Langland, William -- James I. McNelis III

Comments by squire, February 7, 2007

I learned far more about Piers Plowman in this article than I did about William Langland, and more about either than I did about their influence on Tolkien. I don't understand why the article is not entitled 'Piers Plowman', since its author Langland seems to be nothing but a name.

McNelis is not clear whether his proposed connection between the 'little man' Piers Plowman, and Tolkien's 'lowly, peasant' hobbits, is his alone or represents a strand of general critical opinion. In either case, I venture to suggest that it be applied only to Sam Gamgee, if at all.

McNelis seems to transform Merry and Pippin in mid-paragraph from peasants like Piers, to knights such as the lowly Piers appealed to for chivalric service -- but in fact they are from the beginning hobbits of the highest class, and Frodo and Bilbo are of only slightly less estate. The hobbits' humility in Tolkien's fiction stems from their mythical race, not their class, making (I should guess) comparisons with Langland's theme difficult.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 9, 2007

Since McNelis notes the dream vision method common to Piers Plowman and Pearl, he might have added that Tolkien mentions Langland’s work in a discussion of medieval dream visions in the introduction published with his translation of Pearl.  And since McNelis mentions Dante in the same context, he could have added that name to his short See also list.

 

Language, Theories of - Allan Turner

Comments by squire, June 6, 2007

Turner's prose sparkles and delights in turn, as he considers Tolkien's theories of, and consequent use of, language. Each of his four subtitled sections, 'Comparative Philology', 'The Influence of Barfield', 'Translation', and 'Tolkien's "Linguistic Heresy' are self-contained little essays with a beginning, middle and end, yet each reflects back to the main subject from a different angle.

The only criticism I would offer is that Turner is not too specific about which fictional works Tolkien best applied these various theories to. His examples mostly seem to come from the later works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, leaving us to wonder if the Silmarillion legendarium made use of any of his theories on Translation or of individual expression through Barfield-influenced archaism, for instance. As well, it is not always clear when Turner is referring to Tolkien's experiments in language via his invented Elvish tongues, as opposed to through his mastery of English style.

Without asking Turner for some inauthentic or florid conclusion, I nevertheless wish the final sentence did not end with a C. S. Lewis quote, which seems dragged in from left field and leaves one with a vaguely unsatisfied feeling.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 6, 2007

This is not a criticism of Turner’s wonderful essay, but for interested readers, there is a new book out which offers more elaboration on the themes in this piece. Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien, by Ross Smith (Walking Tree Publishers, 2007).

 

Languages: Early introduction and interest -- Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 7, 2007

The title would seem to promise a discussion of matters that are extremely important for understanding how and perhaps why Tolkien would go on to become the philologist – both academic and creative – of his adult years. Unfortunately, the entry fails to deliver on that promise. There’s little discussion of the how and almost nothing of the why – it’s really just the what, and incomplete at that. The entry is too short, for one thing, or else it ought to have been folded into some larger discussion of Tolkien as philologist. (Incredibly, there is no entry on Philology, through we have one on Philately). But even within a limited number of words, Lobdell still manages to say very little.

He’s correct to cite the letter to Auden and to highlight Tolkien’s curiosity about a “green great dragon,” but he makes too much of it, offering guesses about dragon species, and concluding with an ill-advised personal reflection. Lobdell also talks about Tolkien’s early interest in Welsh, Gothic, and Spanish, but he misses the rather more obvious (and earlier) Latin, French, German, and Greek. Tolkien’s mother was knowledgeable in several of these and tutored her son in Latin and French. He went on to study others at King Edward’s School.

Lobdell ought to have mentioned Animalic, the “language” invented by Tolkien’s cousins. Tolkien learned it, then sought to better it by creating Nevbosh (the New Nonsense), also not mentioned here. The more important omission, of course, is any sort of speculation on the genesis of Tolkien’s interest in language – it’s merely taken as a given – or of its function as a catalyst for Tolkien’s career and creative pursuits.

Allowing Tolkien to speak for himself is generally not a bad idea, but when a short entry like this has four fairly lengthy quotations in only three paragraphs, that's a bit much. And Lobdell doesn't analyze them or set them in any larger context, but basically tries to let the quotes write his entry for him.

Comments by squire, March 7, 2007

Although most of Jason Fisher's criticism here is well-founded, I think it might be asking too much of an Encyclopedia article to "speculate" on "why" Tolkien had such a gift for language. Lobdell may wield his quotes clumsily, but his reference to Tolkien getting a pleasure from Spanish such as others get from food, and his final paragraph, with its emphasis on Tolkien's early attraction to the "sound and sense" of language rather than its utility, actually addresses Fisher's objection as much as can be expected.

 

Languages Invented by Tolkien -- Carl F. Hostetter

Comments by squire, January 8, 2007

This article tells me more about Tolkien's languages than I care to know.

Which may be the most massively unfair comment in this entire diary.

Hostetter is, without a doubt, one of the world's experts on the subject. His article is comprehensive, highly detailed and technical, and eleven pages long. With the help of numerous headings and subheadings, one can find details on any subset of this massive topic fairly easily, but reading the article as a continuous essay is a real struggle -- or was for me, at least.

It is arguable that this article represents at least half a dozen more conventional articles by the terms of organization of the rest of the Encyclopedia. It's as if the articles on Rohan, Gondor, Doriath, Valinor and Númenor were all included as parts of a long article "Realms of Middle-earth", by -- oops: there are no articles on Doriath or Númenor! (scratches head)

Anyway, had the editors subdivided the Invented Languages category, rather than giving it whole to Hostetter, they would most likely not have had to print an entire page of descriptive prose on "Telerin", a language that exists in only three sentences by Tolkien. David Bratman, however, argues in praise of Hostetter's all-in-one-article "encyclopedic" scope.

This attests to the strange status of invented language in Tolkien Studies: it was terribly important to Tolkien, he spent his entire life playing with it, and there is a vast amount of highly technical linguistic material in the various Tolkien archives. But very, very few people have really studied it, including, I dare say, the editors of the Encyclopedia. The result seems to be that Hostetter defined his own topic, and seems to have assigned himself his own word count. Without substantive editing, the article delves deeply into the technical linguistic details of the various languages and their relationships without coming up for air, and without much regard for the general reader's needs, until (seemingly) every consonant shift and inflectional evolution has been described.

Again, unfair. Everything technical in the article is given as a mere example of the various linguistic features of the languages. As Hostetter emphasizes, the most interesting thing about Tolkien's invented languages is that they bear realistic mock-historical relationships to each other on accepted philological principles, which demand examples if the article is to make any sense at all to a non-expert reader.

What would I have rather seen? I think well over two thirds of this article could have been cut; and I think Hostetter should have focused on the descriptive generalities about Tolkien's inventions and their unique features, as he does in the first four pages -- which are the best part of the article, if very densely written. Most of the rest could well have been published as a book or article, and the interested reader referred to it in the "Further Reading" section. By compressing a little of the introductory material, some room could have been left for an analytical/chronological review of the impact of Tolkien's invented languages on his fiction over the six decades of interaction between the two -- which Hostetter takes for granted, having lived inside the topic for so long.

Maybe also a quick review of the response of subsequent fantasy-writers to the challenge presented by Tolkien, who while practically inventing the genre of the modern fantasy epic also imposed on it a nearly unachievable standard of philological invention -- which I think has contributed greatly to the low artistic standard that most subsequent fantasy-worlds achieve.

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

There are hints in this article suggesting it had a curious textual history: it seems possible that this was originally intended to be several articles, though the clearest argument for this idea appears in Hostetter’s own essay on Tolkien’s “Qenyaqetsa”, which cross-references a non-existent entry on “Quenya” that is actually one of the sections of this longer article.

Additionally, three thousand words into the article, in a section on “The Influence of Other Languages”, Hostetter writes, “It is fairly well known and often repeated that Tolkien’s two chief Elvish languages, Quenya and Sindarin, are ‘based’ on Finnish and Welsh, respectively.”  Often repeated indeed: three sections earlier, Hostetter had explained that Welsh “profoundly influenced the phonology and grammar of the later of his two chief Elvish languages” and had quoted Tolkien himself on how the other “became heavily Finnicized in phonetic pattern and structure”.

Also, the section on Sindarin includes this passage: “Sindarin is one of only a few of Tolkien’s invented languages that he developed sufficiently for use in poetry or even in more than the briefest declarations”.  This is closely echoed in comments on Quenya just four paragraphs later: “Like Sindarin, Quenya is one of only a few of his invented languages that Tolkien developed sufficiently for use in poetry or more than the briefest declarative prose” (underlines added).

