Katherine Group - Arne Zettersten

Comments by N.E. Brigand, April 26, 2007

This article is wasted space: it is almost entirely a close, and at times identical, copy of what Zettersten wrote for “AB Language”.  Apart from a simple list of editions of texts from the Katherine Group (a collection of West Midlands medieval texts), there’s nothing here that isn’t covered there or in Douglas Anderson’s entry on S.R.T.O. d’Ardenne.

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 26, 2007

I agree with N.E. Brigand; however, I wouldn’t have put it quite so bluntly. I don’t think it’s quite true to claim that “apart from a simple list of editions of texts from the Katherine Group …, there’s nothing here that isn’t covered there or in Douglas Anderson’s entry on S.R.T.O. d’Ardenne.”

 

As just one example, albeit a niggling one, in “Katherine Group”, we learn that the works in question come from the early thirteenth century, a fact of some importance which it appears is not attested in the other entries. There are other similar details scattered, but not repeated, among all these obviously related essays.

 

As I suggested in my review of “Ancrene Wisse”, a single, combined entry covering the AB Language, the manuscript examples upon which the theory was based, and the essays and scholarly publications arising from the research would have been more effective than these separate and reduplicative essays. Of course, minutiae aside, N.E. Brigand is right: this entry is definitely very repetitive, and the enumeration of manuscript editions was totally unnecessary.

 

King Alfred - John R. Holmes

Comments by squire, January 14, 2007

A very short and modest article of moderate interest. The "thematic" category it is assigned to is "Sources: Medieval History". Certainly if King Alfred's life and works did serve as a "source" for Tolkien's fiction, as the editors seem to have supposed, that never made it into Holmes's brief.

He focuses on Tolkien's apparently unprecedented study of Alfred's impact on the development of Old English literature. One wonders if this should not have been a candidate for inclusion in some larger article encompassing Tolkien's contributions to and use of medieval history in studying medieval literature.

The most interesting part is the final paragraph which I, alas, am unable to penetrate. It seems to imply that Tolkien, in either his draft or his spoken presentation of "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", imagined or "hypothesized" an heroic Old English lay celebrating the historical Alfred's military prowess; with some (hypothetical?) comparison to the nature of the non-historical heroic lay called Beowulf. But I am not at all sure I am right here.

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 2, 2007

As with several other entries on medieval works and personages, the connections between King Alfred and Tolkien seem hardly compelling enough to justify this entry. I would suggest that the material Holmes presents here could easily have been incorporated into one or more of the larger entries (e.g., "History, Anglo-Saxon").

That being said, however, I would like to point out a connection to King Alfred that Holmes seems to have missed. In Farmer Giles of Ham, Tolkien writes that Giles had become "the Darling of the Land"; as Scull and Hammond explain in the notes to their 50th Anniversary Edition of the work, the sobriquet, "England's Darling", referred to King Alfred (as well as to another historical figure, from the 11th Century). This is admittedly a minor point, but if an independent entry on King Alfred is to be justified, it's one I think deserved mention.

Another detail that may have warranted discussion, the name Alfred means "elf-counsel" (ælf "elf" + ræd "counsel") in Old English. I won't digress here in these comments into speculating on the possible significance of this derivation (such speculations, while interesting, could easily spin out of control), but this is undoubtedly a philological point that would have caught Tolkien's eye -- and which may even relate the historical personage of Alfred to Tolkien's own Ælfwine, albeit distantly. In fact, Thomas Honegger refers to Alfred directly in his entry on Ælfwine, though neither of these entries directs readers to the other.

 

Kingship - Scott Kleinman

Comments by squire, August 28, 2007

This lacks focus, which keeps it from being as good as it might have been.

For instance, Kleinman does not explain why he includes "those who aspire to royalty" (leaders and lords such as Beorhtnoth and Denethor) in his scope; surely he should be distinguishing kingship from other kinds of leadership (and fiction from reality as well) rather than mixing the concepts up.

Likewise, it's not clear to me that Tolkien's attitude toward kings as portrayed in his fiction was affected for better or worse by the 1936 abdication crisis in England, any more than it was by the Home Rule crisis of 1910, or the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for that matter. He was, after all, on record as regarding the Norman Conquest as a Bad Thing for the English monarchy!

