Galadriel - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, February 9, 2007

A complex article about a complex character, both within and without the fiction of the legendarium. Fisher admirably tackles the tangled textual history, reminding us that Galadriel as we know her in The Lord of the Rings is but a "lateral slice" of an ever-changing conception.

However, while the "history" of Galadriel is interesting and indicative of Tolkien's train of thought as he aged, Fisher neglects what I think is more important: the Lady of Lorien as she appears in LotR. He retells, but does not comment on, her moment of temptation with Frodo and the Ring; and he does not talk at all about her telepathic interrogation of the Fellowship, her relationship to her husband, her gifts, her elegiac song in Quenya, her messages to the Hunters, her mind-duel with Sauron and her Lúthien-like role in the War against Dol Guldur, and (from the Appendices) her opposition to Saruman, and her skilled arrangement of Aragorn's courtship of Arwen. I do not insist on a discussion of her hair color!

More abstractly, at least some feminist analysis of Galadriel as a female Power, and her relationships to Varda and Shelob, Éowyn and Arwen, and Elrond and Gandalf, would have followed through on Fisher's promising opening about Galadriel being the "strong woman" of Tolkien's masterpiece, if not all of his fiction.

An article with this kind of emphasis, rather than so much about the unpublished material from HoME, would better justify Fisher's claim that she is "among Tolkien's...most vividly drawn characters". However, the really excellent 'Further Reading' and See also lists do much to mitigate my criticism.

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

If Fisher had the space, it would have been nice for him to have compared Galadriel to other women of Faery, starting with Tolkien’s figures of Varda, Melian and the lady in Smith of Wootton Major.

I would dispute one of Fisher’s claims, that at the time portrayed in LotR, Galadriel “alone among the Elves still living in Middle-earth beheld the unreflected light of the Two Trees”.  That seems unlikely.  Gildor describes his party as “Exiles”, eventually to “return” to Aman.  Gandalf says that Glorfindel has “dwelt in the Blessed Realm” and that in Rivendell there are “lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas”.  Celeborn, according to the late tradition cited by Fisher, traveled west from Aman with Galadriel.  And according to the Quenta text in The Lost Road (p. 331), Fëanor’s son, Maglor, wanders “ever upon the shores singing in pain and regret beside the waves”.


Gaming - Anthony Burdge

Comments by squire, November 22, 2006

Very interesting history of RPG (Role Playing Games) and their interaction with Tolkien's creations. A lot of good and interesting background. The second half of the essay seems rushed; but the whole article seems to go on and on: an excess of research with a minimum of commentary. The bibliography seems good as far as it goes.

The writing quality is very shaky, which perhaps unfairly and unfortunately reinforces the stereotype that gamers are not particularly literate!

I really missed some critical analysis of the relationship of gaming to reading the Tolkien epics; or some comments on why and how Tolkien RPGs differ from Tolkien's outlook on the genre he practically invented, that we now call Sword and Sorcery. If I understand things (I am not a gamer by any means), D&D long ago lost practically any connection it had with Tolkien's stories and character sets.

As for the critics, I do know that Brian Rosebury comments on the Gaming phenomenon in Tolkienic popular culture, and I'd be surprised if he's the only scholar to have investigated this interesting topic.

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

Unfortunately for Burdge, some of the best writing on the relationship between role playing games and The Lord of the Rings appeared after the Encyclopedia’s publication, in the form of an online comic strip by Shamus Young, presented in over 150 installments, called “DM of the Rings” (the abbreviation DM stands for “Dungeon Master”, the player who organizes each RPG “campaign”).  Though the strip is meant as entertainment and leans as much on Peter Jackson’s films as on the books, Young has some sharp observations on the differing needs of fiction and gaming.  Concerning the interaction of Aragorn and Éowyn, for instance, he writes: “A lot of tension in a story happens when the characters do something against the wishes of the audience. This isn’t really possible in the context of an RPG, because the characters ARE the audience.”

Burdge’s article seems like a generally good survey of the history of Tolkien-inspired games.  As a non-gamer, I wanted to know a little more about what exactly the gaming companies provide, in traditional role-playing adaptations of Tolkien, that can’t be made up by a Dungeon Master who’s read the books – anything beyond dice and statistics?


Gandalf - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, May 1, 2007

Stanton presents Gandalf in a ramshackle way, with half the article giving a kind of character sketch that draws indiscriminately on material in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings text and appendices, and scholarly work by critics. The second half makes some good points about the character's literary growth and his role in the stories, while simultaneously introducing and ignoring other points (e.g., we never follow up on the "confrontations with evil"; the idea of stewardship is never developed).

Although Stanton doesn't fall completely into the "Middle-earth studies" perspective of treating Gandalf as a real person, there is a kind of tension throughout; one can see him struggling to resist this tendency. Overall, the piece lacks depth. A host of questions is left unanswered. For instance:

Why not investigate why Gandalf is "nested" and magnified as he develops from The Hobbit to and through LotR (Kocher calls Gandalf's Hobbit-to-LotR transition "nothing short of a total literary reconstruction")? What about his spiritual meaning: is he just an angel, or does he have a kind of Christ-like role as well when he dies and returns? What is the nature of his wizardry and "magic", and how does he compare to other literary "wizards" in medieval and modern fiction? How does Tolkien prevent him from becoming an all-powerful device? How does Gandalf's personality as the semi-divine "enemy of Sauron" conform with his special interest in, among all the races of Middle-earth, the hobbits? What do his relationships with, among the Great, Treebeard, Bombadil, Denethor, Galadriel, Aragorn, Bilbo and Saruman tell us about the moral and political nature of Middle-earth? What aspects of Gandalf, as revealed by Tolkien in his later Letters and Unfinished Tales writing, are not apparent in the actual stories; and how then should we take this "post-facto" knowledge? Does his identity as the Maia "Olórin", which was retrofitted into the Valaquenta, tell us anything about him that we didn't already know?

It is strange to me that John Garth in his TLS review of the Encyclopedia referred to this article, along with "Gollum", as ideals against which the more "Middle-earth studies" character articles should be compared; this article is just not in the same class as "Gollum."

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

I think Garth meant only to distinguish this article and “Gollum” from the Middle-earth Studies approach found in Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (and in some articles in the Encyclopedia).  To that end, this entry does identify Gandalf as an “angelos”, notes sources for Gandalf in Madlener’s Berggeist postcard and in Norse mythology, mentions the earlier name “Bladorthin” in Hobbit drafts, and contrasts Gandalf’s presentation in The Hobbit with that in The Lord of the Rings.  However, Stanton does fall into a mistaken mock-historical approach at times, as when he writes that Gandalf’s connection to fire derives from his possession of the ring of fire, Narya, and “carries down” to his skill with fireworks. The opposite is true: the fireworks long preceded the ring in the textual development of Gandalf.


Garm - John Walsh

Comments by squire, May 26, 2007

Walsh spends the entire article showing at length the connections between Garm, Farmer Giles' watchdog, and Garm, the mythological Norse guard dog whose howl will presage Ragnarok. As interesting as Walsh's explication of Garm's name is, there has to be more to say about this comic talking dog.

Tolkien employs him as one of Giles' many ironic foils as well as using him humorously to comment on a dog's supposed nature as a loyal pet. Garm's "arrogance" is not just to be contrasted with his Norse namesake's magnificence as Walsh would have it, but also with his unquestioning subservience to his master (at times reminiscent of Sam Gamgee's). Garm's brash and vocal but cowardly nature also contrasts with the grey mare's mute but exasperated wisdom and courage.

Tolkien's relationship with dogs is somewhat questionable, if one goes by his fiction. They rarely appear in the stories, but two that do, Huan and Garm, are sophisticated and magical creatures, deserving of thorough critical treatment. Walsh does his readers a disservice to focus so tightly on one erudite perception at the expense of giving this dog his due.

Some kind of authorial or editorial glitch contributes to the pointlessness of Walsh's final comment about the wolf of Ragnarok, which seems to have wandered in from the article about Beren: the correct quote about Giles is "he had his hands full (he said) keeping the wolf from the door" (not "at the door"). But even the incorrect reading, which is repeated by Walsh, does not make the "pun" obvious to me.

As an aside, for it has nothing to do with Walsh: I wonder why Garm got his own "Tolkien Character" article? He is interesting enough because of his dog nature, but in Farmer Giles of Ham, Chrysophylax, the Parson, the Smith, and the Miller - and perhaps even the King - are all more important, yet get no articles of their own. If all Tolkien characters of Garm's stature had gotten articles, the Encyclopedia would be twice as long and cost twice as much!

