Haigh, Walter E. (1856-1931) - Janet Brennan Croft

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

Croft’s article is first rate, doing almost everything its size allows: in less than 250 words, she briefly sketches Haigh’s career, explains the importance of his A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District (a 1928 book for which Tolkien wrote the foreword), and notes some Huddersfield words that appear in Tolkien’s fiction.  Croft’s See also list is meager with just two items, and her Further Reading list perhaps should include Tom Shippey’s The Road to Middle-earth .

Shippey, by the way, is the author of the encyclopedia’s "A New Glossary" article, which covers the same ground as Croft but with more than twice the detail, making this entry almost entirely redundant.


Havard, Humphrey (1901-85) - David Bratman

Comments by squire, July 22, 2007

It's hard to get up to speed reading an entry whose first words contradict the title. Is this Inkling named "Humphrey Havard" or "Robert Emyln Havard"?

While pondering that mystery, we read the remaining narrative with diminished enthusiasm. Here is the remarkable instance of an Inkling who wrote a memoir of Tolkien, for a Tolkien fan journal (Mythlore), but who evidently had nothing to say about Tolkien's personality, story-telling, or idiosyncrasies whether personal or professional. Nor, apparently, did he himself have any remarkable characteristics; we must resort to The Notion Club Papers to project onto him his fictional alter ego's description of "quiet but perceptive". The irony of Tolkien renaming him from the Inklings' "Honest Humphrey" to the Notion Club's "Ruthless Rufus" is apparently inexplicable.


Health and Medicine - Richard Scott Nokes

Comments by squire, November 17, 2006

This is a fine straightforward article. Nokes shows that athelas has sound philological roots in Old English, that the art of healing in the time of the War of the Ring has declined in tandem with the loss of the King, and that Elves in English folklore were supposed to be a cause of illness whereas in Tolkien they have superior healing powers.

That said, I wish he had written a bit more about the moral basis of health in Middle-earth. Perhaps some fat could have been cut from the athelas section to make room for mention of the Great Plague that depopulates the West in the earlier Third Age, which seems to have been sent by Sauron; of how the Black Breath is just one manifestation of a kind of despair-sickness that comes from a glimpse of the shadow of Sauron's soul, as evidenced by passages where similar symptoms are seen with no Nazgul present; or of why Faramir suffers from a fever as well as the Black Breath that afflicts Eowyn and Merry in the Houses of Healing.

As a nice touch, Nokes cites an Elf-healing in Smith of Wootton Major, showing that he unlike some other contributors does not think this is the Lord of the Rings Encyclopedia!

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

"Health and Medicine": I agree with you that ... Nokes's article on health is clear and intelligent. It's too short; as you note much more could be said. There is one error: read "Aragorn" for "Imrahil" in the last sentence of the third paragraph.


Heathenism and Paganism - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, May 12, 2007

Dickerson identifies the single use of "heathen" in The Lord of the Rings, by Gandalf to characterize Denethor's suicidal despair. This he uses as an opportunity to review the etymology and meanings of "heathen" and (by association) "pagan" in Anglo-saxon and Christian thought. He gets further and further away from the paradox the word presents in Tolkien's deliberately religion-free mythical world. Several times he suggests that Tolkien used "heathen" by accident or in a misleadingly naive sense, only to insist in refutation that the word must be taken religiously, and within the context of Christianity. He concludes at the end that for Tolkien as a Christian, heathenism leads to "pride, despair and death". Unfortunately, this hardly explains Denethor's actions or Gandalf's epithet as used in Tolkien's non-Christian story, which was the beginning point of this essay.

As others such as Kocher have pointed out, Tolkien's use of religious associations in LotR is subtle and variously interpretable. It might have profited Dickerson to try to link Gandalf's words with Aragorn's tale of the cursed Dead who "worshipped Sauron" in the Dark Years. Similar clues are found in the scraps of Númenorean and Gondorian history throughout the book; and much more is made explicit in the Akallabeth and other writings on the Edain from the History of Middle-earth ephemera. From this we might guess that Tolkien had erected a parallel association for "heathen" in Middle-earth, that referred to a formal or ritual rejection by Men of the light or rule of the Valar -- which Faramir more or less "worships" in Henneth Annun. The Christian associations of the term thus enrich, rather than define, Gandalf's warning.

Nor does Dickerson pursue the implications of his own definition of "pagan" as a heathen who actively worships "the old gods", i.e. the polytheistic systems that preceded Christianity. To do so would be to confront the very role that the Valar play in Tolkien's mythology, both in LotR and in The Silmarillion. But despite the title of this article, according to Dickerson Tolkien never uses the word "pagan", and so this question actually never comes up for the reader.

Ultimately, Dickerson's focus on a Christian interpretation of Tolkien's writing seems to get in the way of a proper analysis of Tolkien's subtlety in finessing his story's theology. The 'Further Reading' and See also list reinforce this impression, with only Christian-oriented books by Birzer and Dickerson to supplement Shippey's (with its underused gloss on Gandalf's meaning of  "heathen"). Just who were those "scholars" that proposed that Tolkien used "heathen" by mistake and forgot to fix it? And there are no references to any of the many articles on the religious aspects of the world of Tolkien's legendarium, such as "The Valar", "The Fall of Man", "Melkor/Morgoth", etc.