Finally, the Nandor elves are described three times with the exact same phrase: “first the Nandor (Q., ‘those who went back’) balked at crossing the Misty Mountains”; “the first separation of Teleri from the March occurred when the Nandor balked at crossing the Misty Mountains”; and “Tawarwaith, ‘the Forest-folk,’ were descendants of the Nandor, the portion of the Teleri that balked at crossing the Misty Mountains” (underline added).

The overall impression these examples give is that Hostetter developed the sections separately, then integrated them without eliminating redundant passages.

Nevertheless, the article is shot through with fascinating information.  I particularly enjoyed Hostetter’s likening of Tolkien’s “Common Telerin” to the real-world “Italo-Celtic”, not because they are similar languages, but because they serve a similar purpose in linguistic reconstruction.  And the opening sections especially, before the article turns to individual languages, are consistently first-rate.  A See also list is sorely missed, particularly as readers are not directed to “Elvish Compositions and Grammars”, which is basically an extended annotated bibliography for this article.

Hostetter has posted a minor correction to this article at the lambengolmor e-mail list:

On p. 337 I wrote regarding the development of Quenya that:
"Original b, d, and g, where not in contact with a nasal consonant, were weakened, lost, or both so that in Quenya these sounds occur only in the combinations mb, nd, and ng."
This is of course wrong, as d also occurs in combination with the liquids l and r: ld, rd.

 

Latin Language -- Miryam Librán Moreno

Comments by squire, March 4, 2007

There is some fabulous erudition here, and some not so fabulous. The case for Tolkien's knowledge and use of Latin as a language is impeccably documented. Librán Moreno's research and use of sources is generally top notch (though her citation of her own and Morse's articles should really have been sent over to Swain for a much-needed listing for "Latin Literature").

Where I got a little put off was in her extended treatment of how the High Elvish language Quenya was thought of by Tolkien as a kind of "Elf-latin", that is like Latin in post-classical Western Europe: a universally known but no longer commonly-spoken language that contains the heritage of all of Elven civilization. It seems to me that she or her editor could well have trimmed the extensive and seemingly redundant paragraph where she makes this point.

One quibble: her citation from the Letters that Tolkien had Latin replace Quenya "as English replaces the Shire-speech" is very misleading. As readers know, Tolkien does not use Latin in The Lord of the Rings to render High-Elvish words! What she is quoting is Tolkien specifically explaining the mock-translation of his originally non-hobbit poem "Fastitocalon" in the context of the poem's reappearance in the supposed anthology of hobbit folk-poems, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

On the other hand, I very much appreciated Moreno's emphasis on the Catholic Tolkien's relation to Latin as a liturgical language, which was not shared by every classically-educated Englishman of his day. Her consequent reminders that he treats Quenya's appearance in his fiction as a language of faith, not just communication, is something I had never thought of before.

More generally, I worry that in her effort to assert Quenya's thematic and aural similarity to Latin, she may confuse an unwary reader that Quenya has more linguistic similarities to Latin than it does. In fact (I'll refer to Hostetter's article on 'Invented Languages' here) Quenya does have superficial Latin influences but is much more indebted as a language to Finnish.

 

Latin Literature -- L. J. Swain

Comments by squire, March 4, 2007

Recently in my comments on the "Valedictory Speech" article I asked for an explanation of the contributor's note that even Tolkien Studies has been hurt by a "Lit/Lang" divide.  But I didn't have to look further for an example than these two Encyclopedia articles on Latin. Perhaps there is some element of Tolkienian justice in observing that the "Lang" article is much better than the "Lit" one!

As with many other topics, combining these two would have made plenty of sense, despite their respective thematic assignments to  "Languages" and "Literary Sources" (I won't even question the assignment of articles on both "Virgil" and "Latin Literature" under "Literary Sources"). In fact, if we include that article and the one on "Greek Gods", we might get a fairly satisfactory omnibus article on "Classical Languages and Literature".

Barring that, Swain comes off the worse here, as he begins with essentially the same biographical background on Tolkien's education in the Latin language as Librán Moreno does but with less accuracy (e.g., Tolkien's First in Philology was not for his Masters degree). A third of the article is consumed by this, which should have been taken for granted given the known existence of the "Lang" article on the topic list.

Once safely within the literature, Swain meanders vaguely amidst a huge range of potential Latin sources that Tolkien may well have drawn from. The Virgil problem pops up; as Swain remarks, "the list of parallels" between Aeneas and Aragorn could be continued...and is, for a first and then a second entire paragraph. With the apex of classical Latin literature thus questionably (and redundantly: see the "Virgil" article) exhausted, the late classical and medieval sources are examined, with such odd, or at least unattributed, suggestions as that Tolkien needed Paulinus to validate his tendency toward male friendships or that Prudentius might have inspired Tolkien in his depictions of his evil characters. St. Augustine and Boethius are properly cited in regard to Tolkien's philosophical treatment of the nature of evil, but are lost in the shuffle.

The ending is particularly rushed and weak, with the fatal phraseology "may have inspired or influenced Tolkien" invoked to include such diverse potential sources as Bede, Horace, and "various chronicles and annals". Swain only cites Carpenter's biography, but his real 'Further Reading' list would probably have been quite valuable: he obviously knows somewhat more about the topic than he left himself room to tell.

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

Swain’s “real ‘Further Reading’ list” presumably would include at least

  • Margaret Sinex’s article, “‘Oathbreakers, why have ye come?’:  Tolkien’s ‘Passing of the Grey Company’ and the twelfth-century Exercitus mortuorum” (from Tolkien the Medievalist), for Swain’s comments on antecedents of Tolkien’s Army of the Dead;

  • Tom Shippey’s books, for Swain’s remarks on Tolkien’s debt to Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.

 

Law -- Jeniffer G. Hargroves

Comments by squire, November 16, 2006:

I wish I knew more legal history and legal theory, so I could criticize this article better. All I can say is, when I read an article entitled "Law" in a scholarly Tolkien encyclopedia, this is not what I expect to read.

The Valar execute the divine law of Iluvatar. That makes sense. How does that tie into the stories of the legendarium? Does human or Elf law ever conflict with divine law?

The Ents embody the theory of "natural law". Intriguing! Any citations? Any sources? The Ents were created for LotR. What embodied "natural law" in the Silmarillion myths before the Ents existed?

Elves and Men have a "positive law system" that relies on "hierarchy and negotiated law". Sounds good. When does this system come into play? What are some examples? Are there conflicts between the Elves' legal system and Men's? the Ents'? the Valar's? What does it mean when a Man is an "outlaw" in Morgoth's eyes? in Thingol's eyes? in Lorgan the Easterling's eyes? (All examples from The Silmarillion.)

How do recapitulations of large sections of The Silmarillion elucidate the meaning of Law in Tolkien's fiction? -- which is what takes up a goodly portion of this article. Is the primary exemplar of the concept of "law" in The Lord of the Rings really the distinction between blood-right, and the right earned by personal virtue, as Hargrove's conclusion would suggest? Why not see if such a rule is supported by other specific references to "law", as for instance this list:

  • Beregond's treason, and Aragorn's response to it.

  • Celeborn's law that dwarves cannot enter Lothlórien.

  • Théoden's law that men may not walk in Rohan without his leave, or that Éomer may not draw sword in his hall.

  • Denethor's law that all strangers in Gondor must be brought before him.

  • "The Rules" in the Shire.

  • Whatever the basis is for Mandos' judgement of dead souls.

When and why are these Laws broken, and what do we learn about law in Middle-earth as a result?

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

"Law": I actually haven't read that one yet, so let's see... Hmm, what does Hargroves's first paragraph, about the noble and vulgar, have to do with her subject? In her second paragraph, how is "Divine law" apparent in Iluvatar's "all-encompassing knowledge, limitless power, and absolute free will"? To me, that sounds like an equivalence of power with justice. And much of that paragraph is just clumsily-worded summary of the Ainulindalë.

There's an annoying tense inconsistency in the third paragraph: "Ents *were* symbols…" but "Ents *are* the oldest…". The Aquinas connection is interesting but needs more support, and it's not clear why the Ents get an entire paragraph. Her fourth paragraph suggests there is no hierarchy among Ents, but Ents > Huorns > Trees? There she starts by comparing the "natural law" of the Ents with the "positive law" of Elves and Men (a contrast then ignored) but then drifts back onto the matter of nobility, pointless except as segue to her next paragraph.

That one excessively summarizes the circumstances on Fëanor's oath and flight. The sixth paragraph opens with near gibberish: "The legal import of the Doom of Mandos came many years after it was first incurred, when Beren, a Man whose father allied with an elf, descended from kinsman slaughtered by Fëanor fell in love with Lúthien, daughter of Thingol, brother to Olwë, king of the slaughtered." Um, isn't the encyclopedia supposed to be *less* confusing than The Silmarillion itself? (The missing "a" and comma in that sentence, not that they'd help much, are Hargrove's mistakes – although I guess we're free to blame the publisher for everything.) The rest of the paragraph is more pointless summary.