Tolkien's somewhat exaggerated rant in Letter 52, which Kleinman regards as a key to his political thinking, is not a serious plea for placing unconditional power into the effete hands of the Windsor dynasty. It is just Tolkien's intelligent but romantically-phrased protest against the impersonalization of all modern bureaucratic governments under any label, from Tory democracy to Soviet dictatorship. I think Kleinman could have analyzed Tolkien's real-world feelings about kingship more effectively by focusing on his deep Catholic faith.

Kleinman is stronger when he reviews how Tolkien's fictional kings are "meditations on the nature of good rulership", for better or worse. As he shows, most of the Elvish kings in the Silmarillion are tragically flawed, while two mortals in The Lord of the Rings, Théoden and Aragorn, turn out to be Tolkien's most successful ideal kings.

Kleinman's analyses are fairly shallow, and distracted to some degree by his digressions into non-royal examples. He never connects the Elvish royal failures in the First Age to the Third Age Elves' refusal to have kings; and he never contrasts Aragorn's restorative royalty with the flaws of his kingly ancestors like Isildur, Arvedui, and Eärnur. His mention of Aragorn's role as Christian-type healer is good, though.

It is refreshing to see the King from Farmer Giles, and Ar-Pharazôn, included in an Encyclopedia article; but kings are so fundamental to Tolkien's storytelling mind that it is impossible to consider them all in so short an article. Missing here are Morgoth and Manwë, Thorin and Turgon, Húrin and Helm, the Witch-king and Elvenking, each of whom show Tolkien's concepts of kingship in a distinct and different light.

 

Knowledge – Don N. Anger

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 24, 2007

With a title like “Knowledge”, one could have taken the essay in many different directions, but what Anger has come up with makes for engaging reading. Anger begins by setting some rough boundaries for the scope of his essay, then dives quickly into its applicability to Tolkien’s fictive world. Anger warms up with great observations about Melkor / Aulë, the Dwarves, and especially the Noldor. He then moves on from The Silmarillion to The Lord of the Rings, where he has Saruman dead to rights – though it could have been valuable to quote Treebeard’s assessment of him also: “He has a mind of metal and wheels.” I must admit I never thought of Aragorn and Radagast in terms of botany and zoology before!

On Anger’s interpretation of the Imperishable Flame as “perhaps a metaphor for the pursuit of unattainable knowledge”, I would point out that in Tolkien and the Silmarillion, Clyde Kilby writes that Tolkien once explicitly stated that the Imperishable Flame was a representation of the Holy Ghost of Christianty. But I don’t think this need automatically preclude Anger’s alternative view.

One very minor quibble: for “Noldor Elves”, I would suggest “Noldorin Elves”; Noldor is more properly the noun, Noldorin the adjective. (Ditto in Anger’s entry on “Glorfindel”, where he refers to him as a “Noldor exile”; this ought to be “Noldorin exile”.)

The 'Further Reading' is very good with the potential to keep readers busy for a long time. It doesn’t really need any enhancement, but two possible additions are John Houghton’s “Augustine and the Ainulindalë” in Mythlore 21 (1995) and Jane Chance’s “Power and Knowledge in Tolkien: The Problem of Difference in ‘The Birthday Party’” in the Centenary Proceedings.

In the See also, one extremely minor, unimportant corrigendum which I hesitate even to bother noting: for “Palantíri”, read “Palantíri”. Also, I would suggest adding “Augustine of Hippo” (and in the text of the essay, Anger perhaps should have differentiated which Augustine he was speaking about, for those readers to whom it would not be clear by context).

 

Koivië-néni and Cuiviénen – Don N. Anger

Comments by Jason Fisher, September 25, 2007 

I've only minor quibbles on this perfectly serviceable, if somewhat superficial, entry.

  • I believe it is “Valian”, not “Valarian”; and I have not usually seen the adjective form “Quenyan” either.

  • The citation of the entire “Annals of Aman”, more than twenty pages – wouldn’t a citation just to the page in question have been more useful?

