translation” from LotR’s Appendix F: all those kings of Rohan whose name means “king”, or the Welsh names of the Brandybucks who live at the edge of the England-like Shire, or the evolving family names over the generations in Sam’s family: Gamwich, Gammidge, Gamgee.

Fisher’s comments on bloodlines, from the Noldorin elves in the “Silmarillion” to hobbit families in LotR are sound, but call for cross-references to at least “Hierarchy” and “Race and Ethnicity in Tolkien’s Works”, and possibly some skeptical analysis.  How does Gandalf’s calculated search for a burglar with the right genetic background in “The Quest of Erebor” fit with the Took and Baggins aspects of Bilbo presented in The Hobbit?  Was it necessary for Tolkien to give Sam a blonde sister (only identified as such in the family trees) and blonde children to demonstrate his “Fallohide” blood (as noted in Tolkien’s “Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings”, in the entry for “Marigold”, who in LotR is identified as Sam’s sister only in his family tree)?  One article that appeared too recently for Fisher to cite addresses Hobbit genealogy, with mixed results: “Subversive Fantasist: Tolkien on Class Difference”, by Jane Chance.

I like Fisher’s observation that the family trees support the “hobbitish perspective” of LotR, which he quotes as noting that hobbits were “clannish and reckoned up their relationships with great care”.  I missed a connection here to Gondor’s kings, who “counted old names in the rolls of descent dearer than the names of sons”, as Faramir tells Frodo.  More importantly: do Tolkien’s description of hobbits here apply to himself?  What of his emphasis on his Suffield heritage.

Citing Tolkien’s letters, Fisher also notes the “mechanical” value that family trees serve, by helping Tolkien manage a complicated narrative.  A note on the shifting identities of the hobbit companions of Bingo [Frodo] in early LotR drafts might have been appropriate here.  Probably Fisher lacked the space to comment on the inclusion of such story-aids in the “paratext” of LotR, but I think there should have been See also references to two other extra-textual articles: “Calendars” and “Maps”.  There is an interesting parallel between Fisher’s text and Alice Campbell’s “Maps” entry (Fisher: the “gulf between [Fingolfin and Fëanor…] can be visualized at a glance in their family tree”; Campbell: the “map allows the entire story to be recalled at a glance, producing a rich tapestry of associations” – emphasis mine in both cases).

Family trees as a subset of other kinds of trees in Tolkien’s work seems to me a weaker approach, despite Fisher’s reference to Tolkien’s remark on the “Tree of Tales” in On Fairy-stories.  On the other hand, Tom Shippey has attempted a similar metaphor, but between philological roots and the mountain roots sought by Gollum, in his article “History in Words: Tolkien’s Ruling Passion” from the Blackwelder collection, so perhaps it’s not such a stretch.

Finally, Fisher’s closing notes on the changes to the family trees from drafts through several reprintings of LotR are clear, and necessary, but not particularly interesting.  He might have noted how Tolkien even used gaps in the genealogies as a jumping-off point to invent further stories: Pearl Took – murderer for hire?  And when Fisher notes how family trees indicate that “Merry never had any children”, he misses the passage in Tolkien’s “Tale of Years” that says that Merry and Pippin, on retirement, “handed over their goods and offices to their sons”.  Is that inconsistency a slip by Tolkien, or intended by him to demonstrate a confused scribal tradition?

 

Fan Art - Kristi Lee

Comments by squire, April 17, 2007

This brief article focuses on the history of fan art with an emphasis on its growth in quantity and accessibility in recent years, due to the development of the internet and the visual stimulation provided by the New Line films of The Lord of the Rings. The result is workmanlike but very limited in scope, even given the tight word count.

It is of course a difficult topic involving taste, but Lee does not address at all the thorny question of artistic quality and fidelity to the source, and the difference between fan art and the work of what she calls "official Tolkien illustrators". In other words: is some fan art better than other fan art? Likewise unaddressed here is what aspects and parts of Tolkien's fiction get the most attention from fan artists (for instance, the The Lord of the Rings compared to The Silmarillion, or characters and action scenes compared to landscapes and locations), and the relationship between Tolkien fan art and the much larger world of fantasy/sci fi/comic book fan art and illustration.

Finally, looking ahead to the next two articles ("Fan Fiction" and "Fandom"), one can foresee a train wreck of overlapping discussions of the nature of fans and their obsessiveness; but Lee does not give much analysis of why fan art has been produced in such quantity and why Tolkien's words, compared perhaps to other writers, inspires fans to respond so viscerally and visually. Finally, I think it is always valuable in thinking about fan art to compare Tolkien's theoretical distaste for illustrated fantasy as expressed in "On Fairy-Stories", to his own urge to illustrate his imaginative world, and his stated ambition at one time to have other artists fill out and complete the mythical world he had begun.

The See also is good, and Lee provides some very interesting references in 'Further Reading', though few seem to be sources for seeing some fan art itself. I don't know if it would be appropriate to have put it in the Encyclopedia, but the Rolozo web site is a well-known clearinghouse for internet-posted images, and the long-running line of annual J. R. R. Tolkien Calendars was a source for fan art (or was it "official illustration"?) as far back as the 1970s.

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

An article on “Artists and Illustrators of Tolkien’s Works” was listed in the Encyclopedia’s pre-publication set of articles, but was apparently replaced by this entry of narrower scope.  Too bad, for a heading of “official Tolkien illustrators” would have allowed Lee to note Tolkien’s own response to several artists, including Ted Nasmith, on whose version of “An Unexpected Party” Tolkien commented (see Nasmith’s article in Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages); Cor Blok, two of whose LotR paintings Tolkien purchased; and of course Pauline Baynes, whose work Tolkien called a “collateral theme” for Farmer Giles of Ham.  Instead they number among the many missing: the only artists mentioned by name here are two filmmakers, Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson.

 

Fan Fiction - Amy H. Sturgis

Comments by squire, April 18, 2007

It's no little feat to summarize the physically immense world of Tolkien fan fiction for a fairly short Encyclopedia article. Sturgis crisply recounts the historical progress of the phenomenon from the 1960s (she does not mention Tolkien's anger at its appearance), and she defines the various sub-genres and where to find them. Her emphasis on the internet's capability for allowing fan fiction to be "experienced at every stage of its production", and her hints about RPG's and MUSH's turning traditional literary fan fiction into interactively experienced virtual dramas, suggest the kind of depth of interest that is inherent in this subject.

What is lacking is any sense of critical distance or perspective; Sturgis takes the entire subject for granted. Perhaps that is inevitable, since it is probably impossible to acquire an expertise in fan fiction without reading so much of it that it assumes a kind of relative normalcy in the critic's mind. Yet many Tolkien fans are not interested in fan fiction at all or are even repelled by its presumption; and from the external point of view of non-fans, it must appear to be a fairly ... devoted behavior, along the lines of dressing up as Hobbits or composing in Elvish. Sturgis characterizes fan fiction writers early on as feeling "an ongoing literary impulse to contribute to the landscape of Middle-earth" and never returns to motivation or characterization again.

Without meaning to be disrespectful of what is obviously a fairly innocent source of enjoyment to thousands, I wish Sturgis had found space to ask more questions, and possibly answer them by referring to the critical literature. Here are some that I have wondered about, that the article does not address:

  • Why is fan art (see previous article) almost always purely illustrative of the canonical stories, while fan fiction takes any number of liberties with them?

  • Why is fan fiction predominantly written by women?

  • Why are same-sex relationships primarily imagined as being between male characters (most slash) while opposite-sex relationships involve the writer as a female protagonist from outside the story (most Mary Sue stories) -- and how does this relate to the writers' perceptions of Tolkien's own attitudes about sex and characterization in epic fantasy romance?

  • What other types of community writing absorb so much creative energy with so little expectation of being published or widely read?

  • Which types of authors or imaginary universes typically generate fan fiction, and which do not?