The seventh paragraph merely asserts, without explaining the legal significance of "blood oaths", that they surpass earthly positive law.

The next paragraph jumps to Aragorn (Númenor, anyone?) still bizarrely fixated on noble Elvish blood. Wait: from the ninth paragraph I gather that the legal point is the right by blood to rule. A not-insignificant idea in Tolkien, but it's poorly developed here and needs to be contrasted with the king as servant as well as master of the law. And Hargroves compares Denethor to a scene in Macbeth instead of to Lady Macbeth herself.

Last paragraph: does Aragorn pronounce a judgment "against" or "on" Beregond? When she says that Aragorn could have renounced Faramir's "nobility as without birthright", she ignores the fact that the stewardship was already hereditary before the Gondorian line of kings failed, thus Aragorn's action is not the "subtle legal development" she thinks it is.

 

Lays of Beleriand, The -- by Richard C. West

Comments by squire, November 16, 2006:

This is a fine summary of HoME Vol. III.

My only quibble, and I'm afraid this is going to be like a broken record, is that West does not mention whether any critical scholarship exists that focuses on the Lays. (Only Tom Shippey - of course! - and West's own book are cited.)

Unless there is no criticism of the Lays! If I remember, at least one Tolkien-studies reviewer of some HoME volume does remark that, the HoME series in general appeared without a peep from "mainstream" critics. They had read and reviewed The Silmarillion, and they may have vowed they "won't get fooled again"!

West says, at the very end of his article: "Most critics do not consider his poetry to be as successful as his prose..." Then he proceeds to praise portions of the Lays for the poet's "skill in developing complicated plots"; and for "some passages of lyrical beauty and some of mythic power"! This is reminiscent to me of Michael Drout's passing comment: "And the alliterative verse in Lays of Beleriand is very good." Obviously, by West's own terms, there is more to be said about the poetry in Lays than "not as successful as [Tolkien's] prose". Why then does he not say it?

I wonder if West's anonymous (!) critics, who so dislike Tolkien's poetry, have even read the Lays? I suspect not. Given their "under the radar" publication, I guess that all the published criticism of Tolkien's poetry has been directed at the lyrics that appear in The Lord of the Rings and in The Hobbit -- and of course in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Not that the epic poetry of the Lays is necessarily so superior to Tolkien's lyric poetry. Tolkien is Tolkien. But the sheer quantity and the narrative mode are so different, that Lays, I think, really calls for an entirely different level of analysis and criticism than one might apply to, say, Gondor! Gondor!, or I sit beside the fire and think.

We're talking large sections of the Silmarillion, rendered in alliterative verse or couplets! Isn't that strange? Has no scholar of Old English alliterative or Medieval romantic poetry sat down and really read this book? My own readings have so far been rushed and superficial. Nevertheless, I remember being touched, repeatedly, by narrative episodes in these poems that in the prose versions available in Lost Tales and the Silmarillion left me quite flat!

I wish West in his article had dealt on some level with this aspect of HoMe, Vol. III!

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

I wish that West had noted that this is the History of Middle-earth volume that includes Christopher Tolkien’s fascinating account of his father’s submission of the “Silmarillion” material to Allen & Unwin in 1937.  That story cannot easily be found via the HoME indices, and would logically be expected to have appeared two volumes later, in The Lost Road, which takes the development of the “Silmarillion” to its pre-Lord of the Rings state in 1937.  The placement of this narrative in The Lays of Beleriand is also a hint of Christopher Tolkien’s uncertainty as to how the HoMe series would develop.

 

Leechbook and Herbarium - Yvette Kisor

Comments by squire, June 8, 2007

I had a sinking feeling on encountering the phrase "Tolkien's familiarity with these texts is likely", after reading Kisor's long introductory paragraph on the extant Old English medical or pharmaceutical manuscripts. I've come to regard that kind of language as code for "this article does not know what its connection to Tolkien really is". But in fact, Kisor does an excellent job teasing out the connections between the medieval sources and Tolkien's imaginative herblore in The Lord of the Rings.

But since he (as far as Kisor reports) never actually cites these two specific texts, either in his commentaries on his fiction or in his professional scholarship, one ends up wondering why this article exists separately from "Health and Medicine" - which Kisor does not list in her See also list. Kisor's erudition, by the way, is particularly impressive because her 'Further Reading' list gives only books on the medieval sources, but not a single book of Tolkien criticism that addresses his use of those sources in his fiction.

 

Leeds - Chester N. Scoville

Comments by squire, March 8, 2007

Short and sweet, this article covers most of the bases laid out by Carpenter in his biography of Tolkien, which seems to be Scoville's main source. Scoville's sense of what to include and what to leave out in so short an article seems very sound, and it reads quickly and well.

I have a few quibbles. I think it is worth mentioning that his professorship at Leeds represented the beginning of a meteoric academic career for Tolkien, against which his later low scholarly productivity was always compared. I would like to know who has "alleged" that Tolkien must have found Yorkshire disagreeable, since Scoville assures us that Tolkien left no such impression in any of his known writings. I was also a bit confused by the nominal overlap between Professor George Gordon and Tolkien's fellow teacher and friend E. V. Gordon; Carpenter takes a moment to say there was no relation and I missed a similar mention here.

As so often, it seems odd that that this article was not somehow combined with the articles on the Leeds University poetry anthologies that Tolkien contributed to: "Leeds University Verse 1914-24" and "Northern Venture, A" (which Scoville unfortunately does not even include in his references).  Indeed, he restricts his mention of Tolkien's poetry written or published at Leeds to two verses that were later recycled in The Lord of the Rings, plus the Lays of Beleriand. These are of course most meaningful to a casual student of Tolkien, but  at least  some brief cross reference to the less well known poems is called for in a work like this, to encourage those casual students to dig deeper.

 

Leeds University Verse 1914-24 - Douglas A. Anderson

Comments by squire, May 22, 2007

This follows so directly on its predecessor article, "A Northern Venture", that it does not even mention that the same small press (Swan Press) was the publisher of both volumes. In the main, this repeats that earlier presentation. It is clear and fact-filled, with short rehearsals of the provenance and later history of Tolkien's three contributions, and short reviews of the poems contributed by Tolkien's friends and colleagues. My comments on the apparent shortcomings of "A Northern Venture", and the possible explanation for them, apply equally here: there seems to be an excess of description of the other pieces, but little analysis of Tolkien's poems -- perhaps because they are all covered in the "Poems by Tolkien..." series of articles.

Intriguingly and annoyingly, Anderson's last paragraph has a postscript-like flavor: he let us know that there was yet another small poetry collection by the Swan Press with yet another Tolkien poem. Strictly, this has nothing to do with "Leeds University Verse 1914-24", so I presume he includes it here for completeness of coverage on some level that the Encyclopedia editors never acknowledge.

That 1927 collection, Realities: An Anthology of Verse, was published after Tolkien left Leeds for Oxford. It contains an early version of Tolkien's poem "The Nameless Land" (the index does not catch this reference). Anderson tells us the publication details of the anthology, but nothing about "The Nameless Land", although it is a most interesting poem. Describing Valinor and written in the "Pearl" meter and rhyme scheme, it reappeared in many versions throughout Tolkien's mythopoeic career. In The Lost Road (HoME V) there is an entire miniature appendix devoted to it - which neither Anderson here, nor the "Lost Road" article itself, have space to mention. Shippey, in "Poems by Tolkien: Uncollected", does the honors.

To return to the subject at hand, that article by Shippey also gives some description of two of the three Tolkien poems in Leeds University Verse. Anderson, unfortunately, does not include that article in his See also list; perhaps he mixed the reference up with the irrelevant "Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages".

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

Pre-publication descriptions of the encyclopedia’s contents listed a separate article "Realities: An Anthology of Verse", which must have been folded belatedly into this one.

 

Legolas - Paul Edmund Thomas

Comments by squire, February 13, 2007

It's a tough job, writing these articles for the Encyclopedia, but someone has to do it. In the case of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, it shouldn't be hard to admit that he has almost zero personality. In fact, as Paul Kocher pointed out, his role is to epitomize The Elf in the Fellowship of the Ring: almost all his qualities as cited by Thomas are apparently common among Elves, not specific to Legolas.

 What remains to be said, that Thomas doesn't say, is that Legolas represents and speaks for the race of Elves throughout the epic, giving the reader a close acquaintance with a race that is otherwise almost absent from this Third Age story.

