MacDonald, George (1824-1905) - Gisela Kreglinger

Comments by squire, July 24, 2007

I haven't read MacDonald's books. From the outside looking in, so to speak, this seems to me to be a very good brief treatment of MacDonald's exemplary relationship to Tolkien, as a creator of fairy/fantasy tales that are informed with an underlying faith. 

The best part is the commentary on the connection between MacDonald's theories of fairy tales, and Tolkien's famous essay on the subject. Ironically, Kreglinger notes that Tolkien refers to MacDonald in "On Fairy-Stories", but the encyclopedia's entry on it does not (though "MacDonald, George" does appear in the cross-references).

I would like Kreglinger to be more exact when she calls MacDonald "the true founder of modern fantasy", though. Her statement seems to justify itself by pointing to the connections between faith and fairy tales that both Tolkien and MacDonald insisted on. But I wonder if that aspect of MacDonald's original thinking has really survived to breathe its grace onto the acres of candy-colored paperback sagas on the "Fantasy" shelves of the local Borders or Barnes & Nobles?

The 'Further Reading' list features many editions of MacDonald's books, but is missing his name to lead off the list, so that all of his stories are apparently by C. S. Lewis. There is no secondary literature listed; can it be true that no critic has yet produced an article about Tolkien's debt to MacDonald? That a See also list is missing is most unfortunate, given the intrinsic interest of this well-written article.

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

Kreglinger never mentions Smith of Wootton Major.

According to Humphrey Carpenter’s biography, Tolkien began work in 1965 on a preface for a reissue of MacDonald’s The Golden Key, but on rereading MacDonald’s work, he found it “illwritten, incoherent, and bad, in spite of a few memorable passages” (p. 244).  He abandoned the preface (it appears in Verlyn Flieger’s 2005 edition of Smith) but was inspired by it to write an explanation of the idea of Faery, and this became Smith of Wootton Major.  I think that one critic has suggested that the character of Nokes in Smith represents MacDonald, whose work if a reduction of Faery still catches a glimpse: “Better a little doll, maybe, than no memory of Faery at all”.

I also find it strange that Kreglinger spends most of a paragraph emphasizing MacDonald's debt to the German fairy tale author, Novalis (who is also discussed in the 'Dreams' article), but concludes that paragraph with MacDonald's statement that a different author, De La Motte-Fouqué, wrote the definitive fairy tale in "Undine".

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 31, 2007

Regarding squire’s observation that “There is no secondary literature listed; can it be true that no critic has yet produced an article about Tolkien’s debt to MacDonald?” – it is indeed true that there’s very, very little. This is what I found myself when I recently published an article to help fill the lacuna. My essay, not published in time for Kreglinger's article, of course, is “Reluctantly Inspired: George MacDonald and the Genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major” in North Wind: A Journal of George MacDonald Studies 25 (2006): 113-20.


Magic: Middle-earth - Michael W. Perry

Comments by squire, July 25, 2007

There is some bold work here. Perry has mined the Letters for several commentaries by Tolkien that distinguish the different types of "magic" that appear in The Lord of the Rings (and by association The Hobbit), and has extended Tolkien's terms to try to explain all the instances of magic in those books.

But as hard as Perry tries to follow Tolkien's lead and give magia (mechanistic magic) and goeteia (spiritual magic) distinct definitions, I sense that for Tolkien his treatment of "magic" was often pragmatic and dependent on the twists of narrative. The letters cited may well reflect Tolkien's thoughts looking back at what he wrote. He may not have been so theoretical in his thinking while writing "magic" in a fantasy story that draws from a deep well of European tales and traditions.

For instance, one might observe that the One Ring transforms from an example of magia in The Hobbit (an invisibility machine) to one of goeteia in LotR (a force for spiritual corruption and domination). Similarly, Perry (Tolkien is silent) assigns the palantíri to the class of goeteia, based on the emphasis on competing willpowers for their control in LotR; but the essay that appears in Unfinished Tales, composed after LotR was finished, focuses on their intended use as a kind of mechanism (i.e., magia). The general leakiness of Tolkien's schema also shows in his vague remark that magia "may not be easy to come by", to explain Sauron and Saruman's supplemental use of machinery in their warfare.

I wish that the entire explanation here was shorter so that Perry could have looked into other interpretations of magic in Middle-earth, by other critics; the lack of a 'Further Reading' list does not inspire confidence that he looked very far. Also needed at the beginning is a short review of how "magic" has been understood and interpreted by other storytellers and mythologies before Tolkien turned his mind to the problem. As so often in the Encyclopedia, Perry does not address the forms of magic that appear in The Silmarillion, most of which predates not just Letter 155, but The Hobbit and LotR.

Comments by Jason Fisher, July 31, 2007

I would just like to echo squire’s call for a 'Further Reading' section. An important citation, I think, would have come from a surprising corner: C.S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, in which he contrasts magia and goeteia at length. Valuable background for Perry’s discussion of Tolkien, indeed. Tom Shippey also has an essay on this subject forthcoming in The Moral and Mythopoeic Legacy of the Oxford Inklings, ed. Jonathan Himes (Cambridge Scholars Publishers).

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

In fact, Shippey briefly addresses this subject in his Encyclopedia article on Lewis.

Perry ought to have noted the remark that opens Letter #155, whose other contents he uses to structure his article.  Tolkien began: “I am afraid I have been far too casual about ‘magic’ and especially the use of the word” – as squire suggests, Tolkien was using this note to look back and clean up.


Maiar - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, April 1, 2007

Here are most of the most elementary facts about the Maiar as they appear in the published Silmarillion; and by implication, in The Lord of the Rings. I suspect Evans has also drawn from the Istari essay in Unfinished Tales, which might conflict with his stated desire to stay within the "canon of writing on Middle-earth."

By staying within the so-called canon, in the tradition of "Middle-earth studies", Evans does not address some of the most interesting aspects of the Maiar. Examples would be: their early development by Tolkien in the Book of Lost Tales, their incorporation into a more rigidly defined and less imaginative pantheon by the late 1930s, Tolkien's half-hearted attempts to create some Elvish myths about his sub-created universe that would put these demigods to some use within the legendarium (Evans recounts the Sun and Moon myth at too much length), and his semi-successful retrofitting of his "order of wizards" from LotR into the Maiar lists in the late 1940s.

There is some vagueness (just how is their role "similar to that of the Valar"?) and some disorganization (Sauron was never one of the Istari, as a casual reading here might suggest). The 'Further Reading' has only two critical references, though both look excellent; the See also helpfully has all the basic cross-references.


Mandos - Christopher Garbowski

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

Even in so short an article, I was surprised that Garbowski didn’t mention Hades and Hel, two characters in real-world mythologies who, like Mandos (Namo), share a name with their realms of the Dead.  Otherwise, Garbowski’s entry, though it largely overlaps the article on Elvish reincarnation, is a slight but serviceable description of Tolkien’s purgatorial halls of judgment.

There is no 'Further Reading' list.  "Finwë and Míriel", "Free Will", and "Prophecy" are mentioned in Garbowski’s text but they as well as "Dante" (in context of a discussion of purgatory) are missing from his See also list.

Comments by squire, April 22, 2007

Perhaps Garbowski did not have the space, but I missed any mention of how Mandos, who judges Elves who have died and in some way punishes then redeems the souls of "sinners", stands in relation to Manwë and Eru on the one hand and to  Melkor/Morgoth and Sauron on the other. In Tolkien's universe, as opposed to the medieval Christian worldview, purgatory is seemingly a branch office of heaven; while hell, if the Dark Lords' domains can be so characterized, are real places on earth. Tolkien's lifelong indecision about whether Elves can be truly evil should come to the fore in any discussion of Mandos and his realm. Along these lines, "Heaven" and "Resurrection" should also have been on the See also list.

Mandos as a character in the Silmarillion is not very well developed. Still, since this entry is thematically listed under "Characters", I missed a quick description of his role in the story, and of his development and gradual flattening from his origin in the Book of Lost Tales. Likewise, though less necessary, there might have been a note that his spouse Vairë the Weaver is the record-keeper, who embroiders images of all of Time's history to be hung in the ever-widening halls of Mandos, presumably to inform Namo's judgements: a rare example of a weaver goddess who does not metaphorically control fate.


Manuscripts by Tolkien - Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, March 18, 2007

Most of this article is a fine straightforward treatment of the history and provenance of the vast body of preserved manuscripts and typescripts that Tolkien generated during his literary career. The final paragraph, which chronicles and evaluates the odd "published manuscript" nature of the Tolkien's so-called posthumous works, seems somewhat padded and yet limited in scope.

What Tolkien's readers have discovered, not from the artificially coherent published Silmarillion, but from Christopher Tolkien's extensively annotated and commentated Unfinished Tales and especially the History of Middle-earth series, is that Tolkien's inability to complete a manuscript was as integral to his personality as any other part of his genius. Carpenter calls it perfectionism, and Christopher Tolkien seems to take it for granted, but in any case most of Tolkien's manuscripts are manifestly unfinished or in progress, with emendations, overwriting, and (my favorite) hand-written corrections made to an earlier manuscript that postdate a later manuscript.