  • Sturgis refers to Jenkins and Bacon-Smith for theories of fan fiction, both of whose works by their titles seem to focus on popular television-centered cultures - how and why does the Tolkien case fit in that model, before and after the release of the New Line films?

Sturgis gives a really excellent 'Further Reading' list, including her own article in Tolkien on Film, of which this article is largely a skillful condensation.

 

Fandom - Anthony Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by squire, April 19, 2007

This article is better than it reads. Burdge and Burke's style, casual or naive when it is not awkward or hyperbolical, unfortunately detracts from what is a pretty comprehensive and well-researched review of the history and present state of Tolkien "fandom". However, this problem of tone also manifests itself in a focus on the most stereotypical aspects of the Tolkien fan phenomenon.

In the authors' favor is a generous word count: this is among the top dozen longest articles in the Encyclopedia. With that kind of breathing room, they can bring to life the image of Tolkien "wasting his time" in the 1950s replying letter by letter to his early fans, a generous effort which repaid him when it came time to appeal to his U.S. readers to buy the authorized Ballantine paperback rather than the cheap and popular pirated Ace edition. Similarly the account of the early fanzines and fan societies of the 1960s and 1970s feels comprehensive, though it admittedly focuses on the United States.

However, even with all the room in the world, the introductory section about the current subdivisions of Tolkien fans must seem as opaque to an "outside" reader as any list of the Elvish clans in The Silmarillion: e.g., Ringers, canon freaks, purists, fangurls, swooners, "Legomaniacs"! It's a noble effort, to be sure; as a fan with some internet experience, I found many of their statements to be intuitively right-sounding. I would have preferred documentation to intuition.

In fact, this is one of the sections where the sense of undocumented drama gets out of hand. The doom-laden assertions of "hostility" and "strife" between fan factions seem overblown. There are too many "groups" here with rigidly defined behavior, too many flat statements of fact about the "fan community" that other fans might contest. (For instance, as a TheOneRing.net regular with an "entire bookshelf devoted to works of and on Tolkien" who "admires the films as well", I myself might well fit their term "Ringer" did I not loathe the word, the associated video, and all their connotations of clannishness, group solidarity, and vague nuttiness.)

Can it be that the entire subject is too large and amorphous for any really meaningful quantification? The authors might have started by specifying just what "fans" are, and how they have interacted to form the communities that constitute "fandom", through sites, boards, lists, chatrooms, multiplayer games, cons, moots and even line parties. Even more importantly, I wish they had acknowledged that a "fandom" of this scope is hardly unique to Tolkien, so that the following sociological details could be placed in a larger and perhaps more objective critical context. And they barely touch on the fascinating topic of how this entire phenomenon has become increasingly commercialized, to the point where New Line has been lauded by the media for its understanding of and manipulation of the Tolkien fan community during the production and promotion of the Jackson film trilogy.

The closing section starts well by citing Helms's classification of three quite different types of fan interest and activity, but then focuses exclusively on the third category, the "elaborationists". This is particularly unfortunate, since there are three separate articles on "Fan Art", "Fan Fiction" and "Gaming" to cover just this category. Since the 'See also' does not list the first two articles, the question comes up again of how much editorial control was exercised over the contributors. And despite the generous word count, Burdge and Burke never return to follow Helms's lead and explore the intersections between Tolkien fans and Tolkien scholars, or between the fans who prefer literary analysis and those who have turned "Middle-earth studies" into a large internet and publishing phenomenon.

Overall, as with the two earlier articles on fan topics, there is a lack of critical self-awareness here. The Tolkien "fandom" and the impact it has had on the popular perception of his fantasy books as a "cult" phenomenon, is a major and mostly negative factor in serious Tolkien studies. It's even possible to argue that this Encyclopedia was partly meant to overcome this perception by documenting in a standard popular reference work the full range of ways available to approach critically Tolkien and his works. For all of their good research (the 'Further Reading' here looks excellent) and well-organized presentations, these articles still tend to reinforce the image of Tolkien fans as people who are somehow separate from, and unable to learn from, Tolkien scholars.

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

I would like to expand on squire’s observation that this article suffers because “fan” is never defined, and because fan activity is not differentiated from the response to Tolkien’s works by either the general readership or the professionals.  One example of this muddiness comes in Burdge and Burke’s section on artists inspired by Tolkien, where they write that Pauline Baynes “was perhaps the first Tolkien fan artist.”  Perhaps not: the color plates in The Annotated Hobbit (2002 edition) show a 1946 letter to Tolkien from the German artist Horus Engels, which includes some unsolicited, vivid images of Gandalf, Bilbo, Gollum, and the trolls.  This was two years before Baynes’ first Tolkien commission, to illustrate Farmer Giles of Ham.  More importantly: since Baynes, a professional artist, was hired with Tolkien’s approval as the official illustrator of that work, and also The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Smith of Wootton Major, in what sense is she a “fan artist”, any more than Susan Dagnall or C.A. Furth of Allen & Unwin were “fan editors”?

Why does this article devote two columns to fanfiction and fan art, anyway?  As squire has mentioned, there are separate articles on both subjects, and by giving so much attention to these “elaborationist” responses to Tolkien, Burdge and Burke fail to address the two other fan approaches that they identify.  Their three-part scheme derives from Philip Helms’ 1977 article, “The Evolution of Tolkien Fandom”, where Helms described the other two responses as first, “the analysis of the works as literature”, and second, “the linguistic and cultural studies dealing with Middle-earth as a real world with a real history” (A Tolkien Treasury, p. 108).  In today’s terms, those approaches would be called “Tolkien Studies” and “Middle-earth Studies”, respectively.  Curiously, Helms’ one example for both of these categories was Robert Foster’s Guide to Middle-earth, a book so useful as to have been cited by Christopher Tolkien himself in the History of Middle-earth series, but also a work devoted strictly to organizing information from within J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginary world.  That overlap suggests to me that this article might have been the right place for some comments on the very concept of Middle-earth Studies, which goes unexamined in the encyclopedia.

Failing that, at least Burdge and Burke could have questioned Helms’ assumptions: asking, for instance, if he was correct to include linguistic studies among the works that respond to Middle-earth’s history as if it were real (“sometimes”, I think, is the answer).  Or they might have commented on more recent examples of the approaches Helms identified, to see if his model holds, thirty years later: where do the “canon freaks”, “Hobbitophiles” and other sects identified by Burdge and Burke fall?  They also should have addressed the status of fan scholarship.  Respected publications like the Reader’s Companion of Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull make use of earlier work in fanzines, and of the 1980s reports of a fan discussion group, Rómenna.  More than 35 of the Encyclopedia’s 128 contributors have no institutional affiliation; a dozen of them are participants in the Reading Room discussion forum at TheOneRing.net website.  And Burdge and Burke themselves are co-chairs of a fan organization.

Ignoring several other problems with this article, I also wish that Burdge and Burke had given a little attention to Tolkien fandom predating The Lord of the Rings, such as the anonymous reader nicknamed “Habit” whose 1938 comments in the Observer spurred a lengthy reply by Tolkien; or Arthur Ransome, who wrote to Tolkien calling himself a “humble hobbit-fancier”; or the twelve-year-old boy whose 1944 letter requesting more books like The Hobbit, which he’d read eleven times, led Tolkien to write, “What thousands of grains of good human corn must fall on barren stony ground, if such a very small drop of water should be so intoxicating!”

 

Faramir - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, March 4, 2007

There's a bit more to Faramir than the basic information in this article. Thomas is accurate, and cites his examples to a T. But aside from the smart inclusion of Tolkien's own character analyses from the Appendices and Letters, and a few odd comparisons with other characters from the book, there is no real literary appreciation here of the role Faramir plays in the story.