 

Lembas - Thomas Honegger

Comments by squire, March 13, 2007

Better organization would make this article sing. Honegger has the information, he just doesn't put it together very well. Several points I wish he had made clearer:

  • Lembas was invented by Tolkien specifically for The Lord of the Rings, and later reinserted into the Túrin and Tuor stories that appeared in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Thus Honegger's statement that the Fellowship's men and hobbits are not the "first" mortals to receive lembas needs qualification. In Tolkien's imagination they were; in the later development of the legendarium's internal chronology, they were not.
  • It is Beleg the Elf, not Túrin the Man, that Melian gives the lembas to, though Beleg is permitted to dispense it to Túrin and his mortal associates. The Silmarillion's text here that Honegger cites is slippery and unclear, and it always pays with The Silmarillion to look into  The History of Middle-earth to see when, and why, any given part of it was actually written.
  • The religious dimension of lembas as a symbol of the Catholic host, which Tolkien admitted informs the scenes with Frodo and Sam in Mordor, is not really the same as the quasi-religious tradition Tolkien later invented: that lembas was a gift of the Valie Yavanna to the Elves. The differences are as interesting as the similarities, as Honegger shows with Tolkien's philological gag about the word "lady".
  • At several places Honegger's authorial voice trips: he seems to treat the fictional lore of lembas as fact, or to repeat Tolkien's words from story or letter as if they were his own.

I would have loved it if Honegger had pursued the difference in Tolkien's thought between the Elves' way-bread (lembas) and their regular bread, which they freely share with mortals in LotR and presumably throughout the legendarium. Another aspect of lembas not covered here is its relation to Tolkien's other food-devices for his tales of Middle-earth's travellers, such as the Dwarvish cram, the Beornings' honey-cakes, and the Numenoreans' waybread (almost as potent as lembas).

And of course there is the question of why Tolkien never similarly recycled into The Silmarillion his concept of miruvor, the travel-spirit provided the Fellowship by the Lord Elrond, not the Lady Galadriel. Honegger in his related article "Food" barely mentions it, except to admit as Tolkien does (in "Gladden Fields" in UT) that it is the drink-equivalent of lembas in power and meaning.

Comments by Jason Fisher, March 13, 2007

Two small points. First, in his final paragraph, Honegger writes of “the corn from which lembas flour is ground.” I think it might be important to distinguish that this is corn in the British sense – i.e., wheat – and not corn in the American sense – i.e., maize. Some readers will have no difficulty with this, but American readers certainly might.

Second, the 'Further Reading' was rather weak with its single pointer to Tolkien’s own essay on lembas. Surely there must be something more Honegger could have cited? At a minimum, he might have provided one or two Catholic studies of LotR, such as Ralph Wood's The Gospel According to Tolkien.

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

Honegger slightly downplays the religious aspect of lembas that is suggested in the Letters.  First, he notes Tolkien’s rejection, on p. 274, of a mechanistic interpretation of lembas, but ignores Tolkien’s comment, on p. 275, that that lembas “has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a ‘religious’ kind”.  Then he mentions Tolkien’s non-denial, on p. 288, of a critic’s suggestion that lembas might represent the viaticum, but not the specific evidence from the same page that supports this assertion, and which Tolkien also let stand: lembas was “more potent when fasting”.  It doesn’t help that Honegger’s See also list points only to his own “Food” entry, and not to the article on “Eucharist”.

When Honegger writes that “mortals who often eat from lembas become weary of their mortality and begin to long for the Undying Lands”, he ought to have quotation marks around “become weary of their mortality” (which comes from Honegger’s sole listed source).  More notably, Honegger misses a chance here to compare lembas to limpë, the drink of the immortals in the Book of Lost Tales: “the desires that at whiles consume a full-grown man who drinketh limpë are a fire of unimagined torture” (Lost Tales I, p. 98).

 

Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, The - Merlin DeTardo

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 4, 2007

DeTardo begins his essay with a quotation from the original New York Times book review of Letters, a great beginning which led me to stop reading and immediately turn to the 'Further Reading'. Well, it’s an excellent one, very much fuller than most. The inclusion of the Humphrey Carpenter obituary was a nice touch.

The essay is a very good discussion of Letters – discussing its contents, its significance, and its usefulness to Tolkien studies, as well as why it “must be consulted with care.” DeTardo points us to the later publication of the omitted portion of the famous letter to Milton Waldman, as well as the expansion of the index to Letters by Hammond and Scull (though he does not identify them as its compilers). There are a few instances of some rather clumsy wording, which the editor’s pen should have found. For instance, the paragraph-opener, “Here are two further examples …” is weak, as is the phrasing, “There is a difficulty in being sure of to what Tolkien is responding …”

Although it must have been difficult to decide what to mention in an essay like this, I think DeTardo might have done well to say a bit more about Tolkien’s theological views. Unlike C.S. Lewis, Tolkien left us with no extended theological essays, and so we must make do with what we can learn through his letters. DeTardo makes only one brief mention of Tolkien’s theology, and it is in direct relation to LotR, but there is much else on the subject in Letters. Likewise with Tolkien’s many extended discussions on philological matters, of which DeTardo might also have said more.

I’m not quite sure about everything in the See also. Tolkien does talk about Frodo, Gandalf, Gollum, and Sam in many letters, but it seems rather arbitrary to me to put them in the See also . On the other hand, I expected to find “Catholicism, Roman” and some or all of the entries on theology. And of course, even though the entry follows immediately after Letters, shouldn’t one expect “Lewis, C.S. (1898–1963)” to be in the See also, not to mention “Inklings”? DeTardo might have mentioned some of the repositories of Tolkien’s letters, mainly unpublished, as partly touched on in my article “Manuscripts by Tolkien.”

Still, these are minor quibbles, and this is an excellent entry overall. My criticism is only a qualification to DeTardo's very true assertion that Letters is “the best substitute [we have] for a Tolkien autobiography.”

N. B. Since DeTardo wrote this essay, a major new work – Scull and Hammond’s Companion and Guide – has appeared. This work contains excerpts from a great number of letters omitted from Letters. John Garth, for his biographical work, Tolkien and the Great War, also obtained access to letters unavailable to the public. And additional letters continue to crop up, of course. A pamphlet released by Houghton Mifflin around 1980 (celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of LotR) reproduced part of a Tolkien letter to Rayner Unwin that was merely excerpted in Letters, including a portion of the missing text.

There’s an amusing typographical error in the entry: Eldar Edda for Elder Edda. I think Tolkien himself would have smiled at this.

 

Lewis, C. S. (1898-1963) - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, May 13, 2007

This is gorgeous. A pleasure to read, both for its style and its organization of what seems like just the right amount of information on Lewis, and just the right amount of reference to Lewis' relationship to Tolkien.

For example: Shippey certainly knows how to begin his story in media res. He opens with Lewis' first meeting with Tolkien at Oxford in 1926, which gives him a chance to compare the two men's differences and similarities at the beginning of their friendship. Only then does he go back and give the particulars of Lewis' youth.

A biographical sketch of this length and quality inevitably raises the question of whether a similar summary article for Tolkien's life mightn't have been arranged. This being the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, there is of course an entire thematic category dedicated to his life, with dozens of articles on aspects of his biography. One master article, to pull it all together for quick reference, with links to all the more detailed pieces, would have been quite a useful feature.

The references look good, but the See also has some odd misses: for instance, why no links to "The Lost Road", "Sauron Defeated", or "Williams, Charles Walter Stansby"?

 

Lewis, Warren Hamilton (1895-1973) - Richard C. West

Comments by squire, May 13, 2007

"Warnie" Lewis appears here at second remove: he was his brother C. S. Lewis's amanuensis and companion during the heyday of the Inklings, and so knew Tolkien tangentially. Most importantly for this reference work on Tolkien, W. H. Lewis kept a diary which has been published; it contains his impressions of Tolkien and the other Inklings. As interesting and accomplished a man as WHL appears to have been, perhaps West could have scanted his life's details in favor of a few more examples of his diary entries on Tolkien, the Inklings, and the "vibrant social history of his time".

Library, Personal - Douglas Anderson

Comments by squire, January 11, 2007

This is one of those stubby little articles that should either have been expanded or eliminated. The only fact of interest that I took away is that when Tolkien's estate sold some of his books, a sticker "From the Library of J. R. R. Tolkien" was added, which makes them readily identifiable in the rare books market.

Aside from that tidbit, there's just nothing to grab onto here. An obvious crowd-pleaser would have been the typical market price of otherwise undistinguished books that have that authentic Tolkien Sticker! I suspect that Anderson knows more specifics than he felt he could include here, perhaps he has a list of titles or some thoughts on what it all means. If so, a small article in Mythlore or Tolkien Studies might well have been called for, and an appropriate "Further Reading" reference added where there currently is... none.