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 14, 2007

Squire says in his review that “according to Dickerson Tolkien never uses the word ‘pagan’.” Actually, Dickerson in defining "heathen" and "pagan" writes that “Tolkien could use the words …” (emphasis mine), and follows this up with a quote from Monsters and the Critics in which Tolkien uses the word “pagan.” Tolkien, by the way, used the word not only in his work on Beowulf, but also in a footnote to “On Fairy-stories” as well as two or three times in Letters.

More to the point, perhaps, Tolkien does not use the work in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or The Silmarillion, and maybe this is what squire was driving at. One very significant use of the word “pagan”, however, which Dickerson overlooked completely, occurs in the Qenya Lexicon (Parma Eldalamberon No. 12, p. 134) – and the same is quoted in the Appendix to The Book of Lost Tales Part I, p. 283 – in the Elvish words, ainu “a pagan god” and aini “a pagan goddess.” There’s also a bracketed note as to the correct interpretation of “pagan” in these glosses (the opinion of the editors and not Tolkien’s own statement). Maybe even more interesting, the same root in the QL also yields the distinctly Catholic-sounding aimo and aire “saint (m. / f.)”, aimaktu (-tar) and aimaksin (-si) “martyr (m. / f.)”, among other words of reverence and worship.

Clearly, the mere existence of these early Elvish words – and their disappearance later on – speaks volumes to the question of Tolkien’s evolving ideas about how his own fictive mythology should or would fit into that of the Primary World. It’s a shame Dickerson either missed this or elected to omit it from his discussion.

Comments by squire, May 15, 2007

Jason Fisher is right that I failed to distinguish Dickerson's example of Tolkien's use of "pagan" in his scholarship, from the absence of any recognition that "pagan" does not occur in Tolkien's Middle-earth fiction. Also, it has since been pointed out to me that Denethor says "heathen" previously to Dickerson's example of Gandalf, a chapter or two earlier ("No tomb for Denethor and Faramir.  No tomb!...We will burn like heathen kings..."). The usage is especially valuable because it is Denethor's, and so we see that Denethor and Gandalf totally agree on the "heathen" nature of despair and suicide.


Heaven - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, March 28, 2007

I liked Pearce's use of "Leaf by Niggle" and "Mythopoeia" to illustrate Tolkien's understanding of Heaven as a place where human art becomes truth. Both works seem to resonate with Tolkien's own self-perception as a Catholic artist and his own beliefs about a Heaven he yearned for.

Where I got confused was with Pearce's invocation of the Ainulindalë which portrays a fictional pre-creational "heaven" in Tolkien's legendarium. God and his angels are there in the void, to be sure, but is that the same "place" where mortals' souls will go after death, in Tolkien's imaginary theology? My lack of a proper Catholic education puts me at a loss here, but it doesn't seem quite to fit. Pearce then muddies the waters further by saying that the "heaven" of the Ainulindalë has a Catholic orthodoxy, in comparison with the "pseudo-heavens described elsewhere in his legendarium", i.e. Valinor and the Halls of Mandos.

Pearce shows that the Halls of Mandos are similar to the Catholic limbo, but insouciantly includes the "mystic West" in that analogy. Unless I misunderstand him, the "mystic West" is Valinor. That is no limbo. Rather it is the paradisiacal land of the Gods in the West of Middle-earth, later translated into another dimension but still very real in the fictional universe of Middle-earth. Yet it is a land where the immortal Elves dwell in eternal bliss until the world ends. That is, it is a paradise rather than a heaven, if such a distinction can be made. The key, of course, is that Middle-earth's Men do pass through the Halls of Mandos to a place the Elves do not know, somewhat like the Catholic limbo; but Elves - fictional beings - linger in Mandos only to be judged, punished, and reborn in Valinor to another round of eternal life on earth.

If Pearce really believes that this concept shows that Tolkien conformed his legendarium to his religious beliefs about the nature and function of Heaven, he lost me there.

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

Two additional points.  First, if Pearce is right that the halls of Mandos are equivalent to the Christian limbus patrum, then the Men of Tolkien’s tales must wait there a long time, as they would be released to Heaven only after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Second, the distinction between Paradise and Heaven that squire makes also applies to “Leaf by Niggle”.  As that story nears its end, Niggle leaves the land where his tree has been made real, to follow a shepherd into the Mountains.  Niggle would hardly leave Heaven, and several readers have suggested that Niggle has been in the Earthly Paradise.  Also, Pearce oversimplifies when he writes that “When Niggle dies, he stumbles across his imaginary unfinished tree in Heaven.”  Before Niggle gets there, he has a term of hard labor in the Workhouse.