For instance, Thomas neglects to note the important structural parallels between Eomer and Faramir in Books III and IV, between Strider and Faramir in Books I and IV, and between Aragorn and Faramir, and Eowyn and Faramir, in Books V and VI. And merely citing Tolkien's famous quote about discovering an unwanted Faramir "walking into the woods of Ithilien" begs the question of why, if he did not want him, Tolkien kept him? In fact, Faramir is discussed in probably every major critical consideration of LotR, and I expected Thomas to spend more time reviewing that critical reception and less on proving with quotations that Tolkien understood his own creation.

It is too bad Thomas does not list in "Further Reading" the HoME volume that covers Faramir's invention, because the article on The War of the Ring both cross-references this "Faramir" article and gives a good evaluation of the nascent Faramir.

 

Farmer Giles - Gene Hargrove

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

This entry on the character of Giles should have been coordinated with Janet Croft’s entry on the story, Farmer Giles of Ham, and suffers by comparison.  Hargrove devotes too much space to comments on the plot, humor, philology and setting of the tale.  Comments on Farmer Giles himself are largely restricted to the portrayal of his courage in contrast to the story’s other characters.   Here Hargrove makes a useful connection to Tolkien’s comments concerning The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm’s Son, but where are the red-bearded farmer from On Fairy-stories, or comparisons to hobbits (as in Croft), or Tom Shippey’s comments on Giles’s luck, or indeed any other scholar’s thoughts on this memorable character?

 

Farmer Giles of Ham - Janet Brennan Croft

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

This is a fine article, and Croft does very well explaining the story’s development; describing its form, plot, characters, and style; noting connections to Tolkien’s other fiction and to medieval sources; and briefly surveying a few critical treatments, including an interesting suggestion by John Rateliff regarding the story’s calendar.

There are two minor flaws in Croft’s entry: she oversimplifies when she writes that the king’s knights “turn tail and run at the sight of the dragon” – some of them are killed, and Tolkien writes of the others that “their steeds took charge of them, and turned round and fled, carrying their masters off”, though he does add that this was to the liking of most of the knights.  Also, the significant river in the story is not the Thames but its tributary, the Thame.

 

Father Christmas Letters - Rachel Kapelle

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

Kapelle’s article contains much that is valuable, as she integrates a lot of earlier scholarship into her well-rounded survey of Letters, including notes on the work’s illustrations, literary style, characterizations, and sources, and also comparisons with Tolkien’s other writing and an interesting side note on the intrusion of World War II into the later letters.

However, there are some awkward points in her prose, and this omission: Baillie Tolkien goes unmentioned in both the text and “See also” list of Kapelle’s entry. This is a shame, because the entry on Tolkien’s daughter-in-law, who edited Letters from Father Christmas, includes good information on the collection’s publication and the relative worth of different editions, some of which contain more material than others.

 

Father Christmas - Jared Lobdell

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

As with Gene Hargrove’s article on Farmer Giles, Lobdell’s comments on Father Christmas are overshadowed by the companion article on the source of his character.  Lobdell’s is the more spectacular failure: he seems completely unaware that the Father Christmas Letters has its own entry, and never addresses the character of Father Christmas – thank goodness for Rachel Kapelle’s article on the book, which does include a few brief notes on the title figure.  Even approached as a study of the text, Lobdell’s article is far weaker than Kapelle’s: though he conveys his affection for the work and briefly notes its similarities to Mr. Bliss, most of the entry is a chronological listing of events from the letters that just doesn’t hold together.

 

Fëanor - Jason Fisher

Comments by N. E. Brigand, May 6, 2007

In several ways, Fisher’s article is a twin to Michael Drout’s entry on Finrod, sharing many of the strengths and weaknesses previously noted for that essay. 

  • Both articles, of about the same length, open with an acknowledgement of their subjects’ status as literary figures. 

  • Both then settle largely for a biographical presentation of the figures, with a few intelligent asides on matters of character: Finrod as exemplar of Elvish nobility, and Fëanor as epitome of Elvish creativity, marred by pride (Fisher rightly notes how Fëanor’s dual nature is indicated in his names).  

  • Drout works in a little more literary analysis, noting Finrod’s complicated textual history, for instance; but unlike Fisher he does not include a Further Reading list. 

  • Both entries make use of several History of Middle-earth volumes, and neither identifies which books are being referenced: readers won’t learn from Drout where the “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” is found (Morgoth’s Ring), and Fisher doesn’t tell them where to locate the Second Prophecy of Mandos that he quotes (The Lost Road).

  • But I think Fisher misses a trick by quoting that prophecy from The Lost Road rather than The War of the Jewels: in the later text, it’s Fëanor not Yavanna who breaks the Silmarils at the world’s end.  As I've just noted in the "Finrod" article, Drout also misses his mark in his use of the Silmarillion's sources.

All in all, a nearly matched set.

Comments by squire, May 7, 2007

Even more than Finrod, I believe Fëanor deserves the compliment of a close critical analysis, which Jason Fisher tends to avoid in favor of details of story biography. For one thing, Fëanor represents perhaps at its highest point Tolkien's tendency to make the Elves into supermen. Fëanor is a veritable superman among supermen. To what degree then is he believable as a character for, let's face it, real-world human readers? The answer comes from the few times we get to meet him as expressed through dialogue: e.g., his debate with Melkor, with his half-brother, his defiance of the Valar, his incitement of the Noldor. Fëanor's character is made or broken by these scenes, reader by reader, critic by critic.

Is he a hero, or a villain - a scion of Aulë, or of Melkor? This tension that Fëanor inaugurates, between making and possessing, resounds through the rest of the legendarium.

Also missing here is some acknowledgement of Fëanor as a mythical being. He is mentioned several times in The Lord of the Rings, ages after his death, for his near-divine power of craft and artistry. He takes on the role within the legendarium of such historical characters as Imhotep, Solomon, Confucius, Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar: men whose lifetimes of creativity and supreme personality earned them immortality and often deification. Only Daeron approaches his importance in Tolkien's mind as the universal artist of Middle-earth, a character no culture should be without. Have no critics written about Fëanor along these lines?

And what about his thing for Galadriel? Talk about gilding the lily: when Tolkien tried to retrofit the Lady into the Silmarillion, all he could come up with was that she was as great as, or even greater than, Fëanor, who by the way had tried to come on to her - thus making the Varda/Melkor simile complete, while losing huge points for originality of conception and characterization. Or gaining points for effective "doubling" and general mythological resonance. Take your pick.

 

Feminist Readings of Tolkien – Aline Ripley

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 11, 2007

In this excellent essay, Ripley adroitly deploys an impressive array of critical opinions on Tolkien’s representation of women in his works – on both sides of the argument. Ripley tells us where feminist criticism of Tolkien has been, where it is now, and where it might go next (with a nice connection to Tolkien’s academic work). For me, this is the very model of an entry for an Encyclopedia claiming a “Scholarship and Critical Assessment” subtitle. Obviously, the first-rate Further Reading complements this thorough, balanced report. One point I would make is that, so far as Jungian analysis of "animus/anima" is concerned, Timothy O’Neill’s The Individuated Hobbit (which Ripley does not cite) predates William Green’s essay (which she does) by almost twenty years.

If I could have wished for anything, it might have been a little bit more of Ripley’s own opinion here; with practically every statement accompanied by a citation, it’s hard to see where (or if) Ripley registers her own viewpoint. Though perhaps she needn’t do so explicitly. I also missed any mention of Erendis, a figure that no feminist interpretation of Tolkien should overlook.

 

Fictionality - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, December 11, 2006

I suspect this article is unnecessarily obscure, but I can't be sure since I've no education in the theory that Nagy is working from. Without questioning the validity of the topic, I wonder if some of his prose isn't overly convoluted. Gergely concludes, at three different places in his essay, that Tolkien's fictionality is 1) "debated", 2) "indecisive", and 3) "differentiated and problematic". Ok, I get it, already.