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

I liked learning from Walsh how Tolkien used Garm to have a little fun with Old Norse mythology, though to focus only on the relationship between a character and his source is not an approach Tolkien would appreciate.  Walsh doesn’t include a 'Further Reading' list, where he might cite Scull and Hammond, for the observation, in their edition of Farmer Giles of Ham, that the word “garm” also has significance in Welsh.

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 29, 2007

I agree with squire and N.E. Brigand’s opinions, but I would just like to add a couple of comments of my own. And while mine are source-comments, I absolutely concur with N.E. Brigand that Walsh ought to have broadened his analysis to look outside source-studies alone. That being said …

To squire’s comment about Tolkien’s relationship to dogs, citing Garm and Huan as “sophisticated and magical creatures,” I agree, and I would also add that Farmer Maggot’s three dogs always evoked a kind of parody of Cerberus for me.

Regarding the Garmr of Norwegian mythology, I don’t think anybody pointed this out (neither Walsh in his Encyclopedia entry, nor Hammond / Scull in their edition of Farmer Giles), but garmr is simply Old Norse for “dog.” Once again, like the name of the North Polar Bear, a perfect choice for a name by Tolkien, driven primarily by its meaning.

But Garmr isn’t the only precedent for Garm in Norse mythology. I think one also sees shades of him in Hrólfs Saga Kraka, where Hrólf has a loyal and mighty dog, Gramr. This name is an anagram of Garmr (gramr is ON. for “wroth, angry”; as a noun, it can also mean “king, warrior”); surely, this must be a pun in the Saga, one that would have appealed to Tolkien in an ironic sense very appropriate to the whole tone of Giles. Moreover, Hrólfs Saga Kraka carries other tantalizing traces of Middle-earth in its connection to Beowulf and in the character of Fróðo (whom we also see in the Ynglinga Saga, where one finds Gandalf lurking), so one can easily imagine its keeping a hold on Tolkien’s mind.

And drawing on Norse mythology, there is Kipling’s short story “Garm – A Hostage” in the collection Actions and Reactions (1909),  In that story, the dog, Garm, who is named after the Norse guard dog, reminds me of Giles’s companion. They even “talk” alike: “‘Help! help! help!’ cried Garm.” (Tolkien), as compared to “‘Yow! yow! yow!’ bayed Garm.” (Kipling).

Taken altogether, I find Walsh’s discussion, even when limited in scope to a source-study, rather one-dimensional.


Gaze - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, May 10, 2007

Drout joyfully romps through the Tolkien oeuvre, pointing out the numerous uses of the "gaze" concept by an author who has been held in contempt by most postmodern literary "gaze" theorists. The examples given are strong and convincing, and Drout provides enough hints of Foucault's theory for the average reader to nod in growing agreement.

At times the reader's joy is tempered. Drout barely dodges infection from his sources: "operationalization" is not usually his kind of word. His hesitation in driving home his point about Tolkien's prescient congruence with Foucault, which he says is "of great interest", is kind of coy, allowing those anonymous feminists to relax unchallenged after all.

I would question Drout's overly broad characterization of Fëanor's gaze as something that "few are able to withstand". Tolkien never tells us that, and the scene where Fëanor sees through Morgoth is unique in his story. On the other hand, some mention of Gandalf's gaze is surprisingly missing. Even more than with Galadriel, his gaze is one of his primary characteristics, as might be expected for the Enemy of Sauron and messenger of Manwë (who is the ultimate Gazer, by the way, though not within the action of the published stories).

I confess I was shattered that Drout did not include my very favorite piece of Tolkien "theoretical" criticism in his 'Further Reading' list: Battis' legendary Gazing Upon Sauron: Hobbits, Elves, And The Queering Of The Postcolonial Optic.


Geach, E.F.A.: “Romance” - L.J. Swain

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

“Romance”, published in Oxford Poetry 1918, is the only modern poem (other than Tolkien’s work) to get its own entry.  This article gives no indication why separate treatment was afforded to E.F.A. Geach’s poem, which shares themes with Tolkien’s “The Road goes ever on and on” verses in The Hobbit and LotR, but not, for example, to Sax Rohmer’s “The Fenman” (1916), which also has imagery prefiguring Tolkien’s later work.

Swain cites no other scholarship, and his bibliography lists only the 1918 collection, but Douglas Anderson, who prints Geach’s short poem in The Annotated Hobbit (pp. 360-361 of the revised edition) notes there that “Romance” and Tolkien’s own “Goblin Feet” had been republished on subsequent pages in a 1922 anthology of verse for children.  Even that may be insufficient to justify this 130-word entry, but Swain could have done more with his material.  In The Road to Middle-earth (3rd edition, pp. 30-32), Tom Shippey considers Tolkien’s road images, and notes a possible connection to a poem by Tolkien’s friend G.B. Smith that appeared with “Goblin Feet” in Oxford Poetry 1915.  Swain doesn’t mention this; nor is there a See also reference to the entry on the posthumous volume of Smith’s work edited by Tolkien.  Swain also doesn’t give citation information for the Tolkien poem he quotes (it’s from “A Long-expected Party” and is the first of three versions in LotR), and he should have noted that it was preceded by “Roads go ever ever on” in The Hobbit.

Comments by squire, March 18, 2007

N.E. Brigand has said all that needs to be said. I'd only add that if this belonged in the Encyclopedia at all, it would belong not in the Thematic section about Tolkien's "Life" (since there's no indication that Tolkien knew Geach), but in the "Sources" section. Where it would look mighty odd as the only article on a single 20th century (proposed) source, and one of only two from the modern era at all, outside the gigantic portmanteau called "Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Century".


Gender in Tolkien’s Works – Anna Smol

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 4, 2008

Smol assumes much about Tolkien’s own private attitudes toward women from a letter he wrote to his son on the subject of marriage, but is it possible that Tolkien’s recipient and intent should factor into this reading? Is it presuming too much to take these as his own personal, unfiltered views? I suppose I am thinking of Michael Drout’s caution about relying overmuch on Tolkien’s letters (as he discusses in “Towards a Better Tolkien Criticism”, in Robert Eaglestone’s Reading the Lord of the Rings), particularly in the case of thornier matters such as this. We might learn more from Tolkien's diaries, were they publicly available.

This initial moment of pause aside, Smol does a generally excellent job of surveying gender roles and attitudes in Tolkien’s writings. She sticks primarily to The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings, but ventures into one or two other nooks and crannies as well. She might have ventured further: I was disappointed to see no mention of Aldarion and Erendis.

Smol does remember to address the masculine here; too many discussions of this subject focus exclusively on the feminine. Had Smol done so, the overlap between this entry and “Feminist Readings of Tolkien” and “Women in Tolkien’s Works” would have been much worse than it is.

One final question: I wonder if it is so easy to simply assert that Eru is male. Yes, Tolkien writes of him with the masculine pronouns. And yet … is it possible Eru is actually epicene (the masculine pronouns used only by default)? The very etymology of his name suggests a profound otherness, and as he made both the male and female Ainur, presumably “in his image,” I can’t help but wonder whether we should dismiss the question of Eru’s gender so easily.

The 'Further Reading' is excellent – one of the more thorough in the Encyclopedia (for another impressive one, see “Women in Tolkien’s Works,” a related entry to which Smol refers readers). Her See also is likewise thorough; I would only think to add “Marriage.”


Genesis - Yvette Kisor

Comments by squire, July 19, 2007

The upshot of Kisor's clear and detailed presentation here is that the character of Satan in the Anglo-Saxon poem Genesis may have influenced Tolkien's creation of Melkor/Morgoth. So this article is probably too long, with too much detail about a medieval poem that Tolkien never did published work on. Still, it is interesting of itself, for those like me who are learning something about medieval literature by this circuitous method. And the note about Satan's anonymous "lieutenant" being a possible inspiration for The Silmarillion's Sauron is fun too.