One of the primary characteristics of the History of Middle-earth, and the one least talked about in the reviews and articles on those books, is the editor's constant reference to the sheer difficulty of reading and interpreting Tolkien's manuscripts. C. Tolkien was certainly the best qualified man to attempt the task. But it is an exaggeration for Fisher to say these volumes provide a 'map' for future scholars, unless it is in most general "large-scale" sense. The HoME books do not clearly identify the physical manuscripts referred to or their locations in the various archives, and CT's transcriptions sometimes explicitly combine and correct several manuscripts in the interest of providing a readable story version. So far as I know, it is still only the "most dedicated and intrepid scholars" who attempt to use Tolkien's manuscripts in their research.

Fisher honors C. Tolkien's mammoth efforts, and informs us of the ongoing language-studies project, but does not discuss any other instances of posthumous publication. Most desirable would have been some coordination with the parallel article "Publications, Posthumous". As it is, neither article cross-references the other. Had Fisher named, or referred the reader to the article about, all the manuscripts that have been edited and published since Tolkien's death in 1973 (the Beowulf lecture, the scholarly editions/translations of Sir Gawain, etc.), he might then have usefully listed all the known manuscripts that remain unpublished. Fisher only identifies the Beowulf translation specifically here, but there is an Arthurian epic that I would say is equally "legendary", for instance. It is arguable that the primary purpose of this Encyclopedia article, which is in the thematic category "Works of Literature", was to cover just this uncatalogued and unpublished material.

In closing, I missed any mention that the The Hobbit drafts are being edited for publication, another "legendary" project now in its third decade. Of course Fisher could not have known when writing his article that a two-volume edition is now finally scheduled for publication this summer of 2007. Tolkien scholars will finally have a point of comparison against which to judge the editorial approaches that C. Tolkien took in HoME.


Manuscripts, Medieval - Michael D. C. Drout

Comments by squire, March 25, 2007

A very clean and well-laid-out article, on a subject I was glad to learn more about. Drout's emphasis is properly on Tolkien's exposure to and work with the original source manuscripts that underlaid most of his professional scholarship. It's interesting that Tolkien may never have seen the actual Beowulf manuscript!

At the end we get some comments on how Tolkien incorporated the idea of medieval manuscripts into his fiction. The identification of the "Book of Mazarbul" with actual burnt or slashed manuscripts that Tolkien would have been familiar with, is fascinating; as is the arcane note about a possible source for the lettering in one of the "Father Christmas" letters.

It seems that Drout restricts his examples of Tolkien's fictional use of medieval manuscripts to his illustrations. He foregoes any acknowledgement of the "framing devices" of the Red Book of Westmarch and Bilbo's "Translations from the Elvish", for which Tolkien gives hints of authentic-sounding manuscript history in the Lord of the Rings appendices.


Maps - Alice Campbell

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 6, 2007

This is, by and large, a very good essay on Tolkien’s maps, though I feel its scope is rather narrower than warranted. The maps are an extremely important paratextual element to Tolkien’s works, published and unpublished, so Campbell is justified in devoting as much space as she does to the details of their development, use, revision, copying, and inconsistencies, but she omits a great deal. For example, there is the 1969 “decorated” map of Middle-earth drawn by Pauline Baynes. In Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien makes several interesting comments about this map. Among them are the facts that Tolkien communicated several new place names to Ms. Baynes, not present on the original maps, and that some of these were blunderingly misplaced on the new map 

Speaking of Unfinished Tales, Campbell doesn’t mention that Christopher Tolkien redrew the map of Middle-earth yet again for that volume, and her comments on the map of Númenor are unclear – she says it “was sketched in 1960 and drafted and published in 1980,” but because these dates straddle Tolkien’s death, I think she ought to have clarified who did the sketching (Tolkien père) and who did the “draft[ing] and publish[ing]” (Tolkien fils). Tolkien, in fact, made many maps that Campbell ignores, nor could she possibly discuss them all, but perhaps she ought to have made room for some of the most important – the maps accompanying the “Ambarkanta” and the World-Ship map accompanying The Book of Lost Tales come to mind.

Also on the subject of scope, Campbell apparently chooses to omit any discussion of the considerable cartographic work done by Karen Wynn Fonstad and Barbara Strachey. I understand the constraints of space, but these two mapmakers deserved mention (Fonstad is cited, but not discussed).

How would Campbell have made room for all this? Well, I think the essay wanders off into digressions at times. Everything in it is interesting, but I think a few of these tangents could have been sacrificed for more germane material. I’ll give two examples: the details of the Dullatur bog and the variations in distance due to the curvature of the earth (both on p. 406a). Both are nice to know, but inessential, and they come at the cost of other (and to me, more important) material.

In the See also, for “Treason of Isengard”, read “Treason of Isengard, The”, and I suggest adding “Art and Illustration by Tolkien”. To the 'Further Reading', Campbell ought to have added Barbara Strachey’s The Journeys of Frodo, but I congratulate her for the inclusion of Peter Turchi’s excellent book.


Marriage - Michael Coren

Comments by Penthe, December 14, 2006

The entry on marriage bothered me. It's all about Edith & J.R.R.'s relationship, and includes nothing at all about marriage as a theme (or not) in Tolkien's writing. Which just seemed odd to me.

Comments by squire, December 15, 2006

I can't help but agree with Penthe that the subject of marriage in Tolkien's fiction is a rich one. However, if we look at the thematic list of Entries, we see that Coren is following the Encyclopedia's own direction: See Life (of Tolkien); Biography; Marriage on page xxii.

A more self-aware approach by the editors to titling or sub-titling the articles might have avoided this natural confusion over what this article is supposed to be about. A more self-aware writer might have taken it upon himself to relate the biographical material here to Tolkien's fiction in any case.

I guess that the entries on "Sexuality" and "Women in Tolkien's Works" were believed sufficient to cover the fictional manifestations of marriage in Tolkien.

As for this article. Well, it's like Coren knows these two people better than most people know themselves, the way he goes on about their "extremely joyous marriage" and being "deeply in love" after decades together, growing old "in harmony and balance." He short-circuits my or anyone else's criticism of his interpretation by crowing about "the surprise and disappointment of those who look for scandal or sensation in the lives of authors."

I don't know about scandal or sensation, but what little I know of marriage suggests that when someone has an Estate as closely guarded as Tolkien's is, a biographer should avoid over-stating his knowledge of that person's personal life. Even Carpenter, presumably Coren's source for much of this subject, paints Edith's dissatisfaction with some aspects of her marriage a little more darkly (I might just say, a little more realistically) than we see here.

The lack of a bibliography is more than usually obvious here.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

A bibliography for this article would include not just Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien, but also “Joseph Pearce in a book”, to use Coren’s vague attributive phrase for a quote. That should have been more specifically credited to Pearce's Tolkien: Man and Myth, p. 202.  Pearce as much as Carpenter is Coren’s source for this entry.  This is shown by the two slightly different ways that Coren lists the inscription on Edith’s tombstone, first with the dates “1889–1971” preceding the name “Lúthien”, then three paragraphs later with that name before the dates (as it appears in Wolvercote Cemetery).  Both listings also appear in Pearce’s book, but in the first case Pearce is quoting from Tolkien’s suggestion in a letter to his son, Christopher – a distinction Coren missed.

Also, though Coren quotes from a letter to Tolkien’s son, Michael, to show how he “considered the subject of marriage thoroughly” (that’s Coren), he misses Tolkien’s clear-eyed remarks in that very note on his romance with Edith: “My own history is so exceptional, so wrong and imprudent in nearly every point that it makes it difficult to counsel prudence.  Yet hard cases make bad law” (Letters, p. 52).


Marxist Readings of Tolkien - David D. Oberhelman

Comments by Jason Fisher, October 9, 2007

This is an excellent introduction to the subject, and a surprisingly thorough one considering its brevity. I don’t know a lot about this subject myself, so I found one interesting surprise here: there’s apparently a distinction between Middle-earth studies and Tolkien studies even among Marxist critics! The 'Further Reading' is exceptional. The See also is very good, but I would add “Politics” and “Power in Tolkien’s Works”, both of which mention Marx and/or Marxism.


Mathew, Fr. Anthony Gervase (1905–76) - Richard C. West

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

West capably sketches the biography of Mathew, an Inkling, but with insufficient connection to Tolkien to justify a separate entry.  The only important point noted here is that Mathew introduced Tolkien to Milton Waldman, the publisher who tentatively agreed (c. 1950) to publish The Silmarillion and LotR.  Though West gives a specific citation to Letters for Tolkien’s famous long note to Waldman, he doesn’t source the information about Mathew: see Carpenter’s The Inklings (p. 227) and his biography of Tolkien. West parenthetically cites the former book earlier in his article, but doesn’t include a 'Further Reading' list.