More specifically, I understood his reference to Flieger's argument about how Tolkien struggled to find a better frame for The Silmarillion than just calling it Bilbo's scholarship in The Lord of the Rings. I agree that Christopher Tolkien punted, in some sense, when in his edition of The Silmarillion (1977) he eliminated all of his father's ongoing attempts to present the tales in the Aelfwine frame.

But I raise an eyebrow at his characterization of Tolkien's term "secondary world" in "On Fairy-stories" as "simply" meaning "literary fiction" - I thought Tolkien was arguing that the fairy-story is a subset of all literary fiction because it creates a fantastic secondary world that is far more readily distinguishable from the primary world than standard realistic fiction's world is. Gergely seems here to contradict the definition of fantasy that he gives in the previous sentence.

Though well worth reading and pondering, I doubt that Nagy's article as written is especially helpful to a typical lay reader of the Encyclopedia.

 

Film Scripts, Unused – Patricia Tubbs

 

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 19, 2007

 

I found this essay fascinating. I knew a little bit about this – no more than Tolkien’s criticism in Letters of the treatment prepared by Zimmerman, et al. – but Tubbs deploys an impressive array of secondary sources on the subject. The writing is lucid, the points are well articulated and documented, the organization is clear, and the material is interesting and informative. I also appreciated very much that Tubbs restricted herself to the stated topic and resisted what might have been a strong temptation to digress to the Peter Jackson films. She simply points readers to that entry instead of encroaching on it herself.

 

I’m not really sure the 'See also' needed pointers to any of the Middle-earth characters, but they do no harm. “Rankin/Bass” should more correctly be “Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc.” The 'Primary Sources' was not needed, since Monsters and the Critics (or alternatively, Tree and Leaf) is defined in the Conventions and Abbreviations at the beginning of the Encyclopedia. But this is a small complaint; the entry is really first rate.

 

Finland: Literary Sources – Anne C. Petty

 

Comments by squire, March 12, 2007

The basics are certainly all here: what the Kalevala is, and how it influenced Tolkien in many ways, from his creation of Quenya with its strong Finnish influence, to his use of some of the Finnish folk epic's archetypes, characters, and even plot devices in his own fantasy fiction. What's both nice and rare about the Kalevala in Tolkien studies, is that he actually acknowledged its influence!

What missing is a kind of exactitude. Petty repeats herself constantly on the contents of the Kalevala, yet fails to give accurate examples for Tolkien's various use of those constants.

For instance, she starts a point by saying that Tolkien's poetry evokes the natural magicality of oral folk song so common in the Kalevala, then gives examples from The Silmarillion (Lúthien's songs in Angband and Valinor, Yavanna's songs of the first spring and of the Two Trees) that Tolkien never wrote out in verse, but merely described in prose. Her third example, the singing contest of Finrod and Sauron, is one of the few verses in The Silmarillion, but in that book it is merely an excerpt from the Lay of Leithian, later published in HoME III; furthermore, the Lay's poetry is not the song contest itself, but a later recounting  of the song contest in couplets. To take Petty's examples, one would conclude that Tolkien shrank from the challenge she congratulates him on meeting! But Tolkien could do it: as seen in Eärendil was a Mariner, Get out, you old Wight! or The world was young, the mountains green from The Lord of the Rings, among many others in that oral-poetry-filled book.

She attempts to show that Tolkien's landscapes in Middle-earth echo the Finnish ones in Kalevala. I think that is debatable, at least, since others would maintain that his landscapes are taken mostly from his own familiar England, or from more southern regions for the exotica. The literary landscape "of both Lonnrot and Tolkien" is, at most, generic northern European, not Finnish.

Her claim that the framing device of the bard who collects a body of legend for retelling can be seen in Tolkien is certainly correct, but not in the ways she cites. The Silmarillion legends always had such a device, inspired by Lonnrot as much as any other figure in folklore studies, but it was carefully excised from the published Silmarillion. It's not even clear what she is referring to with her example here of Unfinished Tales -- she cannot mean Christopher Tolkien? And the framing device of The Lord of the Rings is anything but central to a reading of it, indeed the entire Red Book conceit seems quite tacked on after its completion.

Not to be too negative in summary, though: however much this article could have been tightened up and trimmed along the lines of my criticism, it does, as I said, give the reader a good basic treatment of the Tolkien-Kalevala connections; and Petty's Further Reading and cross references are extensive and well done. It's a shame the ending is so abrupt; surely there was meant to be a brief conclusion or summation of some kind?

One last question might be: the title says "Literary Sources", yet only the Kalevala is mentioned. Why not call the article "Kalevala"?

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 13, 2007

 

In addition to the issues and questions squire raised, a couple of small points:

  • In the section “Influence on Language”, Petty provides a quote clearly from Garth, but cites it parenthetically as from Tolkien’s Letters – something that should have been caught and corrected during editing.

  • I would think Tolkien’s watercolor “The Land of Pohja” could have been mentioned; Scull and Hammond have pointed out that the painting is sort of a visual bridge to Tolkien’s conception of the Destruction of the Two Trees and the Darkening of Valinor.

 

Finland: Reception of Tolkien - Kanerva Heikkinen

Comments by squire, July 17, 2007

There is a lot of fascinating material here, and even more fascinating hints that I wish Heikkinen could have gone into more thoroughly. The variety and balance of the subjects treated places it in the top ranks of the many "Reception of..." articles.

The discussion of the timing and impact of various translations into Finnish is good, with a reminder that English-speaking Finns were reading Tolkien long before the first translations came out in the 1970s. Also of note is that the primary translator, Kersti Juva, is a well known figure among Finnish Tolkienists. The complete chronological list of Finnish translations at the end of the article is well worth reviewing, for it shows how completely Mr. Juva has dominated the field; but there we find other translators too. I was fascinated to see that Panu Pekkanen, translator of Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham, collaborated with Juva on the major Tolkien works by doing the poems only! Finally Heikkinen takes the time to credit Juva, Pekkanen, et. al. with establishing so "standard" a Tolkien vocabulary in Finnish, that the subtitles of the recent New Line films "rely heavily" on them.

Properly, the review of fan and scholarly activities shows how the Finns take especial interest in the parts of Tolkien's creations that drew from Finnish culture and language. I wish Heikkinen had had space for an example or two of the resulting scholarly feedback, to counteract the dismay I felt on reading that the secondary literature translated from English is mostly the undependable work of David Day. I also wish that Heikkinen had gone a little further into the relationship between Swedish and Finnish receptions of Tolkien, since there are several mentions here of this interaction that the English-speaking world may be quite ignorant of.

There is a fine summary of the theatrical and musical adaptations of Tolkien that Finland has produced. I missed mention of Värttinä, the Finnish band that collaborated on the new LotR big-budget stage musical, as mentioned in the article "Dramatizations: Stage and Spoken", and the heavy metal band Nightwish, as per the "Popular Music" article. Here, as so often, a lack of complete cross-references weakens the Encyclopedia.

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

Heikkinen’s suggestion that “the English and the Finnish worlds of Tolkien meet” in the Finnish presentation of Peter Jackson’s LotR films is alarming – are the Finnish subtitles thus truer to Tolkien than the English dialogue onscreen?

And I wonder what is the literal meaning of “Lohikäärmevuori”, the title that was given to the Finnish translation of The Hobbit?

 

Finn and Hengest - Thomas Honegger

Comments by squire, June 15, 2007

It really is rewarding to read all these articles on Tolkien's professional work. As usual, I knew almost nothing about the legend of Finn and Hengest, or Tolkien's study of it, before reading this article. Honegger's treatment is clear in most parts, from his recounting of the textual background to the legend and the story itself, to how Tolkien's notes on it finally reached print, and even how the story was projected into his legendarium via the connection of Hengest with the legendary Anglo-Saxon settlement of England.