Hell - John Walsh

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

Mordor is like Hell.  This claim will surprise nobody, but it should have been better examined and supported in this article.  Walsh means to show that Mordor’s landscape, inhabitants, ruler, and story-function share characteristics with the hells of Sumerian, Christian, Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythologies.  But the “endless dust and parched clay” of Sumerian legend inadequately describe Mordor.  The name “Mordor” as, in part, a pun on Old English morthor (“murder”) is believable but connects weakly to Mordor as Hell.  It’s simply wrong to say that “Satan is always not a personally active force in the world of Christian mythology”.  Walsh seems to think that Sauron acts “through intermediaries” like Saruman because he is “disembodied”; against this there is Gollum’s description in “The Black Gate Is Closed” and Tolkien’s in Letters (p. 332).  And orcs may be elves twisted by evil, but Walsh should indicate his source of the “one explanation” that has them specifically as former murderers.

As I am unfamiliar with Norse mythology, Walsh’s unsourced comment that “Hell was called ‘Nellheim’ and was a cold, mountainous place geographically very similar to Mordor” spurred me to check wikipedia for more detail, where I found no “Nellheim” but instead Niflheimr (“Nifelheim” in Webster’s, “Niffleheim” in Bulfinch’s Mythology), the cold “Mist World” whose geography seems rather vague.  Mordor is mountainous only along its perimeter, and is only sometimes described as cold.

Several items are missing from this article, including See also and 'Further Reading' lists.  Walsh never mentions that Tolkien translates Udûn (the valley in Mordor’s northwest corner) as “Hell” in the index to LotR

Nor does he mention a little place called...  Angband.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 29, 2007

This entry leaves much to be desired. First, as N.E. Brigand has hinted, the entry is (inappropriately) just an extension of the “Mordor” entry. Second, as N.E. Brigand also suggested, the discussion here is much too superficial. For instance, “Sauron is the Lord of Mordor, Satan is the Lord of Hell” — not particularly helpful. And when it’s not being superficial, it’s too vague, too unclearly written. 

For instance, Walsh asserts that “Frodo and Sam travel to Mordor to cast the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom, since it cannot be destroyed by any mortal means.” Well, what are Frodo and Sam, immortal? Their efforts constitute “mortal means”, no? It’s obvious what Walsh meant, but what he meant isn’t exactly what he wrote. And here’s another mistake: Walsh writes that “being plucked from the depths of Hell […] is very similar to the salvation described in Christianity.” No: saved Christians are not “plucked from Hell” — once you’ve made it to Hell, it’s literally too damned late.

There is an endless confusion about exactly which “description” or “depiction” of Hell Walsh is talking about at each point — Sumerian? Christian? Norse? Anglo-Saxon? Middle-earth?. The entry is also full of non sequiturs. For example, in the third paragraph, the first sentence seems to want to open a discussion of Christianity, sin, murder, and so forth; so why does the second sentence immediately launch into a discussion of the geography of the Old Norse image of Hell? Sin and murder come back again, without transition, in the following paragraph.

And speaking of the Old Norse, it’s just as N.E. Brigand thought: Walsh is dead wrong with “Nelheim” [sic]. So far as I know, there is no such place, nor can I find anything at all in the Old Norse lexicon for a nel– element.. The goddess of death is Hel, and by extension, the abode of the dead was often called just that. The other two names one finds in the literature, Niflheimr and Niflhel add the element nifl– “fog”. Basically, these two names mean “fog-home” and “fog-Hel”.

And by the way, the Old English morthor really ought to have been spelled morþor, as the digraph “th” was not used in Old English as it is in Modern -- but I can excuse that, I suppose.


Heroes and Heroism - L.J. Swain

Comments by squire, March 18, 2007

Swain leads with a clear thesis: that Tolkien's heroes are characterized by a tension between a "Germanic" or warrior heroic idea and the more modern Christian heroic ideal. He then discusses how Tolkien's heroes, specifically Bilbo, Frodo, Boromir, Aragorn, Gimli, and Farmer Giles exemplify this conflict.

Well, that was clearly the idea. In fact, Swain's article suffers from a vague style and an inability to stay on topic. He defines the Germanic heroic idea using Beowulf as an example, but never really follows through by defining his parallel Christian heroic ideal. He implies what that might be when he emphasizes Frodo's motive of love, not glory, and Aragorn's rejection of glory and wealth (in favor of what? Swain never mentions duty), but the reader is forced to make those connections unaided. Bilbo is properly shown to both embody and parodize the Beowulfian heroic model, and Boromir is shown to epitomize it with all its flaws. Oddly, Gimli is said to be motivated by loyalty not glory, and Giles's heroism is characterized in almost Marxist terms - both instances require post-facto qualification of Swain's premise.

Swain's basic premise is sound, I think. I only wish he had had a chance to rewrite this with an emphasis on clarity and forensic lucidity.


Hierarchy – David Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 24, 2008

This is in many ways a companion piece to “Class in Tolkien’s Works”, also by Oberhelman. In fact, one might easily argue they could or should have been combined, but we’ve sung that refrain often enough already, so let’s move on. Right off the bat, I like Oberhelman’s mention of “the great chain of being”, but I wonder that he omits any comparison with “the great chain of reading”, that hierarchical “Russian doll” arrangement of narrators about which Gergerly Nagy has written.