German Folktale: Deutsch Mythologie - Maria Raffaella Benvenuto

Comments by squire, July 19, 2007

It's not clear just what this article is about. For three paragraphs Benvenuto describes the Grimm brothers' famous Children's and Household Tales -- alternatively Grimm's Fairy Tales, or better, German Folk Tales as in my edition, though the very similar phrase in the title of this article never appears in the article itself. She finally turns her attention to the presumed title work, Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie (which she translates as Teutonic Mythology). She comments on its provenance and its importance to Germanic studies, but tells us less about its contents than she did for the first book. I would guess that it collects the mythic tales of the pre-Christian Nordic/Germanic gods, but who knows?

Next she connects the work of "the brothers Grimm" (the Folk Tales? the Mythology?) to the contemporary Kalevala as sources for Tolkien's attempt to invent his so-called "mythology for England". What is unclear from here to the end, is which source is which: Grimm's (presumably Jacob's) struggle with the word for "elf" is from Teutonic Mythlogy; while the remaining examples of "influence" on The Hobbit and The Silmarillion are taken from the Folk Tales.

Throughout there is a confusion between the concepts of "folk tales", "fairy tales", and "mythology". Both the Grimms and Tolkien presumably had their own particular grips on the distinctions to be made between these terms, but here they seem completely mixed up. Certainly most of the stories in German Folk Tales (I can't speak for Teutonic Mythology), though praised by Tolkien in On Fairy-Stories, have only the elusive quality he calls "Other Time" and do not generally involve the journeys by Men to the land of Faerie that he focuses on in the heart of his essay.

If, as Benvenuto says, the Grimms' work influenced Tolkien's legendarium, it would be nice to have more than one example of terminology and three of episode or character (two of which are from that quasi-legendarium escapee, The Hobbit). Perhaps less space should have been dedicated to the Grimms' publication history, and more given to a structural analysis of the Grimms' literary presentation of tales recovered from an authentic oral tradition, in relation to the style and format of Tolkien's fictitiously similar tales.

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 20, 2007

I concur completely with squire’s points about the confusion throughout this article as to which works of the Brothers Grimm are being discussed at each point. The confusion, of course, begins right from the title assigned to Benvenuto, so it may be that the editors too were never quite clear on their intentions.

But I’d like to comment a bit on the Deutsche Mythologie, since I am familiar with this immense and valuable four-volume work (in the James Steven Stallybrass translation).

It was Stallybrass who opted for “Teutonic” instead of “Germanic”, but I think Benvenuto makes far too much of any “controversy” over the terms. The translation was published in the 1880’s, at which time the term “Teutonic” was most often used in place of what we call “Germanic” today (just as today’s “Czech” was yesteryear’s “Bohemian”).

Moreover, Benvenuto says that Grimm “appropriated something that was not really German, but of largely Scandinavian origin”, a statement I have to contend with on two points. First, sure, there’s a lot of Scandinavian material (mainly because of the depth of the extant literature), but also large amounts of Old English, Old Saxon, Old Frision, and, of course, German. Second, the Scandinavian words and tales, like all the preceding, are Germanic. Not explicitly German in any nationalistic sense, but Germanic. In his Translator’s Preface, Stallybrass writes that “Jacob Grimm was perhaps the first man who commanded a wide enough view of the whole field of Teutonic languages and literature to be able to bring into focus the scattered facts which show the prevalence of one system of thought among all the Teutonic nations from Iceland to the Danube” (DM, Vol. I, p. v, emphasis mine).

So I suppose Grimm might have used the word Germanische, instead of Deutsche, but unless Benvenuto is prepared to back up her statements with facts from letters or biographies of the Grimms, I think any discussion of controversy would have been best omitted. Besides, she makes no attempt to connect this purported controversy to Tolkien.

One final quibble. Benvenuto refers to Tolkien’s putative “lifetime project of creating a ‘mythology for England’”, but was it? There’s ample evidence to suggest this was once Tolkien’s project, but that he abandoned it fairly early on (“my crest has long since fallen”).


German Race Laws - Carol A. Leibiger

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

Probably this material could have been folded in with either the (good) “Nazi Party” or (poor) “Philo-semitism” articles, though the specific focus here is on Tolkien’s 1938 correspondence with Rütten & Loening, who wished to publish The Hobbit in Germany but first requested information on Tolkien’s racial ancestry.  The opening third of the article explains the German laws.  Then Leibiger skillfully breaks down one of Tolkien’s two replies, which was kept by Allen & Unwin and later published in Letters, but she contradicts herself when she writes that this letter, “is a strongly worded refusal by Tolkien to provide the requested information”.  On the contrary, in this letter, as Leibigier observes, Tolkien regretfully denies any Jewish ancestry.  It is Tolkien’s other letter, the one sent to Germany, that is believed to be a refusal to answer Rütten & Loening’s request.

Leibiger concludes well with a few more examples of Tolkien’s feelings on racism, including further citation from his letters and passing reference to three other authors who appear in her bibliography.  I would say that Leibiger should have examined her subject at more length, but the encyclopedia has at least eight other articles that address the subject of Tolkien and race, which suggests the editors felt defensive about this issue.

Comments by squire, January 26, 2007

I would add to the above that Leibiger's research on the issue from the Tolkien angle seems impeccable (love that Mythlore reference); some citation of a standard history of Nazism or the Nazi race laws would have been nice.

As well, it seems like an opportunity was missed to examine Tolkien's fiction in this context. The question of the "mixing" of races is a strong and continuous theme in Tolkien. Gondor's destructive kin-strife originates in the ruling family's decision to marry its prince to a woman of "lesser" race, a theme that is echoed in Faramir's courtship of Eowyn. More important is the apparent ban on Elves marrying mortals; whenever this taboo is broken, there is a heroic but tragic outcome. Were there "race laws" in Middle-earth? So a concerned modern reader might well wonder.

Tolkien's concept of "race" was, of course, imaginative rather than literal, but must surely have had roots in contemporary European attitudes about humanity's ethnic variety. A short discursion on this topic might have helped explain why Tolkien has been dogged ever since by a shadow reputation for racism, why his letters to Rütten & Loening are considered so remarkable, and why (as N. E. Brigand notes) the Encyclopedia devotes so much space to examining this issue.


German: Modern - Maria Raffaella Benvenuto

Comments by squire, July 19, 2007

This somewhat random excursion through various German thickets in Tolkien's life doesn't seem to have much to say that doesn't appear elsewhere. Tolkien's ancestry and education, his battle with the German race laws, the "Guide to the Names in LotR": all have their own articles. One can only walk away with the unsurprising knowledge that Tolkien was fluent in the German language.

Benvenuto presents without comment Tolkien's adamant denial that "his interest in Germanic languages might have stemmed from his [paternal German] ancestry". Perhaps the irony of this statement escaped her: I like to compare it to his oft-proclaimed identification with his mother's West Midlands English background. In that regard I believe he thought that his lifelong professional interest in that dialect of English proceeded from a kind of ancestral, almost metaphysical, sense of belonging to that land and its people and language.


Germany - Thomas Honegger

Comments by squire, June 27, 2007

A brief but fair review of a complex topic. I wish Honegger had been more exact in documenting Tolkien's apparent change of heart towards Germany after his dramatic encounter with a German prisoner during the battle of the Somme. His remarks on Tolkien's fair-mindedness towards individuals no matter their nationality seem to come from the letters of the 1940s era, but the fact is that there are very few letters available on similar topics from the WWI and post-WWI times for comparison, and England as a society softened in its attitude towards Germany in the 1920s as the bitterness of the war wore off and its apparent futility became more accepted.

Similarly, a few more thoughts on the Germanic roots of philology as an academic field would be welcome. Terms like "deeply romantic" and "most German of disciplines", applied to philology with respect to Tolkien, raise more questions than they answer.

The 'Further Reading' list is basic but sound. See also is skimpy indeed: missing for starters are the articles that flank this one: "German Folktale: Deutsche Mythologie", "German Race Laws", "German: Modern" (obviously the replacement for Honegger's hoped-for but nonexistent "German Language"), "Germany: Reception of Tolkien"; and there might be many others a researcher would welcome, certainly including "Old High German", "Old High German Literature", "Mythology, Germanic", "Nazi Party", "Philo-Semitism", "Tour in the Alps, 1911", "World War I" and "World War II".

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

Honegger’s section on Germany, philology, and Tolkien’s German-educated professor, Joe Wright, would have been strengthened by some comments that Tolkien makes in the Year’s Work in English Studies volume for 1923.  Here Tolkien notes that philology, “conceived as a purely German invention, is in some quarters treated as though it were one of the things that the late war was fought to end” (Tom Shippey comments on this in the first chapter of The Road to Middle-earth).  And Tolkien presents an image of “[t]he bespectacled philologist, English but trained in Germany, where he fed presumably on Lautverschiebung and sour Umlaut, and lost his literary soul”.  Carpenter’s biography suggests that Tolkien was referring here to Joe Wright, though Tolkien goes on to describe this trope as a “bogey”.