Most parts, as I said. What left me confused (sorry, Medievalists!) was just who was attacking Hnaef's and Hengest's men; evidently it was Finn, because Hengest finally kills Finn in revenge, but the answer seems so inconsistent with the rules of family, of hospitality, and of plot (why wait months for revenge? why does Hildeburh forsake her husband's memory and return to Denmark?). Likewise, I remain confused as to how serious Tolkien was in identifying his Ælfwine, recorder of the Lost Tales/Quenta Silmarillion, with the story of Hengest and Horsa as the founders of England.

If I remember, the same story was parodized in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings, with two Hobbits identifiable with Hengest and Horsa crossing the Brandywine (i.e. North Sea) to found the Shire. Surely Tolkien never intended both stories to be included in the legendarium, and since LotR soon was in print, that must indicate that Ælfwine's sons would not have been included in a final Silmarillion.

If I've understood this problem (and I'm ready to be corrected), Honegger's conclusion is a bit too pat. Tolkien's intentions to use Hengest as part of the frame for his Elvish stories in the late 1920s, which I suppose is not coincidentally the time when he developed the lectures that are the subject of this article, cannot really be regarded as final in the way that Honegger implies.

 

Finnish Language - Richard C. West

Comments by squire, May 24, 2007

This is good, but too short. Although some of the "Language" articles have had to stretch to establish a Tolkien connection, it's pretty commonly known that Finnish had a strong and important influence on Tolkien's Elvish language Quenya. Given that fact, an assignment of less than 400 words to this topic is just ridiculous.

West does what he can. He sums up Tolkien's self-taught knowledge of the language. He then offers us a fascinating example of how Finnish grammar is strongly expressed by single word formations (the "morphology" of grammar), and shows how Tolkien adapted this feature in Quenya. But West leaves the degree to which Tolkien borrowed actual vocabulary unclear; and he frustratingly skips the sound similarities between Quenya and Finnish by simply noting "a similarity in phonology".

The final paragraph is oddly out of tune with the details of the subject -- because West is trying to cram in an overview of Finnish literature as it relates to Tolkien. Evidently he was unaware of the Encyclopedia's usual practice of having a parallel article on the literature for each language it covers. In this case "Finland: Literary Sources" should have been referred to, which would have left him some valuable space for more information on Finnish.

In his 'See also' section, not only that article, but "Finland: Reception of" is missing, as well as Hostetter's very valuable articles on Quenya and Elvish in general. 'Further Reading' is short but solid.

 

Finrod – Michael D.C. Drout

 

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 14, 2007

While the entry offers a good summary of Finrod’s career, as it were, it suffers somewhat from a Middle-earth Studies approach, in which Finrod is discussed as if he were a real person – rather like an entry in Robert Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-earth, though superior. Drout does broach the complex textual history of the character (and alludes to the “House of Finrod” problem in LotR), but I felt he could have said more about it. Also, I would have expected at least a brief reference to The Lay of Leithian, in which Finrod plays a significant part. Come to that, “contest of song” is a bit too terse for what is, after all, one of not terribly many explicit examples of “Elvish magic.” So, too, “the arts of Felagund [by which] their own forms and faces were changed into the likeness of Orcs.” Worth mentioning.

Also, more could have been said about Finrod’s first encounter with Man. To me, it is a beautiful linguistic touch (so typical of Tolkien) that the People of Bëor name him Nóm (“wisdom”), and name all his kindred Nómin (“the Wise”). As readers of the Lost Tales know, the Noldor (which name also means “the Wise”) were originally called gnomes. The English word “gnome”, Tolkien reminds us, comes from the Greek and means “thought, intelligence”, and therefore suggests the same meaning as his own Elvish and Mannish words. And the icing on the cake is the fact that “gnome” and “Nóm” are deliberate homophones, whispering the suggestion of a feigned linguistic evolution from Tolkien’s prehistoric Mannish word to the Greek and finally to the English. This creative / linguistic process is so typical of and unique to Tolkien – and this (to me) is one of the very best examples of it.

The fact that there’s no Further Reading is a pity, although I can’t think of very much specific to Finrod (other than ubiquitously cited works by Shippey, Flieger, etc.) that Drout ought to have included. But I would have added Galadriel to the See Also references.

Full disclosure: At Drout's request, I fact-checked three of his own entries during the preparation of the Encyclopedia, including "Finrod"; however, my sole contribution to this entry was the correction of two typographical errors. No part whatsoever of the content is my work.

Comments by squire, February 15, 2007

I don't agree with Jason Fisher that Drout's recounting of Finrod's career is unduly immersed in the fiction; the very first sentence places him as a character in The Silmarillion. It does seem strange for that lead to identify Finrod as Galadriel's brother, since that is both a late and an uncertain addition to the Finrod tradition. And the change in tense at the third paragraph is offputting.

What I mostly notice is the difficulty of abbreviating the complexities of The Silmarillion for relatively inexperienced readers. Drout's summary, though correct and competent, nevertheless must leave some readers' heads spinning with its dizzying array of strange names. Certainly it would have been prudent to specify that the Minas Tirith named here is not the Minas Tirith! A highlighting of how Finrod's life echoes themes seen elsewhere in Tolkien, such as royal renunciation in favor of personal duty, might have been a more useful approach.

The final paragraph, a review of the changing names of Finrod in earlier draft legends, is of doubtful use; I remain baffled by Drout's closing comment that Gildor Inglorion who Frodo meets in Fellowship had that name from the beginning. In its place I wonder if a more thorough analysis of Finrod's role in the legendarium, as the advocate and friend of Men, compared to other leaders and races of Elves, might not have been a better ending.

Comments by N. E. Brigand, May 6, 2007

A small note that came up while reading Jason Fisher's somewhat parallel article on Fëanor: Drout is working from text invented by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Kay for The Silmarillion when he writes that the Nauglamir was created for Finrod by the dwarves. In Tolkien’s own unfinished writings that necklace is made for Thingol from the cursed gold of Nargothrond.

 

Finwë and Míriel - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, June 4, 2007

The question of which characters from Tolkien's fiction should get their own article in the Encyclopedia must have been thorny. In the end, only six or seven of the many noble or royal Elves from the "Quenta Silmarillion" seem to have made the cut. Since Finwë and Míriel are included in this select company, and as a couple, it is important to give the reader the best possible sense of their importance both within and without the story they are part of.

Dickerson achieves the first but misses the second goal. He gives an adequate background for the two in the space he has, and recounts the consequences of Míriel's bearing of her supremely gifted son Fëanor: she dies, exhausted in spirit, and Finwë remarries, which leads to strife between his first and later sons by different mothers. Dickerson concludes by speculating that the point of the story is that Morgoth had introduced despair into the Eldar as early as their birth at Cuivienen, so that Míriel was his victim years later; he is less successful at explaining Finwë's sin, noting only that the writers of the Silmarillion conclude that he should have "endured his loss and been content with" Fëanor as a son; had he not remarried, the great tragedy of the Elves that was to come might have been averted.

So what's missing? Well, seen as characters from an author's point of view, the tale of Finwë and Míriel is just as interesting. Tolkien early on had invented a clever and seemingly surefire story to explain the origins of the fall of Fëanor, and the Kinslaying, and the entire subsequent exile and exodus to Middle-earth and the War of the Jewels: a story involving a widower king remarrying, and the jealousy of the resulting half-brothers leading to civil war, a story that has deep roots in real-life legendary narratives.

It seems to have taken him some time to realize that this story works better in tales of mortal folk than in a myth about a race of immortal Elves, among whom there are precious few widowers! Worse, his own sense of ideal marital relations dictated that his Elves marry only once and stay faithful forever; while he also began to think while writing The Lord of the Rings that if Elves could die or be killed at all (as any decent war epic demands), as immortals they should be able to reincarnate and return to life (a train of thought following from his 're-use' of Glorfindel). So any widowers that might exist had only to wait awhile for their wives to return, making remarriage, and jealous half-brothers, an impossibility!