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

This article has no 'Further Reading' list, but I wonder: has anything yet been published about Tolkien’s personal library that Anderson could cite?  At a conference I attended in May 2005, questions were asked concerning Tolkien’s book collection, but I can’t recall that anyone in attendance, including Anderson, identified works on the subject.  Scull and Hammond’s entry on “Reading” in their Reader’s Guide lists two articles by Nancy Martsch, “Tolkien’s Reading” and “Tolkien’s Reading: ‘On Fairy-Stories’”, published in that order in 1997.  I haven't read Martsch’s articles, but the second title suggests to me that the first is likewise derived from previously published comments on works Tolkien has read (perhaps from Letters or Carpenter’s biography) and not from research into the works Tolkien actually owned.

What is the purpose of this article?  I think that it is meant to serve two readerships.  The first audience is researchers who wish to learn if Tolkien had read a specific book.  To that end, Anderson identifies three specific places where Tolkien’s books are known to reside, and he further describes an identifying label that was applied to books that were sold off.  Beyond that, Anderson’s description of the types of books in Tolkien’s collection is too general for this purpose: that Tolkien had read Old English literature, or Finnish works, or “postmedieval English literature” is well established by other encyclopedia entries, where specific titles are cited.  A comprehensive list of titles that Tolkien is known to have owned was presumably impractical for the encyclopedia.  So I think it might have been wise to have incorporated this topic into a larger one on works Tolkien is known to have read –unfortunately there is no such article– so that at least readers could have been made aware of articles like Martsch’s.  (And there is certainly room for further scholarship in this regard.  At a July 2006 conference, Marcel Bülles gave a talk on his research into books that Tolkien borrowed as an undergraduate from an Oxford library whose records from the 1910s have been kept.)

The second audience for this article is collectors, and a See also reference to the “Collecting” article would have been appropriate, as would a reference in that article to this one.

 

Light - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, June 10, 2007

This is just brilliant, but quite limited in scope. That is, Flieger explains as well as I've ever seen the connections that Tolkien makes between light, the Elves, and the Elvish languages. It is, as always, a pleasure to read Flieger's thoughts on almost anything.

But what I miss here is an extension of this core "theory" (or so it feels to me) to more specific examples of plot or symbolism in the actual tales of Middle-earth, especially in The Lord of the Rings. Flieger mentions only the star-glass. Some other examples might be: the idea that starlight is always reflected in the Elves' eyes, the eternal truth that evil creatures shun the light of day, the shining white aura that represents the spirit of those who have been to the blessed realm, or the endless symbolic manipulation of the white and golden lights of sun, moon, and stars compared to the various yellows and reds of the artificial night light created by fire. One of my favorites is the pun on "Galad-" that comes up in Lothlorien, where the Galadhrim (Tree-dwellers) are the folk ruled by Galadriel (Shining-haired),  conflating two words in Sindarin that seem to be connected but are said to be from quite different roots -- until we realize that the original source of light for the Elves was two "shining" Trees!

How refreshing to see here a reading list that has more than just Flieger's own remarkable book; but the See also seems scanty, beyond even the previously noted absence of the twin article on "Darkness".

 

Literary Context, Twentieth Century - Claire Buck

Comments by squire, February 11, 2007

What a sweet article! This is the kind of knowledge that far more Tolkien fans ought to have, but never will - myself included. All the more pleasure to read, of course.

Buck weaves Tolkien in and out of the fabric of modern English literature, and almost makes his loudly colored yarn fit right into that brilliantly patterned but monochrome tapestry. Her depiction of the rise and fall of "high modernism" in the first half of the twentieth century is clear and fascinating, and explains so well the collision between Tolkien and his critics when he first published The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s. What followed in more recent decades, the "thickening" of critical engagement with early twentieth century literature, has let Tolkien into the lists by a suddenly wider open door.  One concludes on reading Buck's account, that had Tom Shippey not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.

Where Buck noticeably weakens is her effort to link Tolkien to the writers of the last third of the century, beyond his time; her discourse degenerates into unconvincing laundry lists of authors. She also fails to get into the gnarly issue of literary style and tone, for which Tolkien continues to take hits by modernists.

And in the end, every reader of Tolkien knows what Buck repeatedly concedes after each masterful connection between Tolkien and yet another host of contemporary writers of various genres and interests: that for all of his need to write about the same themes that obsessed the masters of mainstream literature in his own time, and for all of his utterly modern fascination with complex and introverted modes of language, imagination, and composition, he remains different and almost unique because of his vehicle, epic fantasy in an imagined fairy-tale world.

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

I wonder if Buck was right to immediately narrow her subject to include only Tolkien’s place amid the past century’s British literature, when his work might be compared to other twentieth century traditions. In Richard Jenkyns' review of Tom Shippey’s J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, for instance, one can see two such contexts: “Shippey cites, as books that come to seem most representative and distinctive of the twentieth century, The Lord of the Rings, 1984 and Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Slaughterhouse-Five, Gravity's Rainbow, and several more. It would be easy enough to draw up an alternative list – Proust, Faulkner, Mann, Solzhenitsyn, Greene, whatever…”  That makes three American authors, plus one each from France, Germany, and Russia, who Buck never considers.

Speaking of Shippey, Buck cites him and Brian Rosebury, but neither of them appears in her ‘Further Reading’ list.

Comments by Jason Fisher, January 1, 2008

I agree with N.E. Brigand's musing on whether “Buck was right to immediately narrow her subject to include only Tolkien’s place amid the past century’s British literature.” Considering the quotation N.E.Brigand provides later, with its references to Vonnegut and Pynchon, it can be no coincidence that both authors, along with Tolkien, are represented in the short-lived “Writers for the 70s” series.

 

Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries - Dale Nelson

Comments by squire, February 27, 2007

This is a comprehensive and well-researched goody bag. What Nelson has failed to bring to the party is any kind of theory for evaluating the many proposals over the years for  "influences" on Tolkien, who was so notoriously declared immune to influence by C. S. Lewis.

The result is a fabulous stroll through the fantastic and heroic pop literature of the hundred years before Tolkien, with any and all possible influences given equal credence, all too often with the fatal modifiers "could have", "possibly" and "perhaps". To aid the reader, Nelson quotes generously, both from the ostensible sources and from Tolkien, to allow us the pleasure of deciding for ourselves the various questions raised. And as often as possible, he informs us whether there is any evidence that Tolkien had actually read the works cited. Alas, all too often there is none -- and "possibly", "may have" and "could have" step in for another ersatz bow.

The article is very long, at 9000 words* the second-longest in the Encyclopedia (*1/18/08: actually at 9980 words, the longest). At times my head nodded. As with other articles of this length, I rebel and say it should have been reconceived and shortened. In Nelson's case I wonder if a system of categorization might not have been laid out, starting with source candidates known to have been read by Tolkien, and ending with sources whose language is similar to his solely because they drew on the same mythic or literary archetypes that Tolkien already knew from his vast reading in even earlier tales.

With a rule in favor of compression and summary rather than expansion and example, there might have been space even in a much shorter article to give a short history of the critical debate about Tolkien having contemporary sources as well as the strictly medieval ones. Nelson mentions the scholars who pioneered this approach, but in a scattershot way that fails to highlight how radical the concept once was, and how flawed some of the earliest work is now seen to be. In closing, I'll note that his bibliography is gratifyingly long, just as it should be for this kind of article.

Comments by squire, May 25, 2007

Nelson spends almost three pages just on examining H. Rider Haggard, with many specific incidents from his various stories shown to resemble various exciting situations in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien admitted to reading and liking She and Eric Brighteyes, so Nelson is at least on firm ground in suggesting that Tolkien was a bit of a Haggard fan. Since the Encyclopedia's publication, he has recently informed me, his further reading of Haggard's lesser-known works has continued to inspire comparisons with Tolkien; Nelson has been publishing these observations as a series of notes in the journal Beyond Bree.

As with so many of Nelson's other examples in his article, these renewed assertions of "influence" seem to float in mid-air. Tolkien talked far less about his tastes in contemporary adventure fiction than he did about his love of medieval romances and epics; and as he himself might put it, "the ways in which a story-germ uses the soil of [past literature] are extremely complex". A fairly complex theory of "influence" indeed would seem to be needed to analyze how story elements, visual images, and plots get transmitted down through or across time: what, we might next ask, were Haggard's influences, and was Tolkien rather drawing from them, or maybe ultimately their medieval antecedents? Thus Nelson's less frequent examples of similarities of vernacular language, rather than of situation, are the more interesting.

Still, his continuing inquiries into Rider Haggard's fiction show, if nothing else, that in these matters nothing substitutes for a thorough acquaintance with a period's or genre's lesser-known literature. A separate article on Haggard would have well repaid its word-count with its explicit acknowledgement of Tolkien's debt to Victorian and early modern adventure romance.