Germany, Reception of Tolkien - Thomas Honegger

Comments by squire, June 27, 2007

What raises this article above its peers in the "Reception of..." series is its willingness to go beyond cataloging the various Tolkien translations and fan societies. Honegger gives us a portrait of a country overflowing with fan organizations, publications and  performances, as well as a phenomenal amount of serious Tolkien scholarship. Some of his more fascinating points are the publication of a "creative retelling" of The Lord of the Rings (Die Ringe der Macht, 1998), the willingness of German scholars to publish in English as well as German, the rise of self-publishing to overcome the resistance to Tolkien scholarship by established publishers, and the comment that Pesch's studies of Elvish are so far unmatched in English.

As always, I miss some discussion of how Tolkien is perceived in Germany, through the filter of the German translations and that readership's non-English view of European/German history, mythology, and folklore. Perhaps such generalizations are impossible or unfair, but without some attempt to categorize Tolkien's "reception" beyond the mere fact of translation, why have all these articles, for so many countries?

There are very many articles with a connection to Germany, and as tedious as such repetition can be, Honegger should certainly have included a See also list with the usual suspects. The 'Further Reading' list is too short; why not include the many citations here that clog up some sections of the article?


Gibbon, Edward: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Anthony S. Burdge and Jessica Burke

Comments by squire, May 26, 2007

Evidently added at the last moment, for it has no Thematic category, this article stumbles around its subject looking for something to do. The primary problem is the attempt to connect Tolkien's reading of Gibbon with his invention of Rohan and its culture. While there is no doubt that Gibbon assigns the Goths some responsibility for the social and cultural changes leading to Rome's fall, and that Tolkien used Gothic models for his antecedents to the Rohirrim, I do tend to doubt that the two are meaningfully connected in the sense of Gibbon being a "source" for Tolkien.

At a guess, I'd say Tolkien by the time he wrote The Lord of the Rings no longer needed Gibbon for details of the history of the Germanic tribes of Europe in the late Roman and early medieval era. He'd probably read Gibbon's sources in the original!

More generally, I believe Gibbon was still remembered and read in Tolkien's time, as perhaps he is even in ours, not for his history, but for his style. Gibbon crafted for the first time in English a kind of epic-scale historical canvas and used epic-style declamatory prose to match his subject, consciously mimicking the Roman and Greek historians. His primary influence on Tolkien is found, I'd say, in the Appendices on the history of Gondor and Arnor. Their very concept - relating several millennia of geopolitical shifts in imperial power, specifically in relation to hostile tribes and kingdoms on the periphery, and leading to a decline if not a fall - and their style, a kind of detached and omniscient annalistic narration with insertions from archival documentary evidence - are quite reminiscent of Gibbon. Portions of this style are also found here and there in the main text, such as in Faramir's history lesson to Frodo at Henneth Annun, and the narrator's description of Minas Tirith.

The Appendix on Rohan, by contrast, has a style more in tune with oral history, as recovered by later scribes. But much of the earlier history of the Rohirrim, the part that this article attributes to Gibbon's writings about the Gothic tribes, actually appears in the Gondor Appendix. The plot line of the northern tribes of nomadic Men from the East (to whom Tolkien gives Gothic-style names) allying and intermarrying with the Gondorian royal family, causing the fatal Kin-strife so central to the "decline and fall" of Gondor, is classic Gibbon.

Along with the misplaced focus, this article is badly written; an editor could quickly have fixed phrases such as "[Theoden] emanates much grief" and "The Rohirric languages and names were shaped after the Anglo-Saxons", if not the larger issue.

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

Burdge and Burke write, “When establishing the culture of Rohan, Tolkien utilized Gothic when shaping the forms and names of the early Rohirric ancestors, prior to the dynasty of Eorl.”  Actually the name of Eorl’s father, Léod, is Old English.  Presumably the reference is to Christopher Tolkien’s comment in Unfinished Tales that “Marhwini” and “Marhari” are Gothic, but this article never mentions UT.  That Burdge and Burke were unaware of Arden Smith’s recent “Tolkienian Gothic” article, where citing work by David Salo, he says those names are actually early Old English not Gothic, is more excusable.

Hammond and Scull’s Companion for LotR is listed in the bibliography, but the article’s text doesn’t mention that book or its one reference to Gibbon, and no wonder: Hammond and Scull simply cite another work, The Annotated Hobbit, for Douglas Anderson’s suggestion of a possible source in Gibbon for Tolkien’s “Radagast”.  Shippey’s Road to Middle-earth is also cited, with more justification, and I can’t resist quoting Shippey’s note (p. 350) that Gibbon’s work “certainly stayed in Tolkien’s mind, though probably in the same compartment as Wagner”.


Gilson, Robert Quilter (1893-1916) - John Garth

Comments by squire, July 19, 2007

Nothing captures the wastage of the Great War, and the sadness of Tolkien's loss of his closest friends in that time, as this article, which shows that barely a whit of Gilson's personality or accomplishments has survived to our time. The sterile details of his military career are meaningless tributes to Garth's assiduous research. He was "affable, intelligent, and gently humorous" -- like thousands of genteel schoolboys of his class. He had both literary taste and a love for design, yet was not as close to Tolkien as Wiseman and Smith. Nor without more details can we make much of his "drift towards pure aestheticism" that led Tolkien and Wiseman to "purge" the T. C. B. S. while allowing Gilson to remain.

Gilson must have an Encyclopedia article, because of the place he held in Tolkien's lifelong memories, and for the impact that his death had on Tolkien's resolve to create a masterpiece of Art. But Garth does not refer to that posthumous effect of Gilson's career, and the result is no more affecting than a plain marble cross on a field in France.


Gimli - L. J. Swain

Comments by squire, March 27, 2007

With great word count comes great responsibility. Swain has 1500 words to cover Gimli in, the second longest allotment for the nine members of the Fellowship. Only Frodo gets more. Swain uses the room to cozily review the many fine qualities of Gimli as a character, rather than putting the dwarf into perspective as a literary creation.

Swain starts very well, proposing that Gimli is heroic but is still the most "common" of the non-hobbits in the tale. As such, he gives the reader the kind of non-heroic perspective the hobbits usually provide, on heroic events from which all four of the hobbits are absent. Likewise Swain draws on the Germanic concept of comitatus as seen in Beowulf to illuminate Gimli's friend/follower relationship with Aragorn and his loyalty to the Fellowship; and he draws on medieval Romances and devotional literature to comment on Gimli's love for Galadriel. Swain's characterization of Gimli as a poet is also refreshing and too often overlooked, though he passes on a chance to compare a dwarf's use of poetic language with the other races'.

Aside from the few insights like these, the vast majority of the article is a catalogue of Gimli's various virtues, such as loyalty, humor, heroic prowess, friendship, love, and passion. All of it is true, but it just isn't good enough, without considerably more sophisticated interpretation than it gets. Furthermore, Gimli has weaknesses that Swain does not acknowledge, such as bragging, a short temper, selfishness, and a begrudging nature. The entire article does not present Gimli as a character who grows or changes, yet he does, far more so than his Elvish counterpart Legolas. Again, with this kind of word count, such slackness is inexplicable.

By taking him at face value, Swain fails as well to place Gimli in perspective as a dwarf in Tolkien's legendarium. Gimli is not just a well-written character, he is the dwarf in The Lord of the Rings, which is the final chapter in three Ages of tales of dwarves that Tolkien had already written. Gimli's development as a character compared to The Hobbit's dwarves and the grasping Naugrim of the Silmarillion is chronicled in the History of the Lord of the Rings, and is one of the more fascinating if lesser examples of Tolkien's own growth as a mythmaker. Swain mentions unnamed "commentators" about Galadriel, but as far as Gimli goes there are no references in his article or afterward (there is no 'Further Reading' list) to any critical works at all.

Finally, it is unfortunate that Swain's article seems never to have been edited for style. An entire paragraph in parentheses, and clumsy expressions like "the prowess of the heroes in battle is comparable to the prowess of other such heroes in the epic literature", "and so Tolkien healed the brokenness of the races", or "he unquestionably follows Aragorn after Gandalf's fall", detract unnecessarily from Swain's credibility.