After finishing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien faced up to this and began to struggle with the terrific implications of using the narrative commonplaces of mortal-based legends to generate a believable myth about immortals. The paradox of Finwë and Míriel was at the heart of the problem, since the entire story of the Silmarillion depended on Míriel's death without reincarnation and Finwë's impossible remarriage.

The conclusion of any article on Finwë and Míriel should properly give pride of place to the colossal smash-up that Tolkien presided over while revising The Silmarillion for publication after finishing The Lord of the Rings. In an attempt to make logical sense of their story, he rewrote their chapter several times and composed the fascinating "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" and the "Debate of the Valar" to justify his solution, which occupy a substantial section of HoME X, Morgoth's Ring. These essays bring to life entirely new aspects of his secondary world, and all thanks to Finwë and Míriel, whose presence in the Encyclopedia is quite justifiable on this ground alone.

Although several of his references show that he was well aware of this aspect of the story-history, Dickerson does not touch any of this in his article. But I think he should have, even at the expense of compressing his plot summary radically, because of the light it sheds on the nature of Tolkien's creativity and on the contradictions within the Silmarillion stories that the published version was forced to paper over in the interests of a superficial narrative consistency.

 

Folklore - Anne C. Petty

Comments by squire, November 15, 2006

A pretty straightforward article but dull and limited in scope. In her opening, Petty cites Briggs' interesting division of folklore into two groups, folk tales and folk legends, but then does not really apply this within her essay to analyze Tolkien's creative and derivative methods.

Still, she gives copious and very valuable references to the various folkloric sources that Tolkien was familiar with and that might be investigated as "sources" for his fiction, with some references to specific incidents in the stories. It is unfortunately noticeable how many of these are to dragons and dragon-lore which is her personal specialty. The quoted citation from her own book on fantasy dragons is the uncalled-for result of this trend. One would not like to think this was the extent of her expertise with Tolkien and folklore...

As comprehensive as it is, I think that she could have radically reduced her in-text bibiography, moving it to her "further reading" list, so that she might have had the space to go over Tolkien's own invention and use of folklore within his secondary world, which she pretty much ignores.

Given her obviously limited word count, it seems unfair to chide her for neglecting to review the Tolkien-studies scholarship on this subject. Still, that was supposed to be the point of this book.

Comments by N. E. Brigand, November 20, 2006

"Folklore": That is weird how Petty sticks almost entirely to dragons. Maybe she was miffed that the "Dragons" article went to Jonathan Evans. Granted she seems constrained by the word count (but who wasn't) still I would have preferred more on how folklore theory applies to Tolkien. The first sentence of her fourth paragraph, where she quotes Michael Drout listing three important folktale collectors, is a total waste and suggests to me that she didn't feel comfortable enough about her subject to discuss those collectors' work without a scholarly introduction. Which is odd, given that she wrote a long entry –"Finland: Literary Sources" – that is mostly about one of those people.

 

Food - Thomas Honegger

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 15, 2007

Honegger identifies an interesting opposition in The Lord of the Rings: meals are frequently mentioned, but the details of agriculture, meal preparation, and indeed of the specific foods the characters consume are largely scanted in favor of generic descriptions (“the parting feast was held; but Frodo ate and drank little”).  The regular mention of food, in Honegger’s view, is a function of the story’s day-to-day realism – he doesn’t say so, but this contrasts with the more distanced tone of the “Silmarillion” stories, where meals are infrequently noted.  Hobbit-cooking is allowed as an exception, though there are more hints in the text of other cultures’ food production and habits than Honegger recognizes: for example, it’s not just the “pleasant valleys of Lossarnach that are likely” to supply Gondor’s food, as he says, but also the “wide tilth and many orchards …. oast and garner, fold and byre” that Tolkien describes on the Pelennor.  Honegger’s best points on this subject concern the Elves, and how Tolkien’s way of presenting their meals relates to their “enchantment” and “otherworldliness”.

To this, Honegger adds sound comments on meals as a tool to vary the narrative; taste as indicative of the nature of different peoples or individuals, including Orcs, Ents, Gollum and Gríma; and the anachronistic appearance of the potato (though not the tomatoes from the first edition of The Hobbit).  He even works in a reference to “The Raw and the Cooked” by Claude Lévi-Strauss.

However, much is missing.  Honegger notes the hobbits’ preference for simple foods, but not that this represents Tolkien’s own taste.  Shelob is unmentioned, along with Sauron, who’ll “eat all the world” if he gets the Ring, according to Gollum.  Nor does Honegger note scenes of fasting and privation, like the meals the hobbits skip while the listening to Bombadil’s storytelling, Pippin’s frustration with the short rations at Minas Tirith, the hunger and thirst Frodo and Sam experience in Mordor, and the Shire shortage caused by Saruman’s “gatherers and sharers”.  Honegger’s bibliography does list Marjorie Burns’ chapter on food from Perilous Realms, where some of these ideas receive fuller discussion.

The Hobbit is conspicuously absent, apart from a reference to the Wood-elves’ wine, dismissed as a plot device (Honegger identifies this as the only indicator of Elvish tastes, forgetting at least the “roast meats” at the Wood-elves’ feasts).  Food and eating are regular themes in The Hobbit, from the dwarves’ raid on Bilbo’s larders in the unexpected party, to the trolls’ fatal debate on the best way to cook the dwarves, to Smaug’s pony repast.  I think Tom Shippey first noted that the amusing contract Bilbo receives from Thorin, which specifies that the dwarves will cover Bilbo’s funeral expenses if “the matter is not otherwise arranged for”, means that no funeral will be necessary if Bilbo is eaten!

Honegger also skips Tolkien’s use of food outside of the Middle-earth tales, including the nourishing tonics in “Leaf by Niggle”, the Cook and Great Cake in Smith of Wootton Major, the piggish Dorkinses and voracious Girabbit in Mr. Bliss, and the dragon’s tail and stringy parson in Farmer Giles of Ham.

Finally, I don’t think that tobacco and smoking, a significant motif in The Hobbit and LotR, ever receive a proper consideration in the encyclopedia.  If the subject couldn’t be covered in a separate article, perhaps this entry should have been expanded as “Food, Drink, and Pipeweed”.  (Recently I learned that in Milton’s time and before, people were said to “drink” tobacco where today the word “smoke” or “inhale” would be used. The idea of “drinking smoke”, predating the appearance of tobacco in Europe, dates to Anglo-Saxon times.)

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 17, 2007

From the Prologue of LotR: "There is another astonishing thing about Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of a herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf ..."

Of course, imbibe literally means "drink" (< Latin bibere "to drink"), so N.E. Brigand's suggestion of combining these topics gains strength from Tolkien's own words.

 

Fortune and Fate - Katherine E. Dubs

Comments by squire, December 21, 2006

This is one of those articles whose erudition runs away with it before it can engage with J. R. R. Tolkien.

Dubs explains in scholarly detail the Classical and Anglo-Saxon roots of the ideas of Fate - preordained destiny; and Fortune - luck or chance. Having so expended her entire word count, she sums up Tolkien in the smallest nutshell ever: "In The Lord of the RIngs, as in Boethius' work, there is no role for chance, but there is a role for fate."

It is exactly to what degree this is true, that should be the focus of this article.

Tolkien practically owns the phrase "if chance you call it". With it, he famously allows his reader to imagine that chance rules the events of his epic, while throwing his authorial vote (as one among many) towards the underplayed suggestion than fate is actually in charge of the War of the RIng. But as Paul Kocher and no doubt many others have commented, if the reader believes there is no role for chance in the book, there is no suspense or enjoyment either.

Nor is it wise to ignore the Silmarillion in this regard, as she does. The entire subject, as it relates to Tolkien, is a complex and important one in evaluating his fiction and the worldview that is Middle-earth, and it's a shame Dubs ignores it in favor of a boilerplate summary of the abstract concepts.