Hinting at a possible comparison of Tom Bombadil with Ungoliant was a fascinating idea. Unfortunately, following it would have taken Oberhelman beyond the scope of the topic at hand; he wisely – but regrettably – leaves it a loose thread. Instead, Oberhelman expends too much space in cataloguing examples of Tolkien’s hierarchies in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. What is missing is a more developed analysis of the purpose, interaction, and significance of these hierarchies. Oberhelman begins to approach this when he writes that “all levels can cooperate, the highest to the lowest each playing a role in the workings of providence within Tolkien’s universe” – but unfortunately, he fails to note the most essential examples of this, from the importance of the “insignificant” Hobbits to the pivotal role of Gollum, arguably the lowest of the low in any hierarchy of Middle-earth.

Had Oberhelman delivered on all of this, then like “Class in Tolkien’s Works”, I could have wished also for some discussion of hierarchy outside of Middle-earth, as in Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham.

The 'Further Reading' is good and varied. I can think of two more worthwhile papers, both from the Proceedings of the Marquette conference, The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, perhaps published a little too late for Oberhelman to include in his article. These are Marjorie Burns’s “King and Hobbit: The Exalted and Lowly in Tolkien’s Created Worlds” (which Oberhelman did manage to cite for his entry on “Class in Tolkien’s Works”) and Jane Chance’s “Subversive Fantasist: Tolkien on Class Difference.”

Now that I’m thinking of it, the latter probably belonged in “Class” as well.


History of Middle-earth: Overview - David Bratman

Comments by squire, February 3, 2007

This cannot have been an easy article to write, since as Bratman warns us each of the twelve volumes of the series has its own entry in the Encyclopedia. After a little explanation of the general organization of the series, he relates the sequence of books in terms of what parts of the "legendarium" they contain, and also in terms of when and why J. R. R. Tolkien wrote these various parts.

What I miss -- and I honestly don't know how Bratman might have fit this in, if the article as it is has hit its assigned word count -- is more of the story of the writing of HoME from Christopher Tolkien's point of view, reflecting his doubts, missteps, and triumphs in organizing and publishing this mammoth work. As he notes more than once in his editorial commentary, several organizational peculiarities are due to the fact that when he started editing the Book of Lost Tales, he and his publisher were not at all sure how many volumes there were to be, or just how much unpublished material of J. R. R. Tolkien's there was that was publishable.

Also needed is more discussion of the impact that HoME has had on Tolkien's readership and on the field of Tolkien studies, during the years of its publication, and now. Michael Drout once speculated that Tolkien scholarship practically came to a halt during the 80s and 90s when that community realized the scope of what Christopher Tolkien was doing, and realized that nothing about reading The Lord of the Rings and especially The Silmarillion would be the same thereafter. A review of the more recent critical literature, and how it has absorbed the shock of HoME, would have been valuable and interesting.

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

This article does a superb job of introducing the History and summarizing its contents.  As a reader’s guidepost to the entries on individual History volumes, it could hardly be bettered. 

Unfortunately, Bratman makes no attempt at a general commentary on the series, which means the encyclopedia offers no overview in that sense, though the articles on The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales I each include remarks pertinent to the entire History.  So some of Bratman’s short descriptive comments on individual volumes never receive the explanations they demand, as when he writes that the tone and style of the Lost Tales was “greatly changed” when Tolkien moved to the Quenta structure: nowhere are those differing tones and styles contrasted. 

There is also no Further Reading list. For this, readers should turn to the last section and bibliography of Paul Edmund Thomas’s Book of Lost Tales II article.


History, Anglo-Saxon – Anna Smol

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 27,2007

This is a very well thought-out and organized essay. It ranges now and again from the specifically historical scope indicated by its title and into related areas such as language and literature, but this is to a large extent inevitable. Smol’s observations on the links between the history of the Hobbits and that of the Anglo-Saxons is clear and valuable, as is her similar discussion about the Rohirrim. Smol’s remarks on Tolkien’s identifying the Goths possibly with the Geats and the transposition of this idea into the relationship between the Rohirrim and their ancestors are an especially nice touch.

The second section of Smol’s essay, on Eriol/Ælfwine repeated much of the content in Honegger’s entry on the character; again, to some extent, this may be inevitable, but it causes one to question the need for a separate entry on the character. Smol might also have taken the opportunity to mention that Tolkien left behind a number of texts written in Old English, further evidence of his wish to integrate aspects of his legendarium directly into a feigned annalistic history of Britain, now lost. I felt that the concluding paragraph was a little thin and might have made more of the “mythology for England” argument. Although Smol does point readers to that entry in the Encyclopedia, its importance is likely to be missed among so many other cross-references. Essentially, while the entry adeptly handles the how, it does less well with the why.

(One interesting point that occurred to me: while Blanco does indeed derive from a word used in Beowulf, this word must surely be of Latinate origin, i.e., a loan-word from the British occupation prior to the fifth century, and is therefore a bit of an anomaly in Tolkien’s work. I wonder whether this rankled Tolkien at all? A number of his Hobbit names come from the Continent, but the majority are at least still Germanic in origin.)

The 'Further Reading' is very solid, though including an actual history of the Anglo-Saxons (as distinct from Tolkien’s use) would have been welcome. I usually recommend F.M. Stenton’s Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1943. The See also, as I have come to expect, has a few inconsistencies with the rest of the Encyclopedia as well, mainly in the omission of parenthetical parts of entry titles, and in pointing readers to a nonexistent “Philology” entry.