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

Swain writes that, “when the narrative is no longer focused on the hobbits, it is Gimli’s perspective that we share”.  This is only sometimes true: at Helm’s Deep, for example, Tolkien keeps the reader with Aragorn at the Hornburg, while Gimli is trapped in the caves behind and only reports on his experience after the battle.  Swain also claims that the friendship of Gimli and Legolas “does not seem to develop until Book III when the three hunters pursue the Uruk-hai”, but four chapters earlier in Book II, as the Fellowship prepares to leave Lórien, Tolkien writes that the dwarf and elf had “now become fast friends”.

As Swain had the space, it would have been nice for him to have explained the meaning of the name, “Gimli”, and to have noted Tolkien’s earlier use of it for a keen-eared Gnome (Elf) in “The Tale of Tinúviel” in the Lost Tales.  He should also have expanded his See also list to include more than just “Dwarves”.  Try “Aragorn”, “Galadriel”, “Humor”, “Legolas”, “Old English”, and “Wanderer, The”, for starters.


Glorfindel – Don N. Anger

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 18, 2007

I enjoyed this entry very much overall. Like the entry on "Wolvercote Cemetery", it’s written in a sort of spare, terse, encyclopedic style (a compliment), covering the facts and presenting the opinions without undue editorializing. Anger traces the origins of the character all the way from the Lost Tales to the last writings of Tolkien’s life, and he touches on important satellite issues, such as elven reincarnation. He also does a fine job summarizing without relying on lengthy quotations, pointing readers to the relevant material with page citations instead. The shorter quotes that pepper his entry instead are much more effective than large block quotes would have been.

I would like to have seen Anger grapple a little bit more with the question of canonicity – to what extent can an author’s unpublished notes, adumbrations, and marginalia be deployed against thorny questions like the “Glorfindel problem”? Anger skirts this issue but never fully engages with it. I also think Anger might have commented a bit more about Glorfindel’s golden hair; this was uncommon for a Noldo, and I suspect it might indicate Vanyarin blood and/or kinship with the Houses of Fingolfin or Finarfin. Finally, in his discussion of Tolkien’s later ideas about pardoning Glorfindel’s participation in the rebellion of the Noldor, I think Anger misses an opportunity to compare this with Tolkien’s similar reworking of Galadriel’s part in the same exile. In this later conception, both Glorfindel and Galadriel (both golden-haired, also) received the pardon of the Valar. A comparison worth making, I daresay.

The 'Further Reading' is good, covering all the bases. I might have included Nils Ivar Agøy’s essay, “Quid Hinieldus cum Christo? – New Perspectives on Tolkien’s Theological Dilemma and his Sub-Creation Theory”, published in the Centenary Proceedings (other essays from which Anger cites).

In the See also, “Reincarnation” should actually be “Elves: Reincarnation”, and Anger ought to have also included “Resurrection” (which covers more or less the same material as “Elves: Reincarnation” – but that duplication is a topic for a different review).


Goldberry - Katherine Hesser

Comments by squire, December 4, 2006

A rather dull and unimaginative article. Hesser focuses almost exclusively on a post-feminist interpretation, emphasizing how contented Goldberry is as a woman, perfectly integrated with her man in a happy domestic situation. She ignores Goldberry's identity as "River-woman's daughter" and the entire water-sprite side of this mysterious female, with her apparent relationship to the seasons, the fall rains, and the river Withywindle. She ignores the non-LotR poem, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", with its symbolic rape of Goldberry by Tom. She neglects to analyze Goldberry's speech and poetry for clues to her nature.

The lack of citations of anyone's opinion but her own is glaring. I believe Tolkien made at least some comments about who Goldberry was, and I'd be shocked if no other scholarly critic has ever considered the mystery of Goldberry. "It has been argued" is a particularly unsatisfying way of introducing the idea that Tom and Goldberry are the Valar Aulë and Yavanna -- but the argument is so poorly presented and inconclusively dropped, that it hardly matters whose idea it was.


Gollum - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, April 22, 2007

This is a difficult but exciting article. Nagy opens with a brief recounting of Gollum's roles in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with an appropriate note about  the revisions Tolkien made to the former book when the writing of the latter so radically enlarged his conception of Gollum. Next is a quick presentation of Gollum's characterization; thoughts on some possible sources Tolkien may have drawn from; and a review of some of the many critical interpretations that Gollum has received over the years. Finally, Nagy launches into a condensed précis of his own very complex but brilliant-sounding post-structuralist interpretation, which was published as a full scholarly article almost simultaneously in Tolkien Studies III.

Throughout but especially in that last part, the prose is at a very high level of sophistication, with an unfortunately high level of compression and Tacitean difficulty as well. I found a second reading far more rewarding than the first. Ironically, since I have criticized some contributors for limiting themselves to simplistic and uncritical "Middle-earth studies" approaches to Tolkien's works, here I found myself daunted by a full-strength "Tolkien studies" approach!

Nagy's 'Further Reading' seems too brief, since it includes pointers only to those critics whose takes on Gollum he most approves of. Maybe it is unreasonable to ask for references, if not citations in the article, to other critical approaches that Nagy is less interested in, such as what he calls "psychologizing readings" or a search for "motivations" behind Gollum's destruction of the Ring. In fact Nagy focuses so exclusively on Gollum, alone, that he barely touches on the dynamics of Gollum's relationship to Frodo, much less Sam, Bilbo, Shelob, and Faramir; also interesting in this regard might have been Gríma Wormtongue, The Mouth of Sauron, the Orcs, or the Elves.

I also felt that there is a paradox at the heart of Nagy's and most other interpretations of Tolkien's creation of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Nagy in this article never treats Gollum as an independent and important character in The Hobbit, seeing (as so many do) The Hobbit only as a 'prequel' to LotR. But Tolkien stuck very closely to his simple and original "old Gollum" ghoul in The Hobbit when enlarging him to embody the central symbolism of the One Ring's corruption. The lisping infantile speech, the self-abnegating references to "my precious", the timidity and false motives were carried forward and appeared unchanged in the hobbits' first encounter with him at the feet of the Emyn Muil. How is it that so much of Gollum existed before the Ring did -- how much did Gollum's characterization in The Hobbit drive, rather than derive from, Tolkien's developing conceptions of the Ring and its power?

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

This fine entry is Nagy’s best work, though as in his Silmarillion article, he tends to rush past others’ interpretations to reach his own insightful (if difficult) ideas.  Although Nagy makes two passing references to Gollum as a “shadow figure for Frodo and Sam” and a “contrast for hobbits (especially Bilbo and Frodo)”, he mostly ignores these interpretations in favor of Gollum’s relationship with the Ring and Sauron. This even though, as squire notes, Gollum’s personality predates Tolkien’s conception of the Ring as more than a magic trinket.  In fact, Gollum is arguably a better foil for Bilbo in the first edition text of The Hobbit than in the revision.

Those revisions that Tolkien made to “Riddles in the Dark” in The Hobbit, to fit the story of The Lord of the Rings, says Nagy, were “entirely conscious”, and he points to Letter #129 as proof.  But the matter is not so clear: as noted in that letter and the one immediately preceding it, Tolkien had submitted the revision as a sample, and was surprised when the changes were incorporated into a proposed second edition, though he passed them for publication.

Nagy also cites Letters in support of the idea that Gollum almost repents his deeds on the stairs that climb to Cirith Ungol.  As this is a concept that (in my experience) many readers miss, I wondered about the doubts recently expressed by Michael Drout, in his 2005 article, “Towards a better Tolkien criticism”,  concerning the limited value that extra-textual material like the Letters has for proving literary interpretations: if the text of LotR fails to convey this idea to readers, do Tolkien’s post-facto explanations matter?  However, in this case, Nagy might have turned to LotR itself, where in Appendix B, Tolkien writes that Gollum, “seeing Frodo asleep, nearly repents”.  Then Nagy could have spent this capital with Letter #181 – where Tolkien comments on the probable damnation of Gollum’s soul – as a contrast to the opinion of some readers mentioned by Nagy, who feel that Gollum is the story’s “hero” (a point Nagy wishes to rebut).