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

Dubs’ short opening and closing paragraphs, which directly address fortune and fate in Tolkien’s fiction, frame 500 words in which Tolkien and his works are mentioned only twice (in passing).  The addition of a Further Reading list, which this entry lacks, would have allowed Dubs to refer readers to earlier work on the complicated history of “fate” and “fortune”, so that she could have focused her article on how those terms apply to Tolkien.

In her opening remarks, Dubs writes that “Middle-earth’s inhabitants are not captive to the whims of gods for success or failure”. While this may be true, she ought to have addressed such “Silmarillion” elements as the Music of the Ainur and Morgoth’s claim, in the Narn i hîn Húrin, to be “Master of the fates of Arda”.  Likewise when in closing she observes that “the task of the hero is to accept the decisions of that fate”, she ought to have noted Gandalf’s comments to Frodo: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. 

Between those remarks, Tom Shippey’s absence is notable: his work is essential reading for anyone connecting Boethius’ ideas on chance to Tolkien (and Shippey applied those ideas to a range of Tolkien’s works, from LotR to The Hobbit to Farmer Giles of Ham).

 

"A Fourteenth-Century Romance" - Yvette Kisor

Comments by squire, March 29, 2007

I had never heard of this brief article, written for the 1953 BBC radio audience for Tolkien's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Kisor's summary is excellent, but she saves the best for last. Her analysis of the piece is that it emphasizes "Tolkien's identification with the nobility of fighting a losing battle."

Her examples of this, from Tolkien's discussion within his article of the 14th-century "fight" between the Midlands' Alliterative Revival and Chaucer's new poetry of rhyming English, to the fairy-tale's loss of an adult audience over the centuries, to Galadriel's "long defeat", really captured me. Kisor makes a connection about Tolkien's temperament, as opposed to his artistic taste, that I for one have never seen articulated before. It seems to me to tie in as well to his life-long "lit/lang" struggle at Oxford, as recounted in his Valedictory.

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

Tolkien publicly presented three different commentaries on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in 1953, the year his modern English translation was broadcast on the BBC. 

First, this five-paragraph introduction for the Radio Times, which apparently has never been republished.  Second, a longer talk that Tolkien delivered on the BBC in conjunction with the broadcast; in a “slightly reduced form” of eleven paragraphs, that appears in the introduction to Tolkien’s translations of Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, first published in 1975.  Third, the W.P. Ker Lecture on Gawain that Tolkien delivered some eight months earlier, running to 36 pages as first published in 1983, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

That long study, which Tom Shippey calls “important” (in “Tolkien’s Academic Reputation Now”, Amon Hen #100) is mentioned only in passing in the Encyclopedia.  The broadcast introduction is the subject of just one sentence in Carl Phelpstead’s article on the 1975 translations.  But this essay, the shortest of the trio, gets some 500 excellent words from Kisor.

 

Frame Narrative - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, February 15, 2007

This is masterful. Flieger cleverly identifies the recursive nature of the various frame-narrative devices that Tolkien imagined for his three major fantasy fiction pieces: "each text in its own peculiar way becomes a frame for the other two". I got a litte lost when she threw in The Notion Club Papers, which I've never finished; however by the end of that excursion all was clear again.

It is odd that she should finish by mentioning the preface to The Adventures of Tom Bombadil as a frame structure, and forget that Farmer Giles of Ham enjoys the same, though comically treated, device. The question becomes, which story did Tolkien not devise a frame narrative for? And what does that, in the end, say about Tolkien's approach to writing fiction?

Lastly, it cannot be false modesty that prevents Flieger from citing her two articles (at least) on this subject: "The Footsteps of Alfwine", in Tolkien's Legendarium (2000) and "'Do the Atlantis story and abandon Eriol-Saga'" in Tolkien Studies I (2004); but can it be true that no other critic has tackled this aspect of Tolkien's preferred mode of storytelling? Her sole citation of the entire History of Middle-earth (12 vols) is disingenuous and impractical to the average reader of the Encyclopedia, I'd guess.

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

Which story did Tolkien not devise a frame narrative for?

“Leaf by Niggle” and Smith of Wootton Major, if we set aside the epilogues within those stories that comment on the action, in the form of conversations, between the First and Second Voices, and between Alf and Nokes, respectively.  The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm’s Son, if we ignore the genuine scholarly apparatus, “Beorhtnoth’s Death” and “Ofermod”.  Mr. Bliss, not published during Tolkien’s lifetime.  (I haven’t read Roverandom.)

For all this article’s accomplishment (and length!) I wish it had addressed the question of why Tolkien used framing devices only sometimes, and what it means that the runic cover art that frames The Hobbit was such an afterthought, and likewise the “Note on the Shire Records” for The Lord of the Rings, which as Flieger observes, was added for the second edition.  Also: how “unique” is Tolkien’s use of frame narrative – and how does it compare to the “found manuscript” tradition – as in Hawthorne?  Or to the tale tellers in Conrad, the induction scene of The Taming of the Shrew, the narrator-protagonist of “The Tell-Tale Heart”?

 

France and French Culture - Gerald Seaman

Comments by squire, May 9, 2007

There's not much here. Seaman recounts the tales of Tolkien's anti-French prejudice from standard biographical sources, mixing the trivial (French food), the irrelevant (the battle of the Somme fought in France by the English against Germany), and the substantial (childish rants against the Norman conquest's impact on the English language, and the "near absence of French references in his creative works".) The last is the most interesting charge, and it would have been nice to hear Tolkien himself on that subject, not to mention any actual research that may have been done to substantiate the claim.

As for the matter of King Arthur, some word from Tolkien on the inauthenticity of England's Camelot myth would have been appropriate to stack against an account of the still-unpublished Arthurian poem that he embarked upon in the 1930s.

Also missing, I think, is the story of how Tolkien tried to champion his "native" West Midlands Middle English against the court-sanctioned, frenchified London English of Chaucer - but perhaps that story is reserved by Seaman for his parallel article on the "French Language", yet another duplicative effort from the Encyclopedia's editorial assignment bureau.

Since there's no way for Seaman to psychoanalyze Tolkien (witnessed a violent death on French soil = hates France? Not!), the general descriptions of his Francophobia blend meaninglessly into a common English parochial or nationalistic caricature. His specific philological prejudice about the Conquest, which is probably less typical of the English people, is romanticized by Seaman (following Carpenter) but ultimately goes nowhere: we're left wondering how Tolkien's supposed dislike of French-influenced Middle and Modern English related to his apparent love of the similarly Latinate Spanish and Italian languages.

Of course Seaman does not mention this, but it seems the height of irony that Tolkien's son should have removed to France so long ago that his grandson has become a translator of his works into French.

Oddly, after going on and on about it, Seaman does not give a reference to the article on "Norman Conquest".

 

France: Reception of Tolkien - Michaël Devaux

Comments by squire, May 9, 2007

All I know is, if I was about to research the state of Tolkien studies in France, I'd be very grateful for this article. Since I'm not, and since I don't read French, I'll confess I'm fairly baffled by much of what is recounted here. I can't tell if it's because Devaux leaves out crucial details (how does Bergier's 1970 book relate to the first translation of The Lord of the Rings? What is Tolkien's "previously unreleased summary" of LotR that was translated in 2003?), or because this article was translated from French to English.

Nevertheless, it projects a solidity that many of the "Reception of..." articles don't, because it includes some description of the critical work being done in French. What's missing, as all too often, is any kind of commentary on how translation, of language and between cultures, may have affected the French readership's understanding of Tolkien; and also some note of the organization and esprit of French fandom and how it may differ from or resemble that in English-speaking countries.

The 'Further Reading' list is incroyable.

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 11, 2007

Regarding squire’s question, “What is Tolkien’s ‘previously unreleased summary’ of LotR that was translated in 2003?”