Hobbit, The - Chester N. Scoville

Comments by squire, December 18, 2006

The bulk of this article is populated with inarguable facts about The Hobbit. Scoville has obviously absorbed The Annotated Hobbit, and has the publishing history and the revisions down pat. His plot summary is competent, but takes much for granted. In truth, it's hard to write about The Hobbit without making dangerous assumptions about the reader's knowledge of Tolkien in general.

What I find difficult to forgive is the amount of space he devotes to "critical assessment".  One paragraph -- thank you ma'am. William Green's superb book on The Hobbit is a one-trick pony, but the trick had never been seen before; perhaps Scoville could have told us a little of how it worked (or at least included the Green reference in the Further Reading section!). Paul Kocher's 1972 chapter on The Hobbit is a miniaturist masterpiece that Green demolishes; Scoville makes no mention of Kocher.

Scoville never discusses what a "hobbit" is or what the literary antecedents to The Hobbit are. He ignores the illustrations, and the impact of The Hobbit's publication on Tolkien's professional and artistic life. He glosses over the entire question of the "tone" of The Hobbit and Tolkien's ambivalent feelings towards his own oral-oriented prose style when writing for children. It seems a shame to mention "important work" on The Hobbit by Chance and Shippey, and then refer the reader to the works in question, while recounting in painful detail the problems with Durin's Day and the anachronistic policemen of the Edge of the Wild, which points are lifted straight from The Annotated Hobbit.

In the end, Scoville seems to agree with those who believe that The Hobbit's main value is as a prequel and a marker in Tolkien's progress towards writing The Lord of the Rings. He talks about the "charms of the earlier book" without himself seeming to take much pleasure in them.


Hobbiton - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, March 8, 2007

Once again, we find ourselves immersed in a fantasy universe, where Hobbiton is a real place and merits description that verges on cute if not twee. Stanton obsesses on every detail of Tolkien's fine painting of Hobbiton from The Hobbit, easily transposing later Lord of the Rings embellishments onto the image rather than pointing out Tolkien's craft in writing the later work to fit with what he had already painted. His account of the degradation of the Shire and its restoration reads like clippings from a particularly obsequious local newspaper.

I've said before what a waste of the reader's time a "Middle-earth studies" submission to this Encyclopedia is. Let's face it: why have an entry on Hobbiton at all, since there is one for Hobbits, and for The Shire? If Hobbiton is to be explored at all, why not focus on what it meant to Tolkien - and his English readers in the 1930s and 1950s. Look at how it related to his unstated ideal of England in The Hobbit and his far more explicit version in the LotR. Look at how it is barely sketched in The Hobbit but still serves as a frame, and then serves the same function in LotR -- but always at a secondary level, peripheral to the core frame, Bag End: the distinction demonstrates Tolkien's priorities of home over village and ultimately village over King.

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

Many of Stanton’s mock-historical facts are incorrect: he calls Hobbiton “one of the principal villages in the Westfarthing” on no evidence, though Karen Fonstad has observed that Hobbiton seems not to have its own inn, because its residents frequent the Green Dragon and Ivy Bush in Bywater.  He refers to Hobbiton as a “desirable address” – even the poor residences of Bagshot Row?  Speaking of Bagshot Row, Stanton calls that the “ancestral Gamgee home”, but Sam’s father moved there from Tighfield to apprentice as a gardener.  And he incorrectly describes the path of the lane to Overhill, which according to Tolkien’s Shire map and contrary to Stanton, never reaches the crown of the Hill.  (Stanton also says that this lane winds west not east of the Hill, which appears to be true in Tolkien’s painting of Hobbiton, but not in his map of the Shire.)


Hobbits - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, March 21, 2007

Stanton covers the basic story-lore of hobbits pretty thoroughly. His usual approach of treating the entire subject as if it were real is followed; my thoughts about sentimental "Middle-earth Studies" contributions to this Encyclopedia are already on record (see 'Bilbo Baggins', 'Hobbiton', and 'Shire' ). Especially distracting here is the constant switching between present and past tense in his descriptions, e.g., "hobbits tended to..." but "hobbits have strengths...", etc. which only confuses his point of view further.

Stanton does briefly review the possible sources for Tolkien's invention of the hobbit, and briefly comments on the essential Englishness of hobbits. Like his good bibliography, these interludes are as welcome as they are unexpected. But they only remind us of the lack of any other critical treatment of this quite important aspect of Tolkien's subcreation.

Hobbits are perhaps Tolkien's most original contribution to the world of Faërie, and have been the subject of many, many critical interpretations. Their relationship to other races invented by Tolkien and other authors; their use in his fantasy fiction as mediators between levels of sub-created reality; their similarities to and differences from the modern-day audience that Tolkien was writing for; and their role as child-figures who grow to maturity through adventure, are just a few examples of the scholarly considerations of hobbits that Stanton does not report on.