Nagy’s opening summary is very good, and throughout his article he moves nicely in and out of the texts.  I was pleased to see reference to Gollum’s antecedents in Tolkien’s character, Glip, and Haggard’s character, Gagool (the Haggard connection was suggested by Giddings and Holland 20 years before Rogers and Underwood, though only the latter team are listed in Nagy’s bibliography).  Surprising omissions include Déagol; Gollum’s “indomitable” spirit as mentioned in Unfinished Tales; his torture by Sauron (“O my poor hands, gollum!”); his cannibalism; his violent physical reaction to Elvish things; his poetry; and even the meaning of “Sméagol” (that “Trahald” is unmentioned I can understand). 

In addition to the figures mentioned by squire –all missing from the See also list, as are “Power” and “Hobbits”– Gollum can also be compared profitably to Boromir and Saruman as fallen or falling characters in LotR, and to the treacherous guide Mîm in the “Narn i Chîn Húrin”.


Gondor - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, Janurary 4, 2007

From the unfortunate prose style, to the disproportionate 'Middle-earth-studies' focus on Gondor's history, to the final odd and inadequate analysis of the meanings of Gondor in Tolkien's fiction, this piece fails to satisfy.

The prose style would be most easily corrected by a kindly editor. "The longest-lived of two kingdoms", "Gondor's proximity to Mordor caused its people many sore trials", "It can be argued that Gondor's intrinsic racial elitism and xenophobia are meant to be seen as a major factor in its decline", "Readers have long been divided on the issue of Gondor's prototypes (if any) in our primary world" are not incorrect, but their clumsy misconstructions do diffuse their meaning. My favorite, though, is the concluding sentence, "But Gondor, in contrast to Rome, is saved from  utter downfall by subcreatorial grace at the penultimate moment, in an eucatastrophical move when, against all reasonable odds, the king does in fact return."

As for the column or two of Gondorian history and cultural details, taken mostly from Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, it's just a misallocation of space in this Encyclopedia. One can fill as many pages with Gondorian 'facts' as Tolkien did, or one can sum them all up in a paragraph. Between learning that Eldacar's northern name was Vinitharya, and the paragraph, I vote the paragraph.

Finally, what is Gondor all about? Straubhaar properly, if clumsily, reviews the usual suspects of real-world empires that Gondor evokes. What she misses is the symbolism of decadence and death that pervades it, the contrast between it and Rohan in Tolkien's heart, the relationship it bears to the Sea, to the South and to the Mediterranean, to medievalism, to Gothic and Romanesque styles, and to its own 'Queen City", Minas Tirith. She skips the fated twin relationship it has with Arnor, and doesn't even cite Aragorn's song Gondor! Gondor! She gives Ford's fascinating Tolkien Studies article 'The White City' in her Further Reading list, but does not explain to her readers its sophisticated argument that places Minas Tirith and by extension Gondor in the middle ages as a kind of Germanic Rome Redux.

Her only other citation is to her own work - perhaps another instance where the editors picked an 'expert' on some aspect of Tolkien, only to find that he or she focused on their own special expertise to the exclusion of a more well-rounded approach.

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

Straubhaar probably mentions Eldacar’s northern name, “Vinitharya”, because it is Gothic: though the Goths are never mentioned here, she includes her own articles about that people in the See also list (while omitting Denethor, Boromir, and Aragorn).


Good and Evil - Brian Rosebury

Comments by squire, July 9, 2007

This is brilliant. In about a thousand words Rosebury recapitulates the morality of Tolkien's legendarium from the Augustinian perspective that evil is only the absence of good; then adds for good measure Shippey's argument that the Manichean interpretation (evil is the equal and opposite of good) actually can be seen in Tolkien; and finally presents the resulting synthesis found in the fundamental dilemma of The Lord of the RIngs: evil must be both foresworn and actively combatted.

Accurate subtleties of interpretation are observed: Rosebury is one of the few writers in the Encyclopedia to use phrases like "the writings that culminated in the published Silmarillion"; he condemns Fëanor whose talents "do not excuse" his terrific sins; and he points out that Tolkien's treatment of the struggle between Good and Evil varied "greatly" in his various tales: the Silmarillion cycle is profoundly pessimistic and at the end misses the "heart-rending joy of 'eucatastrophe'" that Tolkien claimed was essential to the "Fairy-story".

At the same time Rosebury daringly suggests that The Lord of the Rings, where Evil is undeniably defeated, is at heart an optimistic work, in the face of Tolkien's own self-criticism that the book is in the end about death.

'Further Reading' is too short, though the books of Rosebury and Shippey, combined with "On Fairy-stories", is certainly a good start. The See also is comprehensive -- though once again I am baffled that Númenor did not rate an Encyclopedia entry.


Gordon, E.V. (1896-1938) - Douglas Anderson

Comments by squire, July 9, 2007

This is very clear and complete.

It would perhaps be asking too much for more "color": what was E. V. Gordon like? Why did he and Tolkien get along, as it seems, socially as well as professionally? What are some of the anecdotes underlying Anderson's bald contradiction of Carpenter, to the effect that Gordon was no more able than anyone else to stimulate Tolkien to publish in a timely manner?

The 'Further Reading' is comprehensive, seemingly; See also, I daresay, could be longer: where are (at the least) the cross-references to the joint scholarship Tolkien and Gordon produced?


Gordon, Ida (1907-) - Yvette Kisor

Comments by squire, July 9, 2007

Again, another fine summary of the life and career of one of Tolkien's fellow medievalists.

Perhaps there is no material on this that is publicly available, but what I miss here is some consideration of Gordon as a person. In the article on her husband but not here, it is noted that she was his pupil and that they had four children. Her curriculum vitae is scanted: we learn when she retired from the University of Manchester, but not when she started. Most tellingly, we do not learn what it took for her to carve out her own career in (presumably) her husband's shadow.

The remarks of Tolkien's that are quoted ("the widow of...Gordon" and "failed to do my duty") seem faintly patronizing. I wondered how she compared in Tolkien's estimation with his own female pupil and collaborator, S. R. T. O. D'Ardenne, and how both fit in with Tolkien's notorious attitude (Letters, No. 43) that female scholars depend on men for their inspiration.

Particularly since she was still alive at the article's writing (and if she is still with us, she is 100 years old this year), it is remarkable and unfortunate that no Tolkien scholar has taken the time to interview her for her memories of him and his work with her. Kisor unfortunately missed Gordon's recorded remarks on Tolkien, cited in Anderson's article on her husband, "An Industrious Little Devil", to the effect that The Lord of the Rings deprived the world, and her, of the full-time attention of a "very fine medieval scholar who might have done so much more work of lasting value..."


Gothic Language - Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 6, 2007

Very disappointing. Like other Lobdell articles, the writing in “Gothic Language” is convoluted and full of parenthetical asides, suggesting a constantly derailing train of thought. Just read the paragraph that begins with “The sensibility underlying ...” for a prime example. Quite apart from the rambling structure, though, Lobdell misses several important facts, choosing instead to offer up whatever inconclusive bullet points on Gothic occur to him. The following are just a few of my reservations with this entry:

  • I’m really troubled by the fact that Lobdell spends two precious paragraphs quoting, with translation, the entire 18-line poem, “Bagme Bloma”! Printing the poem in its entirety does not serve the topic at hand, and I fear it could constitute a potential copyright infringement. A short quotation might have been worthwhile (and would have constituted fair use), but the entire poem? And Lobdell doesn’t provide the customary title of the poem either, referring to it instead by its first line (whereas, in the next entry, “Goths”, the poem is identified as “Bagme Bloma”).

  • Moving on, the antepenultimate paragraph is a complete waste – close to 75 words that could have been much better used. In the penultimate paragraph, Lobdell’s “restatement” of Joe Wright’s comment on Gothic is not really what Wright said. And even if it were, why provide the quotation only to restate it? Another wasted paragraph.

  • A minor quibble, but how can one allude to Heidrek’s Saga without mentioning that Christopher Tolkien published an edition of it in 1960?

  • Finally, and most importantly, where is the discussion of Tolkien’s use of Gothic names in Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings (Vidumavi, Vidugavia, et al.)? Much useful information on this subject can be found in Arden Smith’s “Tolkienian Gothic”, from The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, yet Lobdell neither alludes to any of it, nor includes it in his Further Reading. (Although it is possible the Blackwelder proceedings were not in print yet at the time Lobdell completed his draft, he still cannot be excused for missing LotR App.A on his own.)