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

There appears to have been some uncertainty among the Encyclopedia's editors about how to address the influence that Victorian and later literatures might have had on Tolkien’s fiction.  Several nineteenth and twentieth-century authors receive separate articles, including J.M. Barrie, John Buchan, Robert E. Howard, George MacDonald, William Morris, and A.E. Wyke-Smith.  These authors did not appear on the list of entries announced in early 2005, (when most contributors received their assignments), which suggests that they were afterthoughts.  So in this article Nelson discusses Barrie and Buchan, somewhat duplicating the articles by David Oberhelman and Tom Shippey.  (Nelson himself wrote the article on Howard, who therefore is not mentioned here – and unfortunately this article doesn’t include a See also list.)  On the other hand, Nelson deliberately omitted some authors from discussion, with the understanding that they were to be covered elsewhere (as he has confirmed in correspondence).  These include MacDonald and Morris, as well as G.K. Chesterton, about whom it was apparently decided no article was necessary.

With that in mind (and also as a guide to potential Encyclopedia readers) it may be worth listing the twenty-five authors that Nelson does examine for a possible influence on Tolkien.  For the nineteenth century, these are

Robert Browning

W.S. Gilbert

John Henry Shorthouse

Lewis Carroll

H. Rider Haggard

Francis Thompson

S.R. Crockett

Richard Jefferies

H.G. Wells 

Charles Dickens

E.H. Knachtbull-Hugessen

 

And for the twentieth, he writes about

J.M. Barrie

Kenneth Grahame

E. Nesbit

Algernon Blackwood

William Hope Hodgson

Joseph O’Neill

John Buchan

Rudyard Kipling

Beatrix Potter

Edgar Rice Burroughs

David Linsdsay

Olaf Stapledon. 

Lord Dunsany

Alexander MacDonald

 

This is exactly the order in which Nelson considers them: alphabetically within each century, which he admits is an arbitrary listing.  But failing a complete overhaul, it’s hard to see what else he could have done with an article whose true subject seems to be “Other Literary Influences, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”.

How else could Nelson have approached his subject?  I think he might have devoted more attention to literary movements than to specific authors.  If Tolkien isn’t clearly influenced by individual figures – and some of the connections presented here are tenuous – still they may represent trends that did inspire him.  Nelson could also have given some indication of the most prominent authors missing from the list: how does Tolkien differ from the literary mainstream that preceded him?

Nelson strains on a couple occasions:

  • The line from Buchan’s The Power-House that he cites, on the thin line between “civilisation and barbarism”, hardly seems to fit the looming threat of Sauron’s tyranny in The Lord of the Rings

  • Though there are some suggestive parallels between Tolkien’s descriptions of Mordor and the landscapes in Browning’s poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Nelson goes too far in noting that “Dark Tower is a name for Sauron’s fortress”: Browning took his title from King Lear, which unlike the later poem is actually mentioned in Tolkien’s published writings. 

  • There are at least two notable absences from Nelson’s roster: Sinclair Lewis, whose Babbitt was acknowledged by Tolkien in an interview as an influence on The Hobbit; and E.R. Eddison (author of The Worm Ouroboros), whom Tolkien met, and praised in a letter. 

Still, Nelson’s effort should not be underemphasized.  He presents significant original analysis here, and he doesn’t neglect the work of earlier scholars, including Douglas Anderson, John Garth, Mark Hooker, Jared Lobdell and several others, whose interpretations he is ready to dispute, as he feels necessary.

 

Literature, Twentieth Century: Influence of Tolkien - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, January 24, 2007

Perfect.

 

Lombardic Language – Jared Lobdell

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 20, 2007

What a long entry for such an arcane subject! Ordinarily this type of entry would appeal to me, but this one is mired in too much unnecessary detail and linguistic jargon, all of it poorly organized. I would quibble with some of the statements in Lobdell’s first two paragraphs, but it hardly seems worth the effort to do so when those details will be abstruse and irrelevant to the vast majority of the Encyclopedia’s readers.

After the first two paragraphs of tedious detail, Lobdell embarks on what appears to be an overlong summary of Paul the Deacon, in which he moves transparently between lengthy quotations and his own storytelling. Only at the end of this — already halfway into the entry — does Lobdell clarify that he has been quoting from Tolkien.

Lobdell is right to point out Lombardic connections to Tolkien’s Lost Road and Notion Club Papers, but the way he does so is less than conclusive, relying again and again on lengthy, unexplained, and out-of-context quotations. This organizational approach, or lack of one, makes the entry extremely confusing and almost useless.

The 'Further Reading' is a bit on the weak side, but at least there is one. The See also has the same problem. Where, for example, are “Old High German” and “Time Travel”, which Lobdell mentions in his very first and very last sentences, respectively?

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

The title is misleading: Lobdell’s focus is on Lombardic history and legend as much as on language – though this article is anything but focused.  Two of nine paragraphs are given over to quotation.  Two successive paragraphs begin with the same phrase (“In Part II of ‘The Notion Club Papers’”).  An interesting but unnecessary similarity between The Lost Road and Little Lord Fauntleroy is thrown in with little connection to the rest of the article.

Lobdell never tries to explain or even demonstrate his speculation that Lombardic might have “some kind of special place” for Tolkien.  He makes no use of his long quotation from The Lost Road.  The paraphrasing and translation of Paul the Deacon is actually by Christopher Tolkien, and Lobdell copies more than his use of quotation marks suggests.  Christopher Tolkien himself mentions a point that Lobdell ignores: the word Lombard means “Longbeard”; Douglas Anderson has suggested that Tolkien’s “Longbeard” dwarves could be a joking reference to the Lombards (The Annotated Hobbit p. 98).

 

Lonely Mountain (Erebor) - Amelia Harper

Comments by squire, February 8, 2007

Harper has fallen under the dreaded "Tolkien-spell", and relates the entire history of Erebor as if it were all true. Tolkien himself is never mentioned in this article. In other words, this is another case of "Middle-earth Studies" taking over the Encyclopedia. It is truly dire that her 'Further Reading' list gives only Foster's Guide and Sibley's Maps.

This is unfortunate, if not actually pathetic, because Erebor is crawling with symbolism and meaning. Tolkien is a nut for towers and their fathers, mountains. A lonely mountain is a natural tower, and Erebor's domination of the landscape in the second half of The Hobbit is one of the book's strongest images of rule and possession, conveying the presence of both the dragon and the gold to all the lands within sight of it. Who can avoid seeing Erebor and its Desolation as a precursor to Orodruin and Gorgoroth in the subsequent book, LotR? But perhaps we should see in Erebor a conflation of Glaurung's lair in wasted Nargothrond with Morgoth's throne room at the base of Thangorodrim, as well - places that predate The Hobbit in Tolkien's imagination. I'm sure a host of critics have already noted these points and a dozen others about the meaning and writing and imagery of Erebor - I wish Harper had seen her assignment in this light, which I believe was the point of this Encyclopedia.

It only adds salt to the wound to note that though her summary of Erebor's history is admirably thorough and pretty well-organized on its own terms, it is grammatically shaky at times, and errs factually in places (The Mountain has no strategic importance, except as a source of mineral wealth; Gloin, not Gimli, sought Bilbo to warn him of the Enemy's inquiries). I won't talk about the necessity of explaining how The Quest of Erebor is an unpublished retrofit with nothing like the kind of canonic authority that Harper assigns it.

 

Lord of the Rings, The - Amy H. Sturgis

Comments by squire, February 8, 2007

It seems safe to say that of all the articles in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, this is the one most likely to be read by newcomers to Tolkien and to the scholarly field of Tolkien studies. Which makes its inadequacy all the more disappointing. The quality of the discourse and prose is, oddly, that of an ambitious undergraduate.

Obviously, The Lord of the Rings is huge, too huge to be contained in any single Encyclopedia article. And what both complicates and redeems Sturgis's effort here is the presence in this Encyclopedia of dozens, if not hundreds, of articles with additional information and details about the LotR. Far more thought, both by the contributor and her editors, ought to have gone into the organization and purpose of this very important article in the Encyclopedia.

Structurally, it's almost as if the editors gave instructions to be sure to mention "Publication History, Summary, Themes, Style, Adaptations"; certainly that is the awkward schema that Sturgis follows. She disconcertingly starts right off with the Publication History, something one would expect to find near the end of an article like this. The rest of the article dutifully presents the other subheads, and that's it.

The plot Summary follows the Publication History, and goes on for over two pages. I think a little less space for this, and more space devoted to presenting the many, many ways in which LotR can be read, understood and appreciated, would have been the way to go. For all the space Sturgis takes up in recounting the plot, she inevitably, sometimes even comically, compresses the story into meaningless fragments that can only confuse some casual reader who has not yet read the book. Whatever happened to Saruman at Isengard, for instance?