On one level closer to this article's structure, it is also interesting to follow the literary development of hobbits from The Hobbit, where Bilbo is effectively the only one there is in a fantastic fairy-tale world, to The Lord of the Rings, where hobbits and hobbit-society grew and developed noticeably throughout the book as Tolkien moved away from his original idea of writing a sequel to Bilbo's adventure, to Tolkien's very interesting post-LotR view of hobbits, mostly expressed in his letters. Again, Stanton levels all these differences into a generic portrait of far less value than its length and organization suggest.

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

The first part of this article, on the word “hobbit”, is good enough, though it would be helpful for Stanton to include a citation for the origin of Tolkien’s famous first sentence.  Also, since he notes the word’s existence in “an 1895 compilation of folkloric terms”, a cross-reference to the "Denham Tracts, The" article would be appropriate – if only Stanton had included a See also list.  He concludes the opening section by oddly describing Tolkien’s word “hobbit”, in contrast to Tolkien’s word kuduk, as an “invention”.

That’s Stanton’s cue to segue to the history and life of Tolkien’s hobbits, which are treated as if they are real for more than half the article.  Along the way he repeats the geographical statistics and chronology he used in his article on the Shire – where it was a little more appropriate – changing his language only slightly: for example, by substituting some figures for words (like “18,000” for “eighteen thousand”).  There is almost no citation in this section, but some of his comments needs further support: how does Stanton know that mushrooms are one of the Shire’s “important” crops?

Stanton’s concluding section includes some reasonable comments on hobbits as characters, though not without some stumbles.  Tolkien never says that Saruman’s “quisling” hobbit associates are expelled from the Shire.  Nor does it seem accurate to say that “Frodo and his friends” intend to “save the world in an abstract or ideal sense”. 

The 'Further Reading' list is pretty good.


Holy Maiden Hood by J. Furnival: Review by Tolkien - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, April 12, 2007

This fun tidbit seems to have been inserted at the last moment, since it does not appear in the Thematic table of contents. Perhaps it represents an effort to include in the Encyclopedia an article about everything Tolkien ever published. Still, Drout makes it an interesting footnote to Tolkien's early career by showing that this TLS review presaged his own later scholarship on the English of the West Midlands.

Drout never develops the point that I took away most strongly from this slight but intriguing article: that Tolkien from the beginning of his career set the bar for scholarly publication very high, particularly posthumous publication. The arch comment, that Furnivall (Furnival?) would not have "himself sent to press" the edition in the state that his executors found it in, echoes meaningfully in the context of Tolkien's own publication history.

Editing errors make the postscript about Gollum's name possibly being a pun for "gold/precious" (because "gull"=Old Norse for "gold") hard to understand. Although generally I appreciate any effort by medievalist contributors to connect Tolkien's scholarship to his popular fiction, this example seems almost to pander.


Homecoming of Beorhtnoth - Carl Phelpstead

Comments by squire, June 6, 2007

I enjoyed this piece as much as any article in the Encyclopedia on Tolkien's medieval studies. Phelpstead describes Tolkien's preface recounting the history of the battle of Maldon and its literary records; then the plot of Tolkien's alliterative verse play that is at the heart of his scholarly article; and finally the postscript essay arguing that the poem The Battle of Maldon criticizes, rather than praises, the medieval aristocrat's fatal will to heroism - saving its praise for the loyalty of the retainers who must die for their lord's folly.

His final paragraph nicely summarizes the effect that Tolkien's unconventional approach to literary criticism has had since on readings of the The Battle of Maldon. At the end he helpfully refers us to a book (by Cavill) that summarizes the scholarly debate in the decades since Homecoming of Beorhtnoth was published and performed.

Performed! This is the only thing I wish that Phelpstead could have taken more time with. As elsewhere in the Encyclopedia (in the "Alliteration" and "Poems by Tolkien" series of articles), Homecoming is not regarded here as a work of poetic art, or in this special case, as spoken verse-drama. Yet it is clearly written as a play, with stage directions and sound effects indicated. As Phelpstead notes, it was actually performed on the BBC radio twice in the early 1950s. Was it reviewed at the time? Do English departments still stage it to enliven their curricula? Some evaluation of Tolkien's ability as a scholarly dramatist would have been appropriate as a counterpoint to his undoubted ability as a highly imaginative and dramatic scholar.

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

Two scholars have recently investigated the complicated manuscript history of Tolkien’s play, too late for Phelpstead to note.  Anna Smol presented on “Beorhtnoth’s Journey: Alliterative Style and Poetic Tradition in Tolkien’s Revision of The Battle of Maldon” at Kalamazoo in May 2007, and Thomas Honegger has published “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth: Philology and the Literary Muse” in Tolkien Studies, vol. 4.

Phelpstead claims that in Tolkien’s “Ofermod” essay attached to the play, he censures Beowulf’s “chivalry” in “in fighting Grendel and later risking defeat against the dragon”.  Not quite: Tolkien ascribes that motive to Beowulf’s actions in both cases, but differentiates between them based on Beowulf’s responsibilities, because it is only in the second case that Beowulf puts his people at risk.