Comments by N.E. Brigand, February 7, 2007

At first glance, Lobdell, writing in a breezy style, seems to satisfactorily cover his subject in this thousand-word article: he explains historical Gothic; emphasizes the Gothic scholarship of Tolkien’s teacher, Joseph Wright; and even includes the full text of Tolkien’s short Gothic poem, “Bagme Bloma”, with English translation.

But not only does Lobdell omit some key points in favor of long digressions, as noted by Jason Fisher, he makes some annoying mistakes.  Quoting Letters, p. 213, Lobdell writes that Tolkien discovered Gothic in Joseph Wright’s 1910 Grammar of the Gothic Language.  But Tolkien never mentions this text in that letter; in fact, on p. 357 of Letters, Tolkien writes, “I had come across this admirable language a year or two before 1910 in Joseph Wright’s Primer of the Gothic Language”, a book which the Grammar later replaced.  And Lobdell writes of the word “Mirkwood” that it “has been suggested” that its source is an Icelandic poem about the Goths.  Suggested by whom?  Lobdell doesn’t say, nor does he mention Tolkien’s own comment that the name in northern legend was “used especially of the boundary between Goths and Huns” (Letters, p. 369).

Furthermore, Lobdell notes the 1936 publication of “Bagme Bloma” in the collection, Songs for the Philologists, but fails to mention that Tolkien later corrected the poem; the modified version was published by Tom Shippey in an appendix to The Road to Middle-earth.  Shippey goes unmentioned in Lobdell’s essay or bibliography, but the Gothic text given by Lobdell exactly matches Shippey’s version, excepting one letter in the first word of the second stanza, where Lobdell has Woþjand for Shippey’s Wopjand.  Possibly that was the only correction made between the 1936 and 1982 versions, but there is a more serious problem with Lobdell’s presentation of the English translation, which is given as if it were Tolkien’s or Lobdell’s work; in fact, it is Shippey’s translation.

Lobdell could have credited Shippey, or found and cited a different translation of the poem (two are given here, for example), or provided his own translation.  Regardless, Shippey should have been cited for other reasons: he not only reprints and translates Bagme Bloma, but also relates the poem’s birch to that in Smith of Wootton Major, and identifies the birch as a symbol of philology itself – two points ignored by Lobdell.  Humphrey Carpenter’s biography also ought to have been cited, at least for Joe Wright’s comments on Celtic that Lobdell quotes (though he changes Carpenter’s “Go in for Celtic, lad; there’s money in it” on p. 64 to “Go in for the Celtic, boy—there’s money in it”).  But rather than bother with Lobdell’s article, I second Jason Fisher’s suggestion that readers turn to Arden Smith’s “Tolkienian Gothic”, which appeared too late to be cited by Lobdell and entirely supersedes his work.


Goths - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, July 21, 2007

This is much too long for its actual subject, which is not the Goths, but the Goths as they relate to Tolkien. Actual references to Tolkien in this article come intermittently and with little development. There seem to be only two examples of what Tolkien actually did with his putative knowledge of the Goths:

  • His semi-scholarly identification of Beowulf's Geats with the historical Goths. This has since been discredited, I believe, which is the kind of follow-through missing here, and throughout.

  • His fictional use in LotR Appendix A, of Gothic for various personal names in the tales of the early Third Age Eastern tribes that would eventually become the Rohirrim. This made an effective analogy since the Goths and their language are the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon tribes and languages.

It might have been worth while to point out that Tolkien uses his "good" Eastern tribes/Rohirrim for a larger historical parallel than just the linguistic one: In Appendix A they fight with Gondor against the "bad" Easterling invasions -- just as the Goths fought for Rome against the truly terrific invasions of the Huns.


Grammar - Maria Raffaella Benvenuto

Comments by squire, March 24, 2007

It's hard to tell just what this article is supposed to be about. Benvenuto has chosen to focus on grammar as one constituent of Tolkien's aesthetic fascination with language as an object rather than a tool. Given that approach, she reviews some of the better-known works by Tolkien on his love of language, and on his invented languages. She does not, however, narrow her focus to grammar alone, constantly noting Tolkien's Elvish lexicons and vocabularic work as well. It might have been a good idea to define what grammar is before trying to study Tolkien's relationship to it.

The "Further Reading" list is excellent. She may unfortunately have missed by a few months Carl Hofstetter's valuable 2006 article "Elvish as She Is Spoke", from the 2004 Marquette conference proceedings. It is the best account I have read of the importance and meaning of grammar, and especially the philological specialty called "historical grammar", to Tolkien in the context of his invented languages.

Benvenuto finishes with a clever dissection of Farmer Giles of Ham, with its philological in-jokes and the parodic character of the parson who was a Grammarian. She does not really connect Giles with her first section on Elvish grammars, though.

It is arguable that the topic "Grammar" is in the thematic category "Stylistic Elements" so that it might focus on how Tolkien uses English grammar and grammatical devices to craft the various prose styles that characterize his fiction. Benvenuto does not address this aspect of Grammar in Tolkien studies. An example of what might have been can be seen in Michael Drout's 2004 Tolkien Studies I article "Tolkien's Prose Style and its Literary and Rhetorical Effects."

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

Drout’s methods have been taken up by Robin Reid in her recent article, “‘Tree and flower, leaf and grass’: The Grammar of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings”, published in the collection, Fantasy Fiction Into Film.

As for connecting the Parson of Farmer Giles to Elvish grammar, Benvenuto might have followed the example of Carl Hostetter, who quotes from another philologist-figure in Tolkien’s stories, Lowdham in “The Notion Club Papers”, reporting an advance in his language-dreams: “Verbs! Syntax at last!” (Sauron Defeated, p. 246).


Great Haywood - David Bratman

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

Here’s another contribution to the encyclopedia’s quirky system of delivering Tolkien’s biography piecemeal, partly through entries on places where he lived, like Leeds, Oxford, and Bournemouth.  As usual, Bratman writes well in this short entry and comments on both Tolkien’s life and fiction.  He finesses Great Haywood’s connection to the stories slightly better than the separate article on the imagined town of Tavrobel.  The articles’ duplication of details like the House of a Hundred Chimneys and the packhorse bridge is annoying.

To the lone See also reference to "The Book of Lost Tales I", add the articles on "The Book of Lost Tales II", "Grove, Jennie (1860-1938)", "Marriage", "Tavrobel", "Trench Fever", and "World War I".  The single entry in the 'Further Reading' list (with two misspellings) should be supplemented with Carpenter’s biography and Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War.


Greece: Reception of Tolkien - Dimitra Fimi

Comments by squire, March 29, 2007

Aside from the engaging transliteration of Tolkien's titles into the Greek alphabet, very little of this article grabbed my imagination. The Hobbit was first translated in 1978, The Lord of the Rings in 1985-88, The Silmarillion in 1996. Few but some sci-fi/fantasy/RPG geeks read them in Greece, until the New Line films appeared in 2001. A whole new audience materialized, and now there is a Tolkien Society and a fan website. It all sounds like part of some bland master plan for the Tolkienization of the world.

I kind of wish the translators had been identified, and their work characterized: how well does Tolkien translate into modern Greek? Do any social or cultural or religious norms in Greece work toward a differing understanding of Tolkien from that in English-speaking, or Northwestern European, countries? Why was The Hobbit translated first -- and why all so late, years after Tolkien's death?

The thing I found most interesting was Fimi's passing remark that some "specialized books written on Quenya" have appeared in Greek, possibly due to Quenya's partial debt to classical Greek. Does this kind of international scholarship circulate to the English-language-speaking core group of scholars who are studying Tolkien's invented-language texts?


Greek Gods - Jason Fisher

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

The title probably should have been “Mythology, Greek”, to align this article with those on Celtic and Germanic legends; it is not restricted to the classical gods.  Fisher rounds up a nice list of similarities between Greek myths and Tolkien’s tales, with special attention to the pantheon of the Middle-earth legendarium.  His reminder that this grouping owes at least as much to Greece as to Scandinavia is valuable, though one of his other examples shows the danger in Tolkienian source hunting: Aragorn’s black-sailed ships do recall Theseus, but the same motif also occurs in the “Tristan and Iseult” legend, as described, for example, in the encyclopedia’s entry on “Leeds University Verse 1914-24”.

The full paragraph on Norse mythology should have been cut in favor of the long article on that subject.  And a long quote from Tolkien’s letters somewhat undercuts the value of this article, as Tolkien writes there that mythologies depend for their quality as much on the language in which they are expressed as on the incidents they relate.