McCallum, Ronald Buchanan (1898–1973) - David Bratman

Comments by N.E. Brigand, June 29, 2007

Bratman makes several good connections to Tolkien in a brief, clear treatment of McCallum, an Inkling who was expert in the history of elections, of all things.  More, please: which scholars have identified McCallum with the character of Cameron in The Notion Club Papers?  And what was the nature of Tolkien’s linguistic note incorporated into McCallum’s 1944 book?


Melian - Katherine Hesser

Comments by squire, April 13, 2007

From her opening line ("Melian is a Maia who serves and helps the Valar in their endeavors") Hesser plunges the unprepared reader into a morass of Silmarillion-lore that is nearly incomprehensible. The entire article does little more than recount the first half of the story of the relationship between the semi-divine Melian and her Elvish husband and King, Elwë Thingol. The fatally generous use of quotes from The Silmarillion tends to emphasize that Hesser has little to add in the way of critical evaluation, beyond the trite and unilluminating conclusion that Melian, who "could have sought power for herself", instead devoted her time in Middle-earth to creating a "better life" for her husband.

Melian is admittedly sketchily characterized by Tolkien, but still, so much more could have been said here. Melian and her enchantment of Elwë is the earliest example of the recurring royal Tolkienian romances between more powerful women and less powerful men: Lúthien and Beren, Galadriel and Celeborn, and Arwen and Aragorn. The connection with the Belle Dame of Faërie is obvious, and ignored by Hesser.

Since Hesser ends her plot summation just before all the major events of the War of the Jewels take place, Melian's relationship with her daughter Lúthien, and her encouragement of Beren, is not mentioned here; nor is Melian's general characteristic of perception without action, her amazing toleration of her husband's obtuseness, her undeveloped role as Morgoth's chief opponent, or her indeterminate fate at the end of the Silmarillion. Clearly it would be too much to expect some reference to Melian's development by Tolkien across the decades, from the Book of Lost Tales to the final version of the Tale of the Children of Húrin; and as for a 'Further Reading' or See also list, well...


Memory - Verlyn Flieger

Comments by squire, June 13, 2007

This is excellent, over all. Flieger takes two approaches to Tolkien's use of memory as a storytelling device to give his invented worlds a realistic sense of historical depth. The first is "traditional", with the use of spoken recall of past times by aged characters, and the presentation of fictive oral traditions via "stories, poems, lists, and sayings".  This is the primary use of memory in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Flieger unfortunately does not really address The Silmarillion, whose authorial approach to story is so different from the two romances'.

Flieger's heart, however, is in Tolkien's "untraditional treatment of memory", a subject she has pioneered in her book A Question of Time and in other essays. She recounts it here: the idea that memory, particularly of language, can be inherited down through many generations, which Tolkien used as his device for time-travel in his unfinished stories The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers; and the device whereby flashbacks in a narrative are really re-experienced by the character and by extension the reader, rather than just re-told by the authorial narrator.

It is hardly possible to quibble about Flieger's masterful choices of emphasis in this article. There just may not have been room for a more detailed exploration of Tolkien's invention of realistic-seeming oral formulae and mnemonic devices to flesh out his various cultures' transmission of memory across time; and there is no discussion of the role of written records versus orally-generated memories in Middle-earth.

Finally I missed an inquiry into Tolkien's response to the artificiality of his own fictive Elven cultures, wherein living Elves have memories that go back thousands of years, seemingly obviating the need for any records at all, oral or written. His own realization that languages and other cultural artefacts (like alphabets) would change shape differently, or at different rates, in cultures based entirely on living memory seems to have come as a bit of a shock to him.

The 'Further Reading' list is, as so often with Flieger, much too brief. See also could also include a lot more, like her own "Frame Narratives", plus "Alliterative Verse by Tolkien", "Textuality", "Orality" and "Oral Tradition", and even "Dreams", to name a few.

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

This is an excellent entry.  I particularly enjoyed Flieger’s contrast of the forgetfulness and memory of legend in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  However, Flieger devotes a paragraph both here and in her article on “Time Travel” to Merry’s experience in the Barrow.  Had she cut that example from this entry, she might instead have explored the ideas suggested by squire, or investigated some more straightforward ways that Tolkien uses memory in his stories.  For instance, loss of memory connects Gollum, who has forgotten “wind, and trees, and sun on the grass” (FotR, I, ii) to Frodo, who loses the “memory of tree or grass or flower” (RotK, VI, iii).  And Túrin’s loss of memory demonstrates the Narn’s theme of fate as a combination of personal error and the curse of evil: Túrin forgets his childhood companion, Nellas, apparently from self-interest; but he forgets the doomed Finduilas because of the dragon’s curse.  And of course Niënor’s loss of memory is a central element in that tale.

And what about other authors’ use of memory?  Thinking just of fantastic literature, I think of many examples that might profitably be compared to Tolkien, like humanity’s cultural memory of the future in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and the nearly-disastrous forgetfulness of Eustace and Jill in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair.


Men, Middle-earth - Sandra Ballif Straubhaar

Comments by squire, July 25, 2007

Most of this article misses the forest for the trees. Far too much space is devoted to retelling various plotlines and cataloging the various races of Tolkien's Men, and too little to giving context and a sense of sequence to his imaginative re-creation of our own species in a world populated by many other intelligent races. Here, for once, the thematic category "Creatures of Middle-earth" is a good start; and Kocher, for instance, is very good on this subject.

When Straubhaar does slow down to take stock, she often misstates her case. Melkor's plot to alienate the Men of all of Middle-earth from the Elves did succeed, with the exception of the Edain and some other western tribes. Faramir does not express contempt for the Men of the Twilight, for as he wisely but ruefully admits, the Dúnedain of Gondor over the years have descended to nearly their level. The story purpose of the fierce and cruel Haradrim peoples is not to awaken empathy; that is just the role of that one dead warrior.

Another problem is not unique to this article: the combination of story-facts from different stages of Tolkien's creation. For instance, the various appearances of the Drúedain in The Lord of the Rings and the later essays in Unfinished Tales are conflated into one seamless racial history, when in fact they represent one of Tolkien's typical reconceptions by revision. The Drûgs of the "Faithful Stone" tale have much less in common with their far distant cousins of Drúadan Forest than Straubhaar so glibly assures us.

More generally, Straubhaar enmeshes herself in a tangle of racial distinctions, by following Faramir's tripartite classification of Men as if it is Tolkien's. Only after devoting a page to dubious analyses of who is Wild and who is Not does she admit that this is probably not the best approach to understanding the moral and racial variety of Men in Middle-earth. And where does that closing moment of doubt leave the reader?

The long plot summary of the history of the two Dúnedain kingdoms, an entire column of text, is almost entirely the same, word for word, in both this article and Straubhaar's piece on "Gondor". I read the Gondor article a while ago, but I distinctly remember arguing that such a detailed recounting of Tolkien's backstory had no place in this kind of encyclopedia. It's a bit like being slapped in the face to encounter the exact same torrent of offending prose a second time. I am as staggered to discover Straubhaar wasting my time with such cheap hijinks, as I am to realize that no editor apparently ever read both articles!

Similar though less exact self-plagiarism can be found in the next section, where Straubhaar's discussion of the First Age Easterlings rephrases very closely her account of the same subject in her "Easterlings" article.

Ironically, two earlier long paragraphs on Númenor, seemingly unique though equally misdirected in emphasis, are probably the only place in the Encyclopedia where a reader might get even a summary of that tale from the legendarium, since there is no article on Númenor and its apocalyptic demise.

A few suggestions for the missing See also cross-references: "Aragorn", "Death", "Denethor", "Elves", "Easterlings"(!), "Faramir", "Fall of Man", "Gondor"(!!!), "Heroes and Heroism", "Hobbits", "Immortality", "Morgoth's Ring", "Sin", "Túrin", "Women in Tolkien's Work", and at least some of the articles on racism.


Merchandising - Marcel R. Bülles

Comments by squire, June 5, 2007

This article is a bit off center from its nominal topic. In fact, only the last paragraph actually addresses the merchandising of Tolkien's work. Everything before is a retelling of how and why Tolkien sold the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which sale encompassed the right to produce associated "merchandise". Bülles's account of the sale of the rights is interesting at times, but it repeats (though often more competently) what is covered in "Estate" and "Lord of the Rings, The: Success of". But the subject is "Merchandising", and the approach ought to have paralleled that in "Collecting" which focused on the market in collectible editions of Tolkien's books.

For instance, it would have been interesting to compare the long-established merchandising conducted by Tolkien's publishers, such as those deluxe editions, calendars, and other "book-related" items, to the "movie-related" goodies that are spun off of the various film productions of Tolkien Enterprises, to whom Tolkien sold the film rights. Not just the recent New Line films, but the earlier Bakshi and Rankin-Bass efforts, all generated their own set of stuff, and the quality, despite Bülles's assurances, was not always that good. Who was in charge of supervising the design, manufacture, and marketing of the various collections? Why would the quality change, and how has increasingly sophisticated technology affected this industry? For instance, laser scanning has made the action figures and cast sculptures based on the New Line films look remarkably like the actors as they appeared in the films, which increases their appeal and marketability.