Homer - Dustin Eaton

Comments by squire, June 11, 2007

Much like the article on Plato, this comes to the too-easy conclusion that Homer is so central to all subsequent western literature that it is folly to assign him any direct or specific influence on Tolkien. This depressingly shallow ending follows entirely too much discussion of Homer's literary biography and Tolkien's classical education. The description of Tolkien's "abandonment" of Homer and the Classics for northern and Germanic literature goes nowhere, and even the conclusion about the futility of looking for Homeric motifs in Tolkien's fiction is seemingly undercut by the earlier claim that they can be found in The Hobbit and by implication The Lord of the Rings, if not The Silmarillion.

I wish Eaton had spent more time on the structure and art of The Odyssey and The Iliad in lieu of the unknown poet called Homer and the juvenile Tolkien. Had he done so, I should think some fairly interesting foundations on the topics of epic poetry, tales of wandering and adventure, tales of war and companionship, oral formulae, and the intersection of divinely-populated myth, lengendary traditions, and pyschologically-driven narrative, could have been laid down for the interested reader, who could probably take it from there.

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

Since Eaton refers to Tolkien’s letters and includes Hammond and Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion in his 'Further Reading' list, it’s odd that he writes “there is nothing in Tolkien’s correspondence to indicate that he consciously employed Homer’s motifs as his own”.  In Letters, Tolkien says that Men in the Second Age of Middle-earth lived in “a simple ‘Homeric’ state of patriarchal and tribal life” (p. 154), and he describes the Rohirrim as “heroic ‘Homeric’ horsemen” (p. 159).  And Hammond and Scull point to The War of the Ring, where Tolkien refers to his list of arriving out-companies at Minas Tirith as a “Homeric catalogue” (p. 229).

At least two critical studies are missing from Eaton’s bibliography: Miryam Librán-Moreno’s “Parallel Lives: The Sons of Denethor and the Sons of Telamon” from the second issue of Tolkien Studies, and Alex Lewis and Elizabeth Currie’s book, The Forsaken Realm of Tolkien.


Homosexuality - Christopher Vaccaro

Comments by squire, May 16, 2007

Vaccaro spends a lot of space rehearsing the history of queer theory, which is interesting in itself to lay readers but also promises some kind of payoff when we get around to Tolkien. The payoff barely registers: Vaccaro develops an economical argument that Sam's relationship to Frodo at least allows for a queer interpretation without mandating one; but his argument about Eowyn's queer status is muddled, and his quick recapitulation of Smol's thesis regarding Tolkien's portrayal of male intimacy is so abbreviated as to be opaque. The conclusion asks more questions about Tolkien than it answers.

There are other weak spots. The insertion of the actors' commentaries from the New Line films is a poor way to demonstrate that this subject is underpublicized in popular perceptions of Tolkien; and while Partridge's article was ground-breaking at the time, it is now considered seriously outdated and should have been referred to contextually.

On the other hand, I found it interesting that queer theory originated in feminist theory, and that there seems still to be a kind of female predominance in the field: five out of seven of Vaccaro's sources are women, and Smol's article identifies Tolkienian homoerotic fan fiction as mostly written by hetero women. Meanwhile, compared to the attention given by female scholars to male intimacy in the primarily male-populated Middle-earth, Vaccaro seems to suggest that Eowyn's possibly queer sexuality remains "relatively unexplored," except by Craig, a male scholar.

Given that much of this material is duplicated in the "Sexuality" article, perhaps this should have been labeled more explicitly "Queer Theory"? In any case it certainly belongs in the "Literature: Theoretical Concerns" category, not "Thological/Philosophical Concepts etc." Still, Vaccaro seems to have summarized the major scholarship on the subject and has pulled together a first rate reading list. He has made one thing clear, that this subject no longer has shock value in Tolkien studies, and is fit for ongoing contemporary inquiry towards a consensus interpretation regarding Tolkien and his fiction.


Howard, Robert E. (1906-36) - Dale Nelson

Comments by squire, May 16, 2007

This essay is so interesting, with its carefully reconstructed 1967 interview between L. Sprague de Camp and Tolkien and its carefully considered question of just how many Robert E. Howard stories J. R. R. Tolkien had ever actually read. One is almost distracted from wishing that Nelson had followed up on his passing mention of the provocative blurb on a 1966 reprint of Conan the Adventurer: it promised from Howard "adventures 'more imaginative than The Lord of the Rings'".

In other words, isn't there more to the relationship between Howard's fiction and Tolkien's than this one episode? If Howard invented "sword and sorcery", when did he do it? And if Tolkien never read Howard until his retirement, and The Lord of the Rings is not "sword and sorcery", then why have so many people, including countless fan artists and writers and the original developers of Dungeons and Dragons, acted as if it is? What was Howard's background and education? Did he share with Tolkien some earlier sources for his romantic, archaic, and magical adventure fantasies, as Nelson hints with his mention of de Camp's classic anthology Swords and Sorcery and Tolkien's casual opinion of it?

The tragic brevity of this 340-word article speaks of its orphan status: it doesn't even have a thematic category. Like four or five other such articles evidently added at that last minute (Buchan, MacDonald, Wyke-Smith, etc.), it is about a modern author and so barely made it within the scope of the Encyclopedia. The extensive lists of entries in the (overlapping) categories "Sources" and "Literary Sources" count between them exactly one article whose topic postdates John Milton: the omnibus "Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries", also by Nelson. But surely if there was room in the vast Sources pool for "Alcuin" and "Aldhelm", there should have been room for a few more articles on Tolkien's contemporary influences, say, H. P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, H. Rider Haggard, and especially since Tolkien himself admitted his interest, Science Fiction.