  • And the reliance on Foster and Fonstad for speculation as to the fate of Cuiviénen is not particularly persuasive.

The 'Further Reading', otherwise, and the See also both get the job done, though I suppose Anger might have included those other volumes of The History of Middle-earth that he mentions in the latter.

 

Kolbítar - Andrew Charles Lazo

Comments by squire, July 24, 2007

Perhaps there's not much to say about the Kolbítar group itself, so that Lazo is forced to spend most of his time explaining how it fits into the spectrum of Tolkien's lifetime of involvement with informal social/academic "clubs", which climaxed with the legendary Inklings. In fact, Laxo's emphasis on context is good, and he makes an interesting case for Tolkien's "outgrowing" his intellectual and academic mentors in the course of his time with the Kolbítar. To really succeed, of course, this kind of investigation would want to include all of Tolkien's friendships and associations at Oxford, rather than just this "precursor" to the Inklings.

But back to the nominal subject of the article. I wish the few statements he does make about the Kolbítar were clearer. For instance, who are the "some" who have questioned the group's ability to read the entire body of Old Norse literature in seven years of occasional meetings? Or, who is the second of the "two of [Tolkien's] most important mentors" that participated, besides George Gordon? Why are we to "suppose" that Tolkien, having "finished his education in the Kolbítar", then "started" the Inklings seemingly with a view ahead to his "greatest work"?

Other questions on matters that Lazo does not address: What was the impact on the group of E. V. Gordon's publication of Introduction to Old Norse in 1927? Who were the known members: anyone of note besides Gordon, Lewis and Coghill? An overly quick reader of Lazo's confusing fourth paragraph might mistakenly assume that C. T. Onions was there!

The 'Further Reading' list is basic, and shows that Lazo is the only Tolkien scholar who has made a specialty of the Kolbítar. See also might well have included "Oxford", "Scholars of Medieval Literature, Influence of", and "Gordon, E. V."

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

According to Carpenter’s biography, Onions was indeed a member of the Kolbítar, and the second of Tolkien’s two mentors whose participation Lazo notes (not very clearly).

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 31, 2007

There are one or two points I’d like to add to the reviews by squire and N.E. Brigand. First, Lazo seems to say (twice) that Tolkien founded the Inklings; however, if one wants to get technical, the Inklings in its earliest incarnation was really a student-faculty organization begun in 1931 by Edward Tangye Lean, and which Lewis and Tolkien both joined at his invitation. Even if Lazo means to refer to the Inklings as later transformed by Tolkien and Lewis, wouldn’t it still be more accurate to say Tolkien co-founded the group? Didn’t the Inklings, after all, center around C.S. Lewis as their central figurehead? Tolkien was certainly of tantamount importance to the group’s legacy, but I think it may be slightly disingenuous to credit Tolkien, single-handedly as it appears from Lazo’s essay, with the birth of that group.

Second, I must quibble just a little with Lazo’s assertion that the Kolbítar “afford[ed] Tolkien the chance to study carefully the Norse language and myth,” as Tolkien was surely already quite an expert in that field. Carpenter tells us Tolkien was “easily the best Norse scholar of anyone in the club”, capable of “improvising a fluent translation from the text” (Tolkien 120). It doesn’t seem to me that the purpose of the club was quite what Lazo suggests.

Finally, regarding squire’s question about other members of the Kolbítar, I know of a few additional members whom Lazo does not identify, including John Bryson, R.M. Dawkins, G.E.K. Braunholtz, John Fraser, and Bruce McFarlane. Also, squire asks who the second of Tolkien’s mentors was; I think Lazo means to say this is Onions, but I agree that the flow of the essay makes it difficult to be sure.

 

Kôr - David Bratman

Comments by squire, January 30, 2007

This covers all the bases of a fairly obscure subject, since Kôr as such never really made it into print in Tolkien's lifetime (one 1923 magazine excepted). On that ground, and from my own personal interest, I wish Bratman had been more explicit about exactly what Kôr was, and in just which exact respects it "inspired" Gondolin and other later Tolkienian cities with "similar characteristics".