Casting a wider net, there should have been a quick review of how much value merchandising has added to the film industry's income over time, since the phenomenon started with The Wizard of Oz if not earlier. Perhaps some comparison might have been made of the Tolkien merchandise with that generated by other blockbuster or lesser fantasy films. Isn't it notable that the more established internet fan sites like seem largely to be supported financially by merchandise ads from Sideshow Productions?

Finally, at least some consideration ought to be given to how a film's merchandising, or fan-art-based merchandising (in the case of the calendars and posters) alters the public's perception of the underlying literary property. How accurately are the story-facts of Tolkien's legendarium preserved: is the merchandise as marketed as far from the scripts as the scripts are from the books? One example I love is the constant production of replicas of The One Ring, from cheap stamped toys to expensively crafted gold jewelry; does anyone give a second thought to the disconnect involved in selling and owning the most evil and cursed totem in Tolkien's universe? Precious, indeed!

From what I can tell, the "serious" Tolkien studies community keeps as great a distance as possible from the subject of Tolkien merchandise, greater even than from the more flamboyant fan enthusiasms - I'd guess this is because merchandise based on films or fan art are two "degrees of separation" away from the original books. This article, misdirected towards a biographical (as in the thematic category "Life") rather than a cultural studies ("Reception of") approach, unfortunately continues that tradition.


Mercy - David Bratman

Comments by squire, April 12, 2007

Here is a gem among essays, that discusses lucidly the concept of Mercy as part of Tolkien's "theology". Bratman shows how it takes a central role in the action across Tolkien's three most notable fictional works, with a skillful use of the Letters to fill in what is left unsaid in the books.

What doesn't come across quite so well is the relationship between Mercy, and "the related concept" of Pity. I'm sure it is unintentional, but at times Bratman almost treats them as synonyms. Still, in reading this piece I was inspired to devise for myself a working definition of the difference between the two terms (pity is the feeling; mercy is the action), and that kind of intellectual engagement is just what makes this Encyclopedia, at its best, so darned seductive.

Bratman's use of the OED as a definitional authority is a little stiff; I missed in its place some more standard "theological" source on the meaning of Mercy in Catholic doctrine, that Tolkien may have drawn from. But I quibble. Alas, there is no 'Further Reading' or See also at all, so that this solitary gem gleams in a self-created darkness.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

I wish Bratman had mentioned the unfortunate outcomes to which acts of mercy can lead. For example, the mercy shown to Gollum by Gandalf and the Wood-elves may have led to the death of children in the Woodmen’s homes, and that shown to Saruman by Treebeard furthers the damage done to the Shire, and gets Lotho killed (by Wormtongue, on Saruman’s order).


Merry - Janet Brennan Croft

Comments by squire, March 12, 2007

As Merry and Pippin are twinned characters in The Lord of the Rings, so their articles are twinned by Croft in the Encyclopedia. This article shares both the structure and the virtues of Pippin's, which I reviewed some time ago: a comprehensive story-line biography, background of his creation from HoME, and then some cogent analysis of his character.

Just as one follows the magician's hand a little better the second time, so here one realizes that Croft's bibliography on the two hobbits is identical, with the exception of one specific article on Merry (by Hilary Longstaff in Mallorn); how come little Pip doesn't rate his own article in Mallorn?


"Middle English 'Losenger': A Sketch of an Etymological and Semantic Inquiry" - L. J. Swain

Comments by squire, June 10, 2007

It's not surprising to find at the end of this fascinating article that almost no one has ever heard of this scholarly paper. Swain presents as clearly as possible the sophisticated argument of Tolkien's: not just that the Middle English word "losenger" was borrowed from the French, not just that Old French made the word with its peculiar semantics from a conjunction of similar-sounding but different-meaning Latin and Germanic root words, but that the Germanic dialect was specifically... Old English!

Swain's discourse is dense and tricky to follow, but I suspect the original paper is far harder. I was a little surprised, but very pleased, to find at the end a brief but clear commentary on what this paper has contributed to its academic field (precious little), and why this paper is so poorly known that today's standard academic dictionaries do not employ Tolkien's carefully reasoned word-history.

It is understandable but too bad that Swain did not point out Tolkien's employment of "losenger" characters in his fiction, namely Grima Wormtongue and Saruman - one unanswerable question might be why Tolkien did not use the word itself at some point in the LotR story, since he uses a good many other old or near-extinct English words.

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

Arden Smith’s entry on “Old High German Literature” finds value in “Middle English ‘Losenger’” for showing of the breadth of Tolkien’s knowledge of medieval literature.  Given that, Swain can be forgiven for not here identifying some of the specific works Tolkien mentions, but a cross-reference to Smith’s article would be an appropriate substitute. As it stands, Swain’s See also list contains just three items (“Chaucer”, “Middle English”, “Philology”), not one of which actually has an entry in this encyclopedia – though Swain couldn’t have known that would happen!  Still, his list ought at least to mention the articles on "Old English", "Old French Literature", "Old High German", "D’Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (1899-1986)" (whose work Tolkien cites), and "Layamon’s Brut "(four lines of which Tolkien quotes).

Swain’s observations on the later reception of “Middle English ‘Losenger’” are most welcome, but his comments on the work’s reception in Tolkien studies needs clarification:

  • First, Swain notes that “Middle English ‘Losenger’” is not discussed in Perry Bramlett’s chapter on Tolkien’s scholarship in I Am in Fact a Hobbit, but neither are several other of Tolkien’s works, like “’Iþþlen’ in Sawles Warde” or “MS Bodley 34”.  Tom Shippey (in “Tolkien’s Academic Reputation Now”) attributes the neglect given those two studies and “Middle English ‘Losenger’” to their status as merely “extended footnotes”.  As Bramlett also ignores “The Devil’s Coach-horses”, “The Name ‘Nodens’”, “Sigelwara Land”, and “Chaucer as a Philologist”, his silence on “Middle English ‘Losenger’” is less significant than Swain suggests 

  • Second, it’s not at all clear what Swain means when he writes, parenthetically to the absence of “Middle English ‘Losenger’” from Bramlett, “see the bibliography to the Old English Exodus”.  Nothing in the bibliography of that posthumously published edition by Tolkien bears on this subject, as far as I can tell.

  • Third, contrary to Swain’s claims, “Middle English ‘Losenger’” does appear in both Bramlett’s bibliography and in the bibliography of at least later editions of Carpenter’s biography.


Middle English Vocabulary, A (1922) - Carl Hostetter

Comments by squire, February 3, 2007

Here's another fun article about an aspect of Tolkien I knew nothing about. Hostetter seems to sum up the subject very clearly and neatly, adding a reference or two to the book's connection to Tolkien's life.

What I miss, I guess, would be some story of the book's subsequent history: how was Tolkien's academic debut received by his profession, is it still in use, if not when and by what was it superseded, what is still useful about it and what (if anything) has proved to be misguided?

Comments by Jason Fisher, February 5, 2007


Hostetter's entry is a very solid summary of Tolkien's first published book, competently covering all the important details. A few additional observations of my own.

First, once again, we have "q.v.s" to topics that do not exist in the Encyclopedia as published ("Middle English" and "Kenneth Sisam").

Second, while Hostetter does comment on the interrelationship between Tolkien's work on Sir Orfeo with the Vocabulary, he fails to comment on its further interrelationship with Tolkien's work for the Oxford English Dictionary (nor is there an Encyclopedia article on this topic) and with the glossary accompanying Tolkien and Gordon's edition of Sir Gawain (1925). In fact, there are some interesting differences in meaning and etymology to be found between the 1922 glossary and the Sir Gawain glossary just three years later (e.g., if memory serves, see the entry in both glossaries for wruxled), which suggests that Tolkien was still pondering the meanings of certain words.

Squire's point about the need for some commentary on the reception and value of the book is also an important one. The book is still in print in a Dover reprint edition, retitled A Middle English Reader and Vocabulary (2005), but one wonders to what degree it was used – or is still being used – in the teaching of Middle English language and literature.


Middle-earth - Christopher Garbowski

Comments by squire, April 22, 2007

First class!

I particularly enjoyed Garbowski's point that the razing of Minas Morgul/Ithil at the end of The Lord of the Rings, leaving only Minas Tirith/Anor standing, is a sign that the Children of the Sun, i.e., Men, shall rule Middle-earth from then on. Garbowski also makes a better case for why the History of Middle-earth series deserves its name, than is seen elsewhere in the encyclopedia. But the entire article brims with insights, both Garbowski's and a host of critics', whose references are smoothly integrated into the essay.

I suspect Garbowski is temporarily disoriented when he writes that before the Second Age the "settlement of the High Elves...has been to the east of" Ered Luin, and "In the Second Age, there is only an insignificant territory east of Ered Luin". Surely west is meant.

They don't get much better than this.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

This is one of the ten longest Encyclopedia articles, and it ranges widely, making beautiful use of every line.  I most liked Garbowski’s description of Middle-earth as a “dynamic proscenium”.  I would dispute a couple of Garbowski’s points, disagreeing with his interpretation (following Tom Shippey) of Húrin’s despair at the Echoriath as “posed tableau”; and questioning whether the “physical geography of Middle-earth” in the six hundred years of the First Age of the Sun can justly be called “remarkably constant”.  But these are quibbles in an article that takes in the “linguistic, geographical, historical, philosophical, and aesthetic” functions of its subject with such aplomb.