The Lord of the Rings is not "juvenile trash", but Tolkien did have, buried under all that poetic erudition, a touch of juvenile trashy taste, surely the spark of that famous slur. It is an important part of Tolkien that, oddly, the Encyclopedia seems more or less to have played down or even ignored.


Humor - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, July 22, 2007

I wish I had a better idea of the difference between "comedy" and "humor". As it is, all I know is this article doesn't attempt to replicate "Comedy's" mildly theoretical approach to the lighter side of Tolkien. But then it doesn't attempt any other theoretical structure either, except to observe that Tolkien's "humor" is more verbal than situational, and in the verbal mode, it is restricted to "comic verse and exaggeratedly elevated speech".

In fact, gentle situational and dialogue humor is very common in The Hobbit, as Stanton is strangely reluctant to concede; and the same is almost as true for The Lord of the Rings. From Strider's thwacking of the menacing trolls to Sam's pulling on the less-than-secure rope in the Emyn Muil, small gags keep popping up. Although Stanton's observations about the humor inherent in the epic's comic songs and mock-elevated language are perfectly sound, he misses thereby the not-so-occasional joke or wisecrack: mostly from the hobbits, of course ("the sooner I'll drop off", etc.) but also from the more serious personages ("Mercy! If the giving of information...", "lesser men with spades...", "we do not shape stone with our finger-nails"). Nor are the forces of evil entirely solemn: "I don't suppose he's ever been in lovely Lugbúrz", "...you have yet another of these imps with you!"

The question that Stanton never brings up is, is any of this funny? Compared to the generally solemn tone of a serious romance, of course, these moments offer some comic relief. But English humor is generally both sharp and broad. Tolkien's humor is understated to the point of comic paralysis, I'll venture. It's funny, but never wildly so, the oblique humor of an intellectual who does not expect most people to get his jokes until later, if at all.

God forbid that this article's See also should refer to the article on "Comedy", which luckily does its part of the expected bargain. The 'Further Reading' list looks good, except for the unnecessary inclusion of The Tolkien Miscellany. It is, on reflection, odd that the "Conventions and Abbreviations" preface does not include a standard form for Farmer Giles of Ham.


Hungary: Reception of Tolkien - Gergely Nagy

Comments by squire, May 31, 2007

As "Reception of Tolkien..." articles go, this is one of the best. Nagy is himself a noted Hungarian scholar of Tolkien, and perhaps that accounts for the more than usually thorough treatment of Tolkien's growing status in the Hungarian academy.

Nagy introduces a few points that go beyond the usual list of translation editions and founding dates of fan societies: The LotR translator's afterword warns his readers about the differences between Tolkien's folklore and mythological sources and the native Hungarian tales; Nagy implies that the fall of the communist regime accelerated the spread of Tolkien to the game-playing and academic communities; and he assures us that Hungarian scholars are approaching Tolkien from both literary theory and cultural history angles. In all these cases I wanted more details! And as always, I want these articles to comment on how the translators and readers interpret Tolkien's English-oriented books in their own very non-English terms.

Not to intrude on the Hungarians' affairs, but I have to wonder why their rather scholarly Tolkien Society is translating the Tolkien commentaries of Lin Carter and Michael Martinez.


Huns - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, April 11, 2007

The material here on the historical and literary sources for the Huns, that J. R. R. Tolkien and his son Christopher would have known in the course of their professional work as medievalists, is very interesting - and quite relevant to the scope of this Encyclopedia. It is, of course, a shame that the elder Tolkien's familiarity with the medieval literary incarnations of the Huns is inferred, rather than demonstrated!

Straubhaar's comments on the relationship of the Huns to J. R. R. Tolkien's fiction are comparatively uninteresting. Her parenthesized note that some of the "Easterlings" of the Third Age were "wain-riders" directly challenges her equivocating suggestion that they are "probably" based "at least in part" on "historical and legendary" images of the Huns - since she gives the Huns only an equestrian identity. Meanwhile, the equestrian capabilities of the "Easterlings" are a matter of some debate, whether we are talking First Age or Third Age.

Far more interesting, I think, are the possibility that the Huns - bloodthirsty, merciless, Asiatic - are literary donors to Tolkien's enriched conception of Orcs in The Lord of the Rings. I would have liked to have learned from Straubhaar if the Norse epics she mentions give any support to the idea of a distinction between the Easterlings, and the Orcs.

It is telling that all of her sources in 'Further Reading' are to the literary identity of the Huns as they relate to the Tolkiens' medieval studies, and none are to any critical analyses of the identity of the "Easterlings" - or the Orcs - in JRRT's fiction.

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

To demonstrate Tolkien’s knowledge of the Huns with more certainty, Straubhaar might have noted comments Tolkien made to his son, Christopher, about the latter’s work on the subject: “Several people (and I agree) spoke to me of the art with which you made the beady-eyed Attila on his couch almost vividly present” (Letters, p. 264).