When she finally gets past the plot to the Themes and Style sections, she makes a few "greatest hits" points. In Themes she takes Tolkien himself quite literally, and explains only the three themes he identified in 1951: the Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. In Style, she only reviews at length the interlace structure famously identified by West in 1975. One would not particularly expect original thinking here; on the other hand, none of the brilliant thinking or critical perspectives from any Tolkien scholarship of the last thirty years is drawn from or referred to either.

What does get mentioned from more contemporary times is the subject of Adaptations, an especially egregious misallocation of space; in favor of the other subheads, this should have been drastically shortened and reference made instead to the other articles on this topic.

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

There are a few other tricky points in Sturgis’s plot summary.  First, she refers to the hobbits’ “capture and escape in the Barrow-Downs”, but never says who imprisoned them; new readers could only guess that it is the Black Riders she had already mentioned.  Second, she claims that “Sam kills Shelob”, but concerning that monster’s fate, Tolkien writes only that “this tale does not tell”. 

However, for me, the most interesting mistake comes when Sturgis’s synopsis reaches the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, where, she writes, “the company is scattered by an Orc attack”.  Actually, that event is not presented in FotR, which concludes with the departure of Frodo and Sam as the other members of the Fellowship still search for them (though “there seemed to be cries in the woods behind”).  Here Sturgis might be remembering Peter Jackson’s film of FotR, which appropriates Boromir’s death from The Two Towers (to the satisfaction of many viewers), but it is most curious that Tolkien himself twice makes the same assertion: first in his long letter of 1951 to Milton Waldman, where he says that the “book ends with the death of Boromir fighting the Orcs”; and then in the synopses of FotR that appear at the beginning of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, where he writes that the first volume ends with “the scattering of the remainder of the Fellowship by a sudden attack of orc-soldiers”.

To allow more room for the analysis suggested by squire, Sturgis should have drastically cut her three paragraphs on the LotR prologue, which is summarized at more length than any of the main story’s six books.  She also could reduce the section on the book’s publishing history with reference to Wayne Hammond’s bibliography of Tolkien’s works and to Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, neither of which appears in her ‘Further Reading’ list.  Similarly, “Publishing History” and “Textual History: Errors and Emendations” are missing from her See also list, along with the entries on the published drafts of LotR in volumes 6-9 and 12 of The History of Middle-earth.

 

Lord of the Rings, The: Success of - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, March 23, 2007

This article only makes some sense if one realizes that it comes under the Thematic heading "Life", as in, "Tolkien, J. R. R.: Life of". So as Lobdell warns from the beginning, the topic here is the effect of his book's success on Tolkien, not the effect of the book's success on the literary or cultural world at large.

Which is not to say that this article makes much sense in any case. There are a lot of facts about Tolkien's later life and how it was affected by the financial security and fame the sales of LotR brought him. But Lobdell hopelessly mixes up the concepts of artistic success and financial success, so that the word becomes overused and almost meaningless; and the difference between Tolkien desiring or hoping for success and expecting success of either variety is similarly confused throughout.

The organization is almost random and the style overly casual for a reference work. Folksy anecdotes and long quotes from Tolkien's letters tumble over each other in vaguely chronological order. Inconsistencies or inaccuracies of argument abound. For example, Lobdell claims "...that is not to say [Tolkien] neither desired nor expected his success" because why else would he have worked so hard to publish LotR and The Silmarillion  -- but in the next paragraph Tolkien is cited as writing "that the success of The Lord of the Rings was unexpected." Likewise Lobdell cites Tolkien's famous demand for either "art [i.e., artistic control] or cash" for a Hollywood adaptation of LotR in the late 1950s, and goes on to say that within a few more years Tolkien was able to ask for, and get, both. In fact he sold the movie rights for a lot of money, abandoning any claim to artistic control.

There is no clear narrative of the various stages of critical approval, sales and concomitant financial return that The Lord of the Rings generated. The book's reception in the 1950s may seem small scale compared to what was to come, but at the time it clearly exceeded Tolkien's expectations. Lobdell spoils his own attempts at drama by saying in 1955 the book was not the great financial success it was to be in the post-paperback edition 1960s, when he immediately cites Tolkien's 1957 letter crowing that he could have retired two years early if he had known how large the royalty checks were going to be.

The 'Further Reading' and See also lists are mere tokens. Why would Carpenter's Biography be left out? And cross-references to "Publishing History", the "Reception of Tolkien" articles, "Twentieth Century Influence of Tolkien", "Film Scripts: Unused", "Criticism of Tolkien" and "Tolkien Scholarship 1954-1980" would seem like obvious choices. Ironically, Lobdell does give a reference to his article on "England, Twentieth Century", but there is nothing in there to do with this article. It does not mention the astronomical postwar tax rates on the rich in the UK, about which Tolkien fulminated in his letters once his income began to soar.

Overall, no matter how Lobdell dices his terms, the theme of the article is money and to a lesser extent, celebrity. But "success", as it affected Tolkien, did in fact have an artistic side too. It might not be asking too much for Lobdell to have mentioned some of the speculation by Tolkien's biographer Carpenter and critics like Tom Shippey that it was the very success, both financial and artistic, of The Lord of the Rings that hampered Tolkien's ability to complete his life-work, The Silmarillion. The relatively luxurious comforts of time and artistic freedom, and the clamor of a huge fan base for more hobbit stories, that Tolkien's "success" brought him may have been far more two-edged than this article ever suggests.

P.S. on the thematic structure: if the Encyclopedia was supposed to cover Tolkien's "Life" in biographical terms, this and the "Marriage" article would seem to be the reader's source for the story of the later years of his life, a rather unclear arrangement. It's lucky that Lobdell refers to the "Oxford" article (though not the "Marriage" one), because it all too faithfully replicates the standard chronological biography right up to his death.

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

Lobdell’s opening complaint that his assigned topic here is less interesting than the subject of Tolkien’s “influence … on other authors”, seems to suggest that the Encyclopedia skips that subject. It is worth stressing that the issue is covered in Tom Shippey’s entry, “Literature, Twentieth Century: Influence of Tolkien”.

 

Lost Road, The - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, January 28, 2007

It's impossible to quarrel with Flieger's ability to organize a digest of this difficult History of Middle-earth volume. It's all here, as clearly presented as something of this nature can be.

However, speaking from experience, I know that a description of a HoME book expands to fill the space allotted to it, and there is never enough space. I would have wished for Flieger to compress her description slightly, or more than slightly if needed, in order to make room for some discussion of the value of the book in the larger critical world of Tolkien studies.

For instance, she hints as to the relevance of The Lost Road story to Frodo's character; and to the complexity of the work in the Eytmologies. But a more detailed account of the Frodo connection, or a recap of Hostetter's criticism of the way the Etymologies have been misused in translating English into Elvish, would have been an appropriate reallocation of her precious word count, I'd say.

Indeed a critical précis of all of the five pieces in Tolkien's Legendarium that refer to this volume, which Flieger does cite in her bibliography, might have made this article a little more useful for the more casual Tolkien student. It is a shame that the HoME has been so little studied that all the critical work done on it seems to be contained in only one scholarly collection!

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

It’s odd that Flieger’s See also list refers to the articles on eight of the other eleven History of Middle-earth volumes, including the three volumes devoted entirely to the development of The Lord of the Rings, while it omits the overview article on HoMe, and especially the entries on the  Morgoth’s Ring and The War of the Jewels. These two “Later Silmarillion” volumes represent the next (and last) development of the First Age tales that The Lost Road presents in their pre-LotR state.

 

Lothlórien - Michael N. Stanton

Comments by squire, March 28, 2007

The thing I like most about Lothlórien is how Tolkien uses it to give his Lord of the Rings readers a glimpse of the Elder Days, years before anyone read The Silmarillion. Yet not inexplicably, the visions we see in Lothlórien are better, richer and more meaningful, than those in the older (both in reality and literarily) tales. And the glory of it, when looked at behind the scenes, is that Tolkien did not foresee Lothlórien or Galadriel more than a few days before writing them. They came up from the deep wells of his long work on his older legends, but refreshed and clearer thanks to the lessons he had learned in writing The Hobbit and that part of LotR that he had completed by then.

There is a wealth of meaning and symbolism to Lothlórien beyond this simple observation. It draws on medieval ideas of Faerie, the Elvish Wood, and the Belle Dame. It plays on the Elvish pun galad/galadh. It is the best example in LotR of Tolkien's thinking in "On Fairy-stories", right down to the meditation on the meaning of "green". It inspires a meditation on Elvish perceptions of time and Elvish dreams. It refers to Fangorn, the Shire, Aglarond, Ithilien, and Cirith Ungol. Invented in mid-story, by the end it has become one of the central images of the entire epic, interwined with Aragorn's tale, Gimli's, Sam's, Boromir's, Elrond's, Frodo's, Gandalf's and Gollum's, and beyond all individuals with the titanic ten-thousand-year saga of the Elves in Arda.