The See also list is good, but given that Garbowski devotes a section to “Prophecies and the End of Middle-earth”, a cross-reference to “Prophecy” would be appropriate.  The reverse is also true, but only the editors could have caught that.


Milton - John R. Holmes

Comments by squire, May 5, 2007

Holmes lays out his ground in the beginning: Tolkien owes both poetic and philological debts to Milton, despite the differences in the two artists' religion and literary tastes. The examples are good, and go far past the obvious one of Melkor's resemblance to Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost; though that example here serves as a strong counterbalance to other articles that consider Melkor only as a theological construct rather than as a legendary character in a mythology.

Without going overboard (as in the "Virgil" article), I think a brief summary from Holmes of Milton's career and significance in English letters might have been helpful before diving in the deep end.

The point I most enjoyed, overall, was Holmes's connection between Milton's and Tolkien's highly informed use of language and diction. I wish he had made it more clear whether this was his own thinking, or that of one of the critics in his fine 'Further Reading' list. The See also, by contrast, is weak; where for example is "Epic", "Lyric", "Dante", "Morgoth and Melkor", "Hell", and "Fall of Man"?

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

Unlike squire, I find Holmes’ concluding paragraph a little weak: though he shows very well that both Milton and Tolkien chose their words carefully to allow for multiple meanings, the same could be said of many other writers.

The rest of the article is quite good, for the reasons squire lists.  I particularly like Holmes’ careful attention to differences between Paradise Lost and Old English versions of Genesis, to tighten his focus on themes common to Milton and Tolkien.

Tom Shippey is already the most cited author in the encyclopedia (after Tolkien himself) but I missed him here, for his comments on Milton’s Comus.

Finally, when Holmes refers to “the Elvish exodus from Lórien”, does he mean “from Valinor”?


Mirkwood - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, February 27, 2007

It's all here, it's just chopped up. All the article is in three parts divided, the geographic, the thematic, and the philological. I should have preferred a bit more on the thematic.

For instance, Evans properly shows how the Dwarves and the Hobbit are oppressed by the gloom of Mirkwood during their passage, but he goes on to say that all of Tolkien's forests exercise the same effect on travelers, which is just not correct. More seriously, he skips entirely the conflation that Tolkien imposes on Mirkwood in The Hobbit, of the gloomy and dangerous barrier to travelers, and the enchanted wood of Faerie where the Elves revel and hunt. For a most obvious example, compare Tolkien's two illustrations in The Hobbit: "Mirkwood" and "The Elvenking's Gate", which purport to show the same forest.

A little more on the debt that The Hobbit's Mirkwood owes to the one in Dorthonion, spiders and all, would have been nice. A little less of the philological material would have been nice, too - since so little of it seems to have anything to do with Tolkien's imagined forest, which is not a "boundary" of any kind.


Comments by Jason Fisher, February 28, 2007

I disagree with squire that there was too much philological discussion in the entry. In fact, I would have added a little more (though one could only have hoped for a greater word count to accommodate it). Specifically:

Evans notes (correctly) that there is no attested Old English cognate to the ON Myrkviðr; however, he overlooks the important point that Tolkien himself invented one in the calque, *Myrcwudu, in the poem King Sheave (printed in The Lost Road). Christopher Tolkien’s explanation of the name bears out the “boundary” theory but also suggests that the word might, in fact, be attested somewhere. If so, I’m unaware of it.

I could also see Evans expanding just a little on his discussion of ON mark “boundary” / mörk “forest” with an equivalent conjecture on OE mearc “boundary” / mirce (also myrce) “dark, murky”. The Mercian forms Tolkien favored would have been closer to mark / mirk. This would dovetail nicely with the boundary between Rohan and Fangorn (the Mark and a murky wood, one might say, though not the same sort of murkiness as in Mirkwood proper). One might construe this as tangent to an article on Mirkwood; however, so many of Tolkien's tangents are worth following! And it all goes to the heart of – and would have strengthened – Evans’ claim that “Tolkien’s conception of Mirkwood is illustrative of his imaginative use of philological reconstruction for literary purposes.”

Though not yet published at the time Evans wrote his entry, readers should take a look at Gilliver, Marshall, and Weiner’s The Ring of Words, which offers a succinct, but very nice word study on Mirkwood.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

Both thematic and philological needs could be served by a better, shorter treatment of the geographical-historical aspects of Mirkwood: Evans’ first three (of six) paragraphs are almost entirely a story-internal chronology and description of the forest.  Too long.  And wobbly: Evans describes Mirkwood as a remnant of “the primeval forest said to have covered most of western Middle-earth”, but Treebeard says otherwise when he describes Fangorn Forest, which lies southwest of Mirkwood, as the surviving “East End” of a greater forest that once stretched west “to the Mountains of Lune” (LotR, II, iv, p. 468).  Possibly Tolkien elsewhere contradicts this; if so, Evans should have given a source.

What this entry most wants is an external chronological treatment, dealing consistently with Tolkien’s sources, his response, and his motives. “Mirkwood” developed both from Taur-nu-Fuin in the “Silmarillion” legends, and a suggestive name in Old Norse legends (and Williams Morris’s adaptations thereof), becoming a very physical place in The Hobbit; and then later it was the “Greenwood”, corrupted by Sauron, but subsequently renewed, as told in the annals of the LotR appendices.  While Evans has located most of these references to Mirkwood, within Tolkien and without, he has not fully integrated them into his analysis.  The linguistic comments, for instance, would be supported by a reference to Tolkien’s letter on the name “Mirkwood” (pp. 369-70) and a See also nod to the “Cruces in Medieval Literature” article.

And Evans’s description of Mirkwood in The Hobbit, where Tolkien treats it most fully, focuses only on its nature as a “gloomy place strangled with ivy, lichen and blackened leaves … stereotypical of haunted forests”.  Even with this slant, Evans doesn’t mention the giant spiders and the motif of the path which must not be abandoned, but more notably, where are the magic stream, the white hart and the Elvish hunt, and the feasts in the glades?  And the “sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and … everywhere hundreds of butterflies” – the view from the treetops, as experienced by Bilbo (and later Gollum)?


Missions from Anglo-Saxon England - Bradford Lee Eden

Comments by squire, December 15, 2006

Thanks to Carl Hostetter for drawing my attention to this article and its fellows in crime (see "Augustine of Canterbury" and "Gregory the Great" by the same writer). As Hostetter says, for all its apparent thoroughness, it never betrays the secret of why it appears in J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

Luckily we have Wikipedia! I found there a hint:

'In the judgement of J. R. R. Tolkien (as cited in Finn and Hengest, p. 14) the Anglo-Saxon mission is "one of the chief glories of England", and "among our chief contributions to Europe, considering all our history".'

Just off the top of my head, I could argue that the Mission found an analogue in Tolkien's tale of Numenor: a race of enlightened Men, originally the northern Edain of First Age Middle-earth but now resident in semi-divine bliss on an island to the west, return eastward to Middle-earth in the Second Age to teach and aid their ancestral cousins in their struggle against the darkness. For that matter, the same return-to-the-East schema characterizes the exile of the Noldor from Valinor in the earlier Silmarillion. But perhaps some other Tolkien critic has done better. If so, Eden never lets us in on it.

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

In addition to what squire found, Tolkien in Beowulf and the Critics (p. 77-78) notes connections between Beowulf and the poem Andreas (which he terms a “Christian ‘romance’”). He says that this

“serves to suggest that ‘Beowulf’ itself has some relation to the great missionary epoch of the 8th century.  Just so did many young Englishmen untried, while those at home hoped and feared, set out to win their spurs in foreign lands, in Frisia and Saxony.  They went to the courts of the kings and wrestled with godes andsacan (the enemies of God), and some were destroyed like Beowulf’s companion.” [original emphasis]


Misty Mountains - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, May 22, 2007

Evans dances back and forth across the line separating Middle-earth studies from a more nuanced and critical approach to this important natural feature in Tolkien's imaginary geography. The result is such contradictions as Evans' invoking the "tectonic forces" that are "part of the global mountain-building pattern" in Middle-earth's early history, and then in the next paragraph noting that Melkor "raised originally" the mountains as a barrier to the Vala Oromë in his quest eastward to find the sleeping Elves.

Other pseudo-geological speculations, apparently inspired by Fonstad, include the idea of glaciation to create the "horns" and "troughs" of the mountains' formations in only a few thousand years' time, and some thought that they block the "flow of atmospheric moisture" and so are constantly cloudy and misty - unlike the similarly situated Sierra Nevada and Andes ranges on earth. In fact the mistiness of the Misty Mountains is almost never actually described, since as Evans mentions, their inspiration is the unmisty Swiss Alps of Tolkien's memory. The "Misty" epithet is romantic and evocative, rather than literal in any sense.