Most interesting to me are Fisher’s remarks on the “Greek mythographer” Euhemerus, whose ideas on the creation of myths were similar to Tolkien’s, though Fisher doesn’t mention Tolkien’s comments on this subject in “On Fairy-Stories”.

The 'Further Reading' list is very good, but omits Fisher’s citation for Hammond and Scull’s comments on a possible Greek source for Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog (The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion).  The See also list refers to a “Greek Language” article, which is absent from the encyclopedia.

Comments by squire, July 22, 2007

The absence of a "Greek Language" article is particularly distressing since we read in "Greece: Reception of Tolkien" and elsewhere that Quenya owes something to ancient Greek; and as Jason Fisher has shown and N. E. Brigand notes, Tolkien valued language as much as incident in his appreciation of mythologies. A "Greek Language" article, properly written up, might have tied the Greek mythology more strongly to the legendarium using linguistic analysis. Of course the ideal situation would be a masterful article entitled "Greece", covering all aspects of that ancient and noble culture as well as its present-day descendant nation.


Green, Roger Lancelyn (1918–87) - Colin Duriez

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

Too much of this article is devoted to a biography of Green without relevance to Tolkien – Green’s early interest in Lewis Carroll, and the death of his son in 2004 are unnecessary here – but Duriez does identify some good Tolkien connections along the way. For instance, he meets a kind of basic requirement for the encyclopedia’s Inklings biographies, by giving Green’s opinion on Smith of Wootton Major and noting the character he probably inspired in “The Notion Club Papers”.

The three-item See also list should be supplemented with references to “Barrie, J.M.”; “Children’s Literature and Tolkien”; “On Fairy-Stories”; and “Smith of Wootton Major”.


Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) - Bradford Lee Eden

Comments by squire, June 27, 2007

Someone didn't get the memo that this is the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. The only question is, was it Eden or his editors that were napping at the staff meeting? As with his articles "Augustine of Canterbury" and "Missions from Anglo-Saxon England", Eden never mentions Tolkien at all.


Gríma (Wormtongue) - Janet Brennan Croft

Comments by squire, May 10, 2007

This is far weaker than Croft's usual standard. Four-fifths of the article is a simple recitation of Wormtongue's role in the plot, which is so oddly common but uncalled-for in the articles on characters. The writing is occasionally sloppy (e.g. "When Gandalf exposed Wormtongue's bargain... he was given a chance to redeem himself").

The inclusion of incidents from "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales should have been sourced explicitly: that material is hardly to be referred to in the way that the Lord of the Rings's narrative can be. Indeed a close reading of UT shows that Tolkien eliminated Gríma's adventure with the Nazgul in his final but sketchy version of this episode. Christopher Tolkien reprinted in full the earlier rejected version, with Gríma's cowardly betrayal of Saruman, not because it was JRRT's intention to include it in the context of The Lord of the Rings but because it made a good "tale".

The final paragraph gives quite a lot of commentary on the sources for his name and character, and concludes with the interesting but undeveloped observation that in some ways he is a "double" for Gollum. I wish that less time had been spent on Gríma's timeline, dates and all, and more on thoughts about his contribution to the themes that Tolkien was developing in his Rohan subadventure.

For instance, how should we reconcile Eomer's claim to Aragorn that the men of Rohan do not lie and so are not easily deceived, with Gríma's lies and Theoden's deception thereby? Why does Pippin the Hobbit instantaneously spot Gríma for a liar (as does the reader, the minute Gríma opens his mouth at Edoras), but we are expected to believe he has thrived as the King's counselor for years? How does Gríma's lying compare with Saruman's, and with that of Sauron and his minions like the Mouth of Sauron and the messenger to Dale? Does Tolkien's use of this literary convention of the obviously truthless villain contribute to the arguments of the critics who complain that the morality in LotR is black and white, and childish to boot?

Or, as another instance, how believable is Gríma's degradation as Saruman's slave/lackey in the final parts of the book? There Gríma most resembles Gollum, to be sure - yet Gríma never came near the Ring. What does that say about the possibility of loss of identity and self in Tolkien?

The 'Further Reading' and See also are pretty short; evidently only one critic has ever taken Gríma under consideration, and "Éomer", "Saruman", "Treason", "Sexuality", "Food" and "Gollum" are all missing from the cross references.

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

Croft draws from three different stories in Unfinished Tales: not just “The Hunt for the Ring”, but also “The Disaster of the Gladden Fields” and “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”, but she never mentions those texts in her article (nor even The Lord of the Rings, not even once).  Her abbreviated reference to Wormtongue as double for Gollum, an idea I like, might benefit from Tom Shippey’s observation that gríma in Old English means not only “mask”, as Croft notes, but also “ghost” (The Road to Middle-earth, p. 266) – in “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf says that Gollum had become known to the Woodmen of Mirkwood as a “ghost that drank blood”.


Grove, Jennie (1860–1938) - John Garth

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

A good 'Further Reading' list and a brief but sufficient See also list conclude a short, well-written article of very little importance.  I mean no disrespect to Grove, whose biography is nicely sketched by Garth, but the only notable point here is that she and her cousin, Edith Tolkien, moved more than twenty times from 1916 through 1918, a fact that goes unmentioned in the Encyclopedia’s article on “Marriage” (which stands in for a separate article on Edith herself).

Comments by squire, June 30, 2007

I would add to the above critique that there are a few other points of interest that Garth includes: Grove's Anglican religion clearly did not prevent her from taking her cousin in after Edith's conversion to Catholicism, which further confounds the argument in the "Church of England" article. There seems to be some confusion between this article and "Music in Middle-earth" as to whether Edith moved in with Grove before or after Tolkien's proposal and Edith's subsequent conversion. I'm sure both articles are not as far from the facts as they are from each other due to the sloppy coordination between various contributors that so plagues the Encyclopedia.

Grove's connection to the musicologist Sir George Grove seems to have been more important to Edith (and Ronald) at the time than it is to us now. A line or two of just why this was so, or even how we know about it, in terms of the Tolkien family history, would have done a bit more to justify this article. Finally, the article implies, but does not give details, that the Tolkien children saw "Auntie Ie" as a "surrogate grandmother" in the years between 1921 and her death in 1938. Where did she live, and how did she, an "indomitable" but crippled spinster from a workingman's family, support herself?

It is painful to discover while indexing this review that the article "Grove, Jennie (1860-1938)" is listed in the Encyclopedia's thematic category "Scholars, Medieval".


Guthlac, Poem - Sarah Downey

Comments by squire, June 28, 2007

This is okay, as far as it goes. That is, I've seen articles on medieval literature that make an even poorer connection with Tolkien's scholarship or fiction. But Downey makes just two and a half points in a column of prose. The half point is that Tolkien at one time made a comment about the Guthlac poems in comparison to Beowulf. But she does not cite where he said this. (There is no 'Further Reading' list.)

Her main points are two comparisons of thematic incidents with a nod to their mode as "heroic Christian" Anglo-Saxon composition. FIrst is Guthlac's struggle with the demons in the beorg, which she says could have inspired aspects of Frodo's adventure with the Barrow-wight. Second is Guthlac's death in battle, mourned by his followers, which she says is evoked by Theoden's death and Merry's "attendant grief". She does, however, note that this is a standard trope in this genre, occurring as well in Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon.

Her conclusion, that the Guthlac poems belong in that class of medieval literature that inspired Tolkien when he was inventing Middle-earth, seems both indisputable and unimportant; the article could have been half as long or even incorporated into some omnibus "Medieval Literature, Other" article about Tolkien's sources.

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

Tolkien’s comment on Guthlac appears in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” (p. 14 of The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays; also, in slightly different phrasing, on pp. 59 and 115 of Beowulf and the Critics).  Downey claims that Tolkien felt the poem’s style was comparable to that of Beowulf.  So he did, but he goes on to say that Beowulf is nonetheless superior to Guthlac and other long Old English poems: “each line there is more significant (even when, as sometimes happens, it is the same line)”.


Guthlac, Saint - Sarah Downey

Comments by squire, June 28, 2007

Although this is interesting material, none of it has anything to do with Tolkien per se; in fact he is not even mentioned. Since Downey wrote both, she could well have put a paragraph or two of this material into her article on the Guthlac poems and let it go at that. But that article (see above), taken purely as an entry in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, doesn' t really need any more information than it already contains.