Stanton touches on some of this, but hardly. Mostly he simply describes Lothlórien and recounts its role in the story of The Lord of the Rings. As in some of his other articles, he writes almost entirely as if it were a real place. The 'Further Reading' list has some good references in it, though I would be leery of the Giddings/Holland piece.

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

Even within the limited scope Stanton sets himself, he sometimes fails.  Information on Lórien’s boundaries and size is irrelevant without context – what can an area of two thousand square miles mean to the encyclopedia’s readers without something to which they can compare it? – but Stanton makes matters worse by contradicting himself. He first describes the Silverlode River as the western and southern boundary of Lórien, then he writes that the Fellowship “spend their first night in Lothlórien’s forest on a flet or talan”, which happens before they have crossed the river.  And his description of Lothlórien, which emphasizes the importance of Cerin Amroth as the trysting place of Aragorn and Arwen, omits Arwen’s haunting death there.

The sourcing is also slack: Stanton describes Lórien as “the heart of Elvendom” and Galadriel and Celeborn’s home as big as “a hall of Men” but with no indication that those phrases come straight from LotR.  The history of mallorn trees is cryptically ascribed to unnamed “authorities” and not to its source in Unfinished Tales, a work which is never mentioned.  And while Stanton notes that “time seems to flow differently in the world of the Elves”, he neither mentions Verlyn Flieger’s definitive A Question of Time, nor refers readers to the entry on Time.

 

Lúthien – Gerald Seaman

 

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 4, 2007

Seaman’s essay on Lúthien covers most of the “facts” about Lúthien – however, as with a number of other character entries in the Encyclopedia, the approach seems to be that of assuming Lúthien was a real person and providing a much too lengthy narrative summary of her “life” (i.e., Middle-earth studies). Those facts are all pretty solid, but they take up valuable space (the bulk of the entry’s three columns) that should have been devoted to a more critical treatment of Lúthien’s role and function(s) in Tolkien’s legendarium.

The connection between Lúthien and Edith Tolkien is given short shrift. Seaman might have turned to Tolkien’s own poignant recollections in Letters (#340) – Carpenter describes the same early episode in Biography, p.97. Seaman also glosses weakly over the textual history of the character and the tales in which she plays a part. He mentions The Lay of Leithian, but ignores the earlier "Tale of Tinúviel" in The Book of Lost Tales. I don’t see Lúthien’s other name, Tinúviel, anywhere in the essay – a rather surprising omission. I also missed a short comment on the etymologies of her names, but that may just be me.

Seaman’s essay stumbles in other areas as well. His opening claim, that “Lúthien is figuratively the mother of Middle-earth,” should be explained and defended. Also, Seaman may be going a bit far in calling Beren and Lúthien’s tale “the core story” (emphasis mine); better would be “a core story,” as the tales of Fëanor and Túrin are equally central to The Silmarillion. Seaman also asserts that “Lúthien … founds the line of the Númenórean Kings” – a highly questionable claim, since she was the great-grandmother of Elros and died well before the Valar raised up Númenor from the sea. And a statement like “Tolkien wrote often in verse and enjoyed doing so, but his success as a lyricist was limited” seems to be losing sight of the essay’s intended focus, and again, it takes up space better devoted to other critical perspectives on Lúthien. (I may sound like a broken record, but this was the purported aim of the Encyclopedia!)

The connections between Beren and Lúthien and Aragorn and Arwen are fairly well developed here, but the argument could have been tightened up a bit. It feels wordy to me, and I would rather have seen a little more exploration of other interpretations of Lúthien – feminist criticism, for example, is notably overlooked. Also missing is any discussion of possible sources and analogues (e.g., Sir Orfeo / Orpheus and Eurydice; or the “Giant’s Daughter” motif, which Verlyn Flieger touches on in Splintered Light, etc.). Such source discussions are not required in the Encyclopedia, but they are often important and shed light on how Tolkien developed his fictive mythology. Seaman might also have highlighted the parallel between Lúthien’s and Aragorn’s healing powers.

The 'Further Reading' is longer than many, but disappointing. Here we have the usual suspects (e.g., Carpenter), but I’m not sure how relevant the Chism, Eden, and Schlobin articles are. Some other suggested references, which Seaman omits, are:

  • Thomas Honegger’s “A Note on Beren and Lúthien’s Disguise as Werewolf And Vampire-Bat” in Tolkien Studies 1 (2004)

  •  Richard C. West’s “‘And She Named Her Own Name’: Being True To One’s Word in Tolkien’s Middle-earth,” in Tolkien Studies 2 (2005)

  • Women Among the Inklings: Gender, C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams by Candice Fredrick and Sam McBride

  • Linda Greenwood’s “Love: ‘The Gift of Death’,” in Tolkien Studies 2 (2005)

  • Jen Stevens’s “From Catastrophe to Eucatastrophe: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Transformation of Ovid’s Mythic Pyramus and Thisbe into Beren and Lúthien,” in Tolkien and the Invention of Myth, ed. Jane Chance

One would expect Book of Lost Tales II and The Lays of Beleriand in the See also, but they are nowhere to be found. (The Lays of Beleriand article does direct readers back to “Lúthien”, but Book of Lost Tales II does not.)

Comments by squire, August 6, 2007

Jason Fisher has rightly criticized the unfortunate imbalance between story-fact and analysis here. I turned to this article hoping to find some mention of Edith Tolkien's famous dance among the hemlocks that so enchanted the young J. R. R. Tolkien - where and when did it take place? - but Seaman refers only to a "vision". (The "Marriage" article, Edith's biographical entry, does a little better - it suggest a time and setting, but takes for granted the name of Lúthien and also fails to refer to this article.)

I was disappointed to read here that Strider on Weathertop sings nine stanzas from The Lay of Leithian. That's a common mistake, perhaps, made by those who have never actually read the Lay. Aragorn's song is instead adapted from "Light as Leaf on Linden Tree", another rendering of the Beren and Lúthien myth.  Seaman, whose final paragraph attempts to summarize the various poetic and prose versions that Tolkien wrote, should certainly have been aware of this.

Finally, in an Encyclopedia of this scope and focus, Seaman is very remiss in not noting the earlier uses of "Lúthien" by Tolkien in his Book of Lost Tales. The name is used at one point to refer to the mariner Ælfwine ("Lúthien" translates in this case as "Wanderer"). Later, along with "Luthany" it is the Elves' term for their ancient kingdom in England, with the meaning of "Friendship". Christopher Tolkien reports he was unable to trace the point where the word was recycled to become the name of the Elf-maiden originally known only as Tinúviel.

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

Jason Fisher overlooked “Lays of Beleriand”, which does indeed appear on Seaman’s See also list.

 

Lyme Regis - Michael Coren

Comments by squire, July 24, 2007

This is so minor as to be absurd. Tolkien summered at Lyme Regis as a boy and remembered it fondly ever after. End of story.

Why not include this (or at least the few facts in it that pertain to Tolkien) in some larger article in the "Life [of Tolkien]" thematic category: "Education", perhaps, or "Morgan, Father Francis"? The unstructured weakness of the Encyclopedia's parceled-out approach to Tolkien's biography is nowhere more obvious than here.

 

Lyric Poetry - Joe R. Christopher

Comments by squire, April 25, 2007

It's just chaos down here! Starting with the use of the odd term "lyrical poetry" and ending with out-of-place close metrical analyses of three poems (none of which are alliterative as the opening sentence of their paragraph promises), this article jumps from point to point without ever getting to the point - any point.

Since there is a host of articles assigned specifically to Tolkien's poems, the focus of this one was presumably to be on Tolkien's use of a poetic genre - an evaluation of how his copious poetry relates to the broader lyric tradition. Christopher comes closest to this approach in his first paragraph's definitions of terms which suggest that lyric poetry sets easily to music, followed by notes on how some of Tolkien's lyrics were composed with music in mind, or were later set to music by Donald Swann with Tolkien's collaboration and approval. But he never develops this further, for instance by distinguishing which if any of Tolkien's poems "emphasize personal mood", and the rest of the article is a list of almost random observations on specific poems' meters with no unifying argument.

Since Christopher gives no references to any critical writing on Tolkien's English poetry, except his own, we never know who has complained that Tolkien's poems have insufficiently rich imagery. He defends Tolkien's poetry as needing "mental or actual music" to make it richer, but is that fair to the reader of Tolkien's stories, which present the poems without an accessory CD, so to speak? Surely the best lyric poetry can be set to music, but does not have to be; Christopher never attempts to hold Tolkien's poetry to that standard.