Evans only tangentially hits on their function as an east-west barrier and boundary in Middle-earth; never traces their origin as a simplistic mountain-barrier in The Hobbit, their later enlargement into the continental geography of The Lord of the RIngs and their retrofitting into the First Age sagas of The Silmarillion; and he never really gets into their symbolic and poetic function as the "mountains" of the hobbits' (and Tolkien's) poetic imaginations with their implicit contrast to the image of the "sea".

Further critical speculation, such as O'Neil's observation that the Silvertine (in the heart of the Misty Mountains) is at the geographic center of the known world, from which Gandalf in his trance state could hear "the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone" seems to be entirely outside the scope of Evans' article as he conceives it.

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

It’s not just the hobbits who are moved by mountains, though it is more remarkable for them than for dwarves like Gimli, who with “a strange light in his deep eyes”, says that the Mountains of Moria “stand tall in our dreams” (LotR, Book II, Ch. 3).  On the subject of Celebdil, Fanuidhol and Caradhras, Evans misidentifies those peaks as the “Thrihyrne”, a name that Tolkien reserves for the peaks behind Helm’s Deep, hundreds of miles away in the White Mountains.  Evans also says that the Misty Mountains have “heights approaching twelve thousand feet”, while one of Tolkien’s sketches (J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator #158) indicates Caradhras reaches 17,500 feet.  It is additionally incorrect to say that Khazad-dûm, beneath those mountains, was excavated by “Dwarves from Ered Luin”.  It was founded by Durin I in the First Age, long before those exiled dwarves moved there in the Second.

On the other hand, Evans did overturn one of my long-held misconceptions about dwarves and mountains: I had long thought that the dwarf mines where Arvedui (last king of Arnor before Aragorn) hid before his death in the bay of Forochel, were in the Blue Mountains, but Evans says the mines were in the Misty Mountains, and rechecking the text I find he’s right.  But it’s odd, that Arvedui should have been able to hide out so near the Witch-king’s stronghold of Carn Dûm.

Finally, Evans writes that Tolkien’s 1911 travels in the Alps “presumably” inspired his description of the Misty Mountains, but never cites Letter #306 where Tolkien admits as much: “The hobbit’s (Bilbo’s) journey from Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains … is based on my adventures in 1911”.  Evans also doesn’t refer readers to the article "Tour in the Alps, 1911" on this subject, but to be fair, that article doesn’t refer readers to "Misty Mountains", either.


Mithril - Jessica Burke

Comments by squire, June 7, 2007

Burke gives a workmanlike summary of most of the instances, descriptive or narrative, of mithril in Tolkien's legendarium as they accumulated. The approach throughout unfortunately tends towards a story-internal point of view, but she does footnote most of her references. She also steps back to note that Tolkien as author changed Bilbo's dwarf-mail in later editions of The Hobbit from "silvered steel" (not "silver" as she has it) to "silver-steel, which the Elves call mithril". But she does not note Gandalf's remark about Sauron's "craving" it and so gathering most of the world's supply of mithril to himself, nor does she question what Sauron did with all that superstrong, light, unbreakable metal (!).

That casual aside by Gandalf is a clue to what this article lacks. Burke is remiss in not taking us outside the story and considering the moral nature of mithril as a precious substance in a world where entire wars are fought over semi-magical treasures.

The avaricious search for mithril did cause the destruction of the Dwarves of Khazad-dum, but all the priceless artefacts made from it seem to stand outside the tradition in Tolkien's works whereby jewels, things of beauty, and precious objects arouse lust for possession. The Silmarils are the primary example of this tradition, but there is also the Arkenstone, the Nauglamir, and various rings and dragon-hoards. By contrast, although the orcs fight over Frodo's mail in Cirith Ungol, neither that coat nor any of the other mithril objects that Burke names (the Elf ring Nenya, the Elendilmir, Earendil's star-craft, even the Fourth Age gates of Gondor) are valued in the story for their worth, but rather only for their beauty.

Is this because mithril is symbolically an "Elvish" metal and so is free of Morgoth's taint - despite its association with the Dwarves and presumably Aulë rather than Varda? Or is it because mithril was introduced into the legendarium late and almost by accident while Tolkien was creating the backstory for Moria in The Lord of the Rings? Certainly he never wrote it back into the Silmarillion tales, as he did with (for instance) lembas and Galadriel. Buried in HoME XII there is a note from his composition of the annalistic Appendices to LotR, showing that he considered introducing mithril to the Blue Mountains, which would have allowed a plausible First Age trade in mithril between the Dwarves there and the Elves of Beleriand, but he immediately rejected the idea.

In the end, mithril seems to have been for Tolkien a handy story device, rather than a fully thought-out concept. Tolkien was, of course, generally wary of the danger of overusing his "devices" and it may be quite deliberate that he employed this one with an inconsistent but generally light and hesitant hand.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

In The Lord of the Rings, mallorn trees and mithril are said to be unique to Lothlórien and Khazad-dûm, respectively, but in texts published in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien qualified these statements with notes on their presence in Númenor.  Unlike Patrick Curry with mellyrn in the “Plants” article, Burke had room here to mention this point about mithril.  Also, Burke claims without explanation that mithril “occasioned the rift that ran between Dwarves and Elves”.  And when she writes that the Elendilmir along with the “Sceptre of Annúminas and the Silver Crown” were “great symbol[s] of Númenórean kingship”, she should specify that she is referring to the exiled kingship in Middle-earth.  Additionally, Burke rightly observes that the Númenórean king Telemmaitë’s name means “silver-handed”, but she never notes that the more prominent figure, “Celebrimbor”, leader of the Noldorin smiths of Eregion (all the more notable because she does mention that people), has a name with the same meaning.  Finally, as to the symbolism or literary purpose of mithril, perhaps Burke could have examined Tolkien’s comments on silver generally, as in his remarks on Morgoth’s corruption of the world, from “Myths Transformed” in HoMe X: “all gold (in Middle-earth) seems to have had a specially ‘evil’ trend – but not silver” (p. 400).  Likewise also the Silvertine mountain above Khazad-dûm, where Gandalf destroyed the Balrog and was reborn?


Monsters - Jonathan Evans

Comments by squire, January 20, 2007

This leads off very strongly. Evans gives a concise review of the medieval concept of monsters and a good analysis of the sources for and the classes of the monsters that Tolkien uses in his books. It is interesting that he includes, on the one hand, the wargs as monsters rather than just malignantly intelligent wolves; and on the other hand the apparently stone watchers of Cirith Ungol.

Now Tolkien's orcs are certainly monstrous, but the state of their souls remains an ongoing debate; Evans glosses this problem with the clever formulation that some of Tolkien's monsters possess "primitive emotive psychology" as well as speech, but nonetheless lack "full personhood". This does not take account of Treebeard's distinction that there are "Free peoples" in Middle-earth, and its corollary implication that there are "Unfree peoples".

Kocher is very good on this issue, and the related question of why Tolkien's monsters are always evil (isn't Beorn a monster?). I note that Evans' bibliography is heavily weighted towards medieval sources, with only Tom Shippey standing in for the Tolkien critics.

The second half of the article is an excellently rendered shopping list of Tolkien's various monsters. I feel it could have been shortened, with fewer illustrative quotes, in favor of a little more analysis of the role of monsters in contemporary tales of adventure and horror, with reference to why there are so few, comparatively, in The Silmarillion.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, July 28, 2007

I would ask squire’s question concerning Beorn about the Ents as well: are they monsters?  Evans begins his article by listing Dwarves, Hobbits, Elves and Men as “the so-called speaking peoples of Middle-earth”.  Although Evans mentions Treebeard in this entry, the Ents, like Beorn, are never classified in his scheme.  Evans categorizes Tolkien’s monsters as appearing either as distorted people or as enlarged animals, and he notes the derivation of the word “monster” from the Latin for “marvel”.  Ents are humanoid but distorted; Beorn is a were-bear (in “Many Meetings”, Gandalf lists “werewolves” among Sauron’s servants; presumably Evans would classify those creatures as monsters), and both are marvelous.  But neither Ents nor Beorn are evil, unlike all of Evans’ examples of monsters (with the possible exception of the stone giants in The Hobbit, since Gandalf suggests that some giants are “more or less decent”).

Also, though Evans claims that orcs and trolls are absent from “Treebeard’s song of the ‘living creatures’”, I think Tolkien was intentionally vague on this point, perhaps putting off the question of whether those monsters have souls.  Tolkien doesn’t present the whole of Treebeard’s song, but rather gives only the beginning, that lists the “free peoples”, plus some snatches of the rest, featuring just twelve animals.  Orcs and trolls may or may not appear somewhere in the full list.


Mordor - James McNelis

Comments by squire, November 15, 2006

From Sea of Núrnen, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In The Atlas of Middle-earth, Karen Wynn Fonstad assumed that the Sea of Rhûn and Sea of Núrnen were the remnants of the inland Sea of Helcar. The atlas was however published before The Peoples of Middle-earth, where it was revealed that the Sea of Rhûn existed already in the First Age, as an apparently different body of water than the Sea of Helcar.