This would seem to be the rather lengthy portion of the letter to Milton Waldman that Carpenter omitted from Letters, #131 (see p. 160). Devaux omitted it from his 'Futher Reading', perhaps out of modesty, but the citation is: « J.R.R. Tolkien, Lettre à M. Waldam (1951 ?), édition bilingue du résumé du Seigneur des Anneaux, trad. complète [de la lettre] », Tolkien, Michaël Devaux, trans., In La Feuille de la Compagnie, n° 2, Genève, Ad Solem, 2003, p. 19-81. Devaux’s Tolkien vita can be found here.

What’s interesting is that, although Christopher Tolkien printed a part of the omitted text in Sauron Defeated (1992), it was not until Hammond and Scull’s Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion (2005) that the entire missing text was published in the U.K. / U.S. So, it appears that Michaël Devaux may have scooped Hammond and Scull by two years – at least, in France. Four, if you count the fact that Devaux’s translation appeared in a conference proceedings in 2001.

"Francis Thompson": Article for Exeter College Essay Club - John Garth

Comments by squire, July 7, 2007

Let me guess: this is categorized as "Scholarship by Tolkien: Medieval Literature", even though the ostensible subject is an undergraduate paper presented as a "talk" to Exeter College's Essay Club. Yes - there it is!

In fact, Thompson is a Victorian poet; and about half of Garth's article treats Thompson as a source for Tolkien's juvenile poetry. This article could well have been entitled "Thompson, Francis (1859-1907)" and placed under "Literary Sources" instead, which might have triggered more cross-references with the articles such as those on "Education", "Oxford", and "Poetry by Tolkien: Uncollected" and the "Elf" and "Fairie" series of articles. It would also have added another undoubted "modern" source to that short and mostly uncategorized list.

It is difficult to tell just what Garth is working from. He seems to say that the paper itself has not survived, and thus all the extensively quoted phrases about Thompson are not from Tolkien, but from the manuscript "minutes" taken by an anonymous attendee, that are still on file at Exeter College.

The confusion between Garth's commentary on Thompson, his commentary on the auditor's notes recorded from Tolkien's lost paper about Thompson, and his commentary on Thompson's influence on Tolkien (both before and after the paper was given) makes this article less clear than it could be. Still, Garth points out numerous ways by which Tolkien drew inspiration from Thompson as a poet, and at least hints at the meaning of his characterization of Thompson as a "Catholic mystic poet". But he does not give us any evaluation of the quality of Tolkien's criticism of Thompson, compared to what others have written about him. He also does not put Thompson's influence on Tolkien into the context of Tolkien's lifelong development as a poet and an artist.

The 'Further Reading' directs us only to two books on Thompson; must we conclude that no Tolkien critic has taken up this subject (in any of its manifestations) before this article was assigned? Well, it is interesting to read the parallel treatment that Thompson receives in "Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century", and then try to guess who first made the various connections to Tolkien's early poems that both these articles use as examples: Christopher Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, or John Garth.

 

Free Will - Daniel Timmons

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 7, 2007

This entry is a very short one, shorter than it probably should have been, given the subject matter. Yet Timmons has put together a very nice essay in these few words. It would, of course, be very difficult to cover all the subtleties and various critical approaches to free will, theological and otherwise, in so short an essay, but I think Timmons hits the major issues with clarity and brevity.

One might have looked for a bit more balance between free will in Middle-earth versus free will in the Primary World, givenTolkien’s Catholicism (there is some material in his letters that might have found a place here); however, what the entry lacks in critical and interpretive depth it makes up for in its solid Further Reading list.

That bibliography may be a bit heavy on overtly “religious” exegeses, but to some extent, that’s inevitable with such a topic. It could have been a bit more well-rounded with the addition of Richard P. Bullock’s “The Importance of Free Will in The Lord of the Rings” Steven Mark Deyo’s “Wyrd and Will: Fate, Fatalism and Free Will in the Northern Elegy and J.R.R. Tolkien,” both published in Mythlore. (My own essay, “‘Man does as he is when he may do as he wishes’: The Perennial Modernity of Free Will,” published in Tolkien and Modernity, would also have been relevant, but did not appear in time.)

I think that in his brief catalog of examples of the pivotal exercise of free will, Timmons misses an important one, perhaps the single most important one in LotR: in which Frodo agrees to take responsibility for the Ring at the Council of Elrond. But the other examples he gives are good ones, from the expected nod to Melkor’s rebellion in the Ainulindalë to the unexpected but welcome point about the tense balance between free will and providence in The Hobbit. One minor correction: Timmons says that it is the Ainur who overthrow Morgoth in the War of Wrath, but it would be more accurate to say it was the Valar (i.e. the Ainur who entered into Arda).

 

French Language - Gerald Seaman

Comments by squire, May 9, 2007

Seaman paints a fascinating picture of Tolkien as a skilled philologist who is a master of French and its uses, both professionally and imaginatively, while temperamentally disliking the language. As noted previously in the review of  "France and French Culture" the ultimate cause of this is inexplicable. The hint that Tolkien may have associated upper-class English people's use of French vocabulary with the enforcement of snobbish class distinctions is tantalizing but futile.

Seaman surely exaggerates when he says that without Tolkien's knowledge of French his career as a novelist (if not a philologist) would not have been possible. We see with this article that the Encyclopedia separates the topic of Tolkien's relationship to France and the French language into three pieces; as elsewhere, this seems positively counterproductive.

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 11, 2007

This is a fine essay, as squire points out, but I missed any mention of S.T.R.O. d’Ardenne, the Francophone philologist with whom Tolkien worked closely for a number of years. D’Ardenne presents a charming portrait of Tolkien in her reminiscence, “The Man and the Scholar” (published in J.R.R. Tolkien: Scholar and Storyteller). There, she comments on Tolkien’s knowledge of Old French (the language of the Chanson de Roland), as well as Modern French and even the Eastern Walloon dialect that the Belgian d’Ardenne spoke herself.

But I have another question for Seaman: if Tolkien’s French was so good, why was his “Middle English ‘Losenger’” the only essay in English to be published in a volume otherwise entirely in French? L.J. Swain asserts that Tolkien “felt uncomfortable in French apparently” in his Encyclopedia entry on “Losenger”. This may or may not be too great a presumption, but in the essay, Tolkien himself writes: “I am grateful for the permission to make my remarks in English.”

I would have put d’Ardenne and “Losenger” into the 'See also'. In that section, by the way, the entry on “Nevbosh and Animalic” does not exist (though both are mentioned in other entries), and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” needs further qualification (there are two entries in the Encyclopedia on that subject).

 

Frodo - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, March 14, 2007

There are hints of insight here, buried beneath an insupportable weight of cloying (I am retiring "twee") prose that one, treats Frodo almost  throughout as a real person, and two, when presenting him literarily, does so in very simplistic terms. As is usual with Stanton, no attributed attempt is made to draw on any of the vast critical literature on Frodo (though the bibliography is not neglible).

Just a few first impressions of what's missing from this, another "flagship" article in the Encyclopedia:

  • In the interminable plot summary that heads the essay, Frodo's actual quest is left undescribed as the "deeds and dangers of Frodo's journey".

  • The issue of Frodo's constant and escalating struggle with the temptation of the Ring, which is at the core of who Frodo is as hero of The Lord of the Rings, is brushed away with terms like "stubbornness" or "foolishness".

  • Stanton's perception that Frodo has character, but is not an interesting character, is probably the high point of the essay, but the reasons for the paradox are left essentially unexplored.

  • The section on his invention in The Return of the Shadow is incoherent.

  • Major interlocutor of Frodo who is mentioned twice in passing: Gandalf.

  • Major interlocutors of Frodo who are never mentioned: Bombadil, Strider, Elrond, Boromir, Galadriel, Faramir, the Witch-King, Shelob, Sauron, Arwen.

  • No attempt is made to integrate Frodo into the structure of the larger story, whether by comparing his role to Aragorn's or Beren's, investigating his duality with Gollum or Sam, or contrasting his journey with Bilbo's or any other traditional quest hero.

I am not a huge fan of Frodo's, being an Aragorn person. But Frodo deserves better than this.