From Mordor, by James McNelis, from J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia
Mordor is Sauron's stronghold at the end of the Third Age, the Black Lands in the East of Middle-earth. (for detail, see Fonstad's Atlas, but note, that her inference that the Sea of Helcar originally overlay Mordor and its surrounding areas was invalidated by the subsequent publication of The Peoples of Middle-earth). It lay north and east of the mountains...

McNelis' language is sloppier and less precise than Wikipedia's; and the odd punctuation of his parenthesized insertion suggests that he picked this point up wholesale, perhaps at the last minute, from elsewhere, instead of making the observation from his own reading of the two sources. It is certainly bad form that he (or the Encyclopedia's organization) gives his reader no way to find out just what the Sea of Helcar is! No cross-reference, no other entry, and no other mention in the index. Sorry, dear Reader, you're on your own...

McNelis' article overall is shamefully bad. He does not give his sources. He wastes the entire article on a kind of Baedecker description of places and place-names in Mordor, which is the kind of thing Foster's Guide to Middle-earth is so good at. Mordor is a rich scholarly topic, discussed at length by many critics who have explored its meaning, its connections to other fantasy hells, its evolution in Tolkien's mind, and its apparent natural history -- if I remember anything from my own related research on The East in Tolkien.

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

"Mordor": this one caught my eye because Fonstad's guess that the Seas of Nurnen and Rhun are (perhaps) remnants of the Sea of
Helcar, though denied by McNelis and wikipedia (citing HoMe XII without specifics – you can find them by checking the HoMe XII index for "Rhun") was upheld, with citation of specific pages in HoMe XI, by Don Anger in his Koivië-néni / Cuiviénen entry; suffice it to say Don had some strong words on the subject when I inquired about the contradiction. ;-)

That opening sentence by McNelis is a doozy: he also identifies Mordor as Sauron's stronghold "at the end of the Third Age" (and
what about the Second Age?) and calls it "the Black Lands in the East of Middle-earth" when even in LotR it is quite clear that
there's a lot of territory farther east.

As for Mordor as Hell, it occurs to me that one good comment on the subject appeared here.


Morgan, Father Francis - Michael Coren

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

“[H]e was an upper-class Welsh-Spaniard Tory, and seemed to some just a pottering old snob and gossip.  He was – and he was not.  I first learned charity and forgiveness from him…”  Tolkien wrote that about Fr. Francis Morgan in 1965 (Letters, p. 354).  Michael Coren’s first paragraph has: “He was more than a father to me,” Tolkien wrote. “I first learned charity and forgiveness from him.”  I can’t trace the first part of Coren’s quotation either to Carpenter’s biography, which appears in Coren’s one-item bibliography, or to Letters, which Coren does not cite.  In any case, Tolkien’s statement allows for more complexity than all of Coren’s article.

Lax citation aside, this entry is a dutiful summary of Carpenter’s comments on Morgan.  Coren is occasionally clumsy (“These, and the Welsh language knowledge of Father Francis, had a major influence…”) and sometimes he overstates: Carpenter quotes Tolkien saying that Morgan’s pipe habit may have influenced his own addiction, but Coren is reaching when he writes that visits to Rednal found Morgan “delighting the boys with his stories and his pipe smoking”.  Still, this article at least conveys the key facts about an important figure in Tolkien’s life.


Morgoth and Melkor - Joseph Pearce

Comments by squire, March 10, 2007

It's very odd to see Pearce spend over two columns nailing down the proposition that Morgoth is equivalent to the Biblical Satan. I should like to know who has ever argued otherwise? And as thorough as his work is, it's really not good enough by itself for an article like this.

All kinds of other ways of thinking about Morgoth go unexamined. He is, after all, a real and important character in The Silmarillion and its assorted ephemera in Unfinished Tales and HoME. He makes numerous personal appearances and even has extended dialogues, far more so than his Lord of the Rings analog, Sauron. Why this is, and what it shows about Tolkien's capacity to imagine and personify the Devil in a world-class legendarium, is worth a little analysis. Pearce skips all of it.

Pearce does cite Morgoth's Ring, as one would expect, but misses all but one of its major points. Of course MR does tell us that Morgoth corrupted all of Arda with his own evil spirit (making the whole world 'Morgoth's Ring' by analogy to Sauron's Ring). Pearce gives us this. But he omits the key correlary: that Morgoth must thereby have suffered an equivalent reduction in his personal spritual power (just as Sauron made his continuing existence dependent on the Ring's). This was Tolkien's ingenious solution to the problem he had set himself by having Melkor start as the greatest demiurgic power under God Himself and end as Morgoth, an incarnate King of mortal lands in the Silmarillion legends, vulnerable to wounds and female seduction.

As this shows and Pearce fails to mention, Morgoth's Ring only contains Tolkien's later thinking about Morgoth, who was his prime villain over the course of 40 years of literary production. It should be worth a note that this is another instance of just how powerfully the writing of The Lord of the Rings affected Tolkien's conception not just of Morgoth, but of the entire Silmarillion.

Morgoth's Ring also contains a very valuable essay by Tolkien comparing Morgoth's and Sauron's approaches to world domination, in which Sauron comes off as smarter, or at least a little less mad. It renders ridiculous Pearce's use of the Valaquenta (a more accurate reference for his cited passage than the Silmarillion, by the way) to argue that Morgoth and Sauron are virtually identical.

In commenting on the early Melko in the Book of Lost Tales, again Pearce insists on a unified unchanging identity as Satan. This ignores the aspects of Melko that draw on the trickster archetype, like the Norse God Loki -- such as when he helpfully builds the Gods standards for their world-lighting Lamps that are made of ice, and so melt soon after. And it's hard to imagine the biblical or Miltonic Satan keeping as his main lackey Tevildo, Prince of Cats!

Pearce's Further Reading and See Also lists are entirely focused on his religious interest, and only reinforce how blinkered is his perspective on this infinitely interesting and complex literary character.


Morgoth's Ring - Matthew Fensome

Comments by Jason Fisher, May 11, 2007

Overall, this is a perfectly adequate summary of the contents of Volume 10 in The History of Middle-earth, though it is a bit spare in the presentation of any external assessment or contemporary opinion of the book. It also stumbles in a few places, as where Fensome seems to present “orkor” as Tolkien’s final preferred spelling for “Orcs” – what about the statement that “in 1969 or later, he asserted again that it must be Orks” (see Morgoth’s Ring, p. 422).

I’m more concerned about the facile assertion that The Tale of Ardanel is “clearly Tolkien’s myth of Original Sin.” While such a case might be made, it would hardly be without contention. The doctrine of Original Sin clearly associates the sin of Adam with the introduction of death to Mankind (see The Catholic Encyclopedia). How one might reconcile this with Tolkien’s fictive representation of death as the Gift of Ilúvatar is quite a thorny matter: perhaps not impossible to untangle, but certainly not so easily passed off as Fensome does here.

In the end, I found myself wishing for a little less detail in the summary of the contents and a little bit more commentary and value judgment of the sort Fensome only hints at, as in his concluding comments. Isn’t this why a reader of the Encyclopedia would turn to the entry in the first place? The 'Further Reading' is light, reinforcing the lack of critical commentary one observes in the entry itself. Was there really nothing more Fensome could have included? To the See also, I would add at least “Monsters” and “Silmarillion, The”, and perhaps a few others (e.g., by mentioning “Original Sin”, shouldn’t Fensome have directed readers to one or more of the religion / theology entries?).


Moria - Matthew Dickerson

Comments by squire, March 25, 2007

Dickerson's approach to Moria is almost entirely internal to the stories at first, but is redeemed by his final two or three paragraphs, where he gives some basic analysis of its literary symbolism. Unfortunately even when contrasting its early glory to its later degradation, or when citing Keenan's "tomb/womb" interpretation of the journey through the Mines, Dickerson indulges in a romantic tone that softens his critical credibility. Keenan is a good start, but I feel sure that other critics (Dickerson mentions but does not name "various scholars") have also written informatively on the meaning and function of Moria in the story and the legendarium.

Dickerson takes good care to give his sources when using illustrative quotes. This allows us to see clearly that he has compiled his story-history of Moria from a variety of Tolkien's texts, of varying authority and chronological origination. I think it's important in this Encyclopedia to relate Middle-earth's fictional history from the point of view of Tolkien's developing imagination. To retrospectively assemble years of Tolkien's unpublished post-LotR thoughts about (in this instance) Moria ignores the primary importance of its role in The Lord of the Rings, and more generally betrays, again, a kind of sentimental credulity that doesn't belong here.

Within those strictures, I missed from Dickerson the obvious follow-up to his note about Thorin in The Hobbit wanting to "pay back" the goblins of Moria. Tolkien explained that remark with his "War of the Dwarves and Goblins" and climactic battle outside the east-gate of Moria in the LotR Appendices. The episode of the burning of the dwarf-corpses, hard by the Mirrormere, could have been compared to Keenan's thinking about how that lake is "life-giving".


Morris, William - Michael W. Perry

Comments by squire, July 25, 2007

It takes a lot of work to read this article. One must trudge through a twisted prose of awkward style and juvenile tone, batting aside annoying typos and irrelevant details, while keeping one's eye on the wandering, jumpy, and unclear path of the argument.

Buried below all that, there is much information of interest here. Tolkien freely admitted his debt to Morris when discussing his early Lost Tales, and even steered critics of The Lord of the Rings to inspect the plots of Morris's tales of the Gothic tribes in late-Roman-era Europe. Perry finds other thematic connections as well, such as a focus on the conflict between mortality and immortality, the manufacture of story-specific languages or dialects, and even a similar reluctance to embellish an imagined landscape with too much description.

What Perry seems to miss is the influence of Morris's actual writing style on Tolkien. A short quotation or two of Morris's artificially archaic English would have made it clear why Tolkien's early homage to Morris, The Book of Lost Tales, as well as many passages from his later works, have been the object of not a little ridicule by those who like their English served up Modern: spare, plain, and straightforward. But Morris's romantic writing is the verbal equivalent of those tiny fairies of Victorian fancy, and with both the fairies and Morris's arch fairy-tale medievalism, Tolkien slowly grew away from his boyish affections and developed his own more mature and restrained style.

The plot summaries of four of Morris's most Tolkien-like books are unnecessarily detailed. In their stead should have been some discussion of the influence of Morris's art and design esthetic on Tolkien. Readers of the articles "Art and Illustrations by Tolkien", "Artistic Movements", and "Artists and Illustrators' Influence on Tolkien", all of which refer to Morris (though only one refers to this article), will understand what I mean.

It is, as always, hard to imagine that no serious Tolkien critic has tackled this subject, but the 'Further Reading' list says it must be so.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

At the University of Vermont in April 2007, Michael Faletra presented on “William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Archaic Style” – too late to be of any help to Perry, of course.  However, at least two works were available: in The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (1975), Northrop Frye compares Tolkien unfavorably to Morris.  And Brian Rosebury, in Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, finds too much of Morris’ influence on the prose of The Book of Lost Tales.


Mountains - Maria Raffaella Benvenuto

Comments by squire, March 28, 2007

Mountains are central to Tolkien's geomythic imagination, as Benvenuto notes from the beginning. Within quite a short article, she covers the basic roles that mountains play in the legendarium, and cites a fair array of critics along the way. She does not give the mountains of the Silmarillion much attention, though her reference to Leaf by Niggle is both welcome and informative.

Understandably, she cannot catalogue every significant mountain or range in Tolkien's works (and so ignores Mindolluin, Ephel Duath, Pelori, Trihyrne, Ered Gorgoroth, Blue Mountains, etc.). The level of analysis is fairly simplistic too, although there is not a lot of room to breathe in less than 500 words. One aspect of Tolkien's mountains that I have noticed is that his highly naturalistic prose descriptions of them are at utter odds with the schematic or symbolic roles they play in the stories, as explicated on the non-naturalistic maps. This dichotomy stands out especially in large-scale maps such as the one in The Return of the King, and in secondary Atlases like Fonstadt's.

The article is padded with unnecessay modifiers ("Without any doubt", "surely take pride of place", "have definite religious implications", etc.) that give it an unfortunate undergraduate tone.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

Perhaps Benvenuto could have commented further on Tolkien’s ambiguous portrayal of mountains (for example, Merry, who had loved mountains “marching on the edge of stories”, finds that the experience of mountains evokes the “insupportable weight of Middle-earth”), but more likely not, in the mere 500 words she had available.

She does present a really fine introduction to the subject.  Her comments on mountains as protective walls might have mentioned the Pelóri protecting Valinor, and perhaps the double-ring of mountains that guard the inner reaches of Faery in Smith of Wootton Major.  Rightly emphasizing the importance of what lies beneath mountains, Benvenuto just misses noting the curious fact that characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings almost never crest the mountains they wish to cross, but pass instead through tunnels.  Her note on hallowed mountains, such as Taniquetil and Meneltarma, could use further examples, but some of these appear in the “Taniquetil” article, which she cross-references, as she does also for “Misty Mountains” and “Lonely Mountain”.  Contrarily, she doesn’t direct readers to the “Tour in the Alps, 1911” article, but she does discuss that journey’s influence on Tolkien’s writing.


Mr. Bliss - Jared Lobdell

Comments by squire, June 6, 2007

I haven't read Mr. Bliss and so was glad to learn more about it from this article. What little I knew is from Hammond and Scull's J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, which reproduces a few pictures from the book and offers some commentary on its composition. What is offered here is mostly a long plot summary, prefaced with some odd descriptive notes on the manuscript's physical format, speculation on its probable dates of composition, and a paragraph on its publication pre-history as an illustrated manuscript from 1938 to 1984.

There is not much - not any - analysis here of the story in terms of Tolkien's development as a teller of children's tales, or of his use of motifs seen in his other fiction, or of his illustrations which are evidently as much a part of the book as the prose. I wish that there had been some mention of the critical reception that Mr. Bliss got after its long-delayed publication, at the happy expense of the endless plot summary.

A few final impressions: The account of the submission of Mr. Bliss to Allen & Unwin as a possible sequel to The Hobbit is at such variance to the story told in the Letters that one wonders if any of the rest of the article is as shaky in its control of the facts. It would be interesting to know who the "independent scholar" was who discovered the manuscript at Marquette at some time before 1984; likewise there is no credit for whichever editor arranged the facsimile publication.

Comments by Jason Fisher, June 6, 2007

I’d like to pick up from something squire wrote in his review: “There is not much – not any – analysis here of the story in terms of Tolkien’s development as a teller of children’s tales, or of his use of motifs seen in his other fiction …” Absolutely, and I would add that Lobdell equally ignores any connection to other children’s authors as well – most notably, George MacDonald, of whom there is ample evidence for early influence on Tolkien. Two quick examples of the kind of connections Lobdell’s treatment might have benefited from (both refer to George MacDonald’s novella, The Golden Key):

The fanciful hybrid creature, the Girabbit, evokes the Air-fish of MacDonald (among many other hybrid precedents in children’s literature).

The Three Bears (Archie, Teddy, and Bruno) evoke the Three Bears from whom Tangle runs away in MacDonald – these in turn evoke the traditional folktale (as collected by the Brothers Grimm).

As a consequence of Lobdell’s vacuum-sealed discussion, the See also misses “Roverandom” and, I would submit, "MacDonald, George (1824 -1905)”.


“MS Bodley 34: A Re-collation of a Collation” – ‘Beregond’, Anders  Stenström

Comments by Jason Fisher, April 27, 2007

Among the Encyclopedia articles on Tolkien’s more arcane academic publications, this one of Stenström’s stands out as a gem of research. Full of facts and details not just about the joint d’Ardenne / Tolkien publication in question but about the related work preceding and following it, this essay is just about the perfect length, and strikes a nice balance between fact and interpretation. There seems to be some original scholarship here as well, if only in the painstaking counting and comparison of points from Furuskog’s original collation and the published editions subsequent to it.

Stenström might only have said a little more about the promise of a d’Ardenne / Tolkien edition of MS. Bodley 34, emblematic as it is of Tolkien’s life-long difficulties with bringing his academic projects to publishable conclusions.

Having read the "Re-collation" myself, I also found myself wishing that Stenström had better characterized its adversarial spirit. Tolkien and d’Ardenne aren’t just offering their own (objective) scholarly observations; they’re actively challenging the quality of Furuskog’s own work. I’ll resist the temptation to quote from it at length myself, but suffice it to say their joint comments portend a major academic fracas, and one can only wonder about its larger context – certainly professional and possibly personal.

The 'Further Reading' is impressive and surprisingly useful for such an arcane topic, and the See also is perfectly adequate. “Juliana” might have been added, but it isn’t really necessary. There is an unfortunate reference to the nonexistent (and much missed) “Middle English”. For “d’Ardenne, S.R.T.O.”, one should read “d’Ardenne, S.R.T.O. (1899 – 1986)”. And by way of a final (niggling) corrigendum: in the title, it really ought to be “MS. Bodley”, not “MS Bodley”; at least, if one is to match the title as published, as Stenström has done in the body of his essay.


Music in Middle-earth - Bradford Lee Eden

Comments by squire, June 1, 2007

There are elements of an excellent article buried in all this. Eden has done some good work on late classical and medieval theories of music as an ordering force in the universe. It is an interesting way to consider Tolkien's view of Middle-earth, but it unfortunately dominates Eden's approach here, to the extent of his plugging his own article by name in the text itself.

Equally good, at the very end of his piece, is where Eden points out the more intense musicality of the mythological world that Tolkien first created in the Book of Lost Tales. That work contains the names of numerous "Songs" as source documents for the tales being told. Except for the Lay of Leithian, "Light as Leaf on Linden-tree", and a few other fragments of verse, Tolkien never wrote these out, but the names alone communicate a connection between the imaginative creativity of the Elves, and the creation of the universe itself through song (as told in the Ainulindalë). Eden does not address why Tolkien tended to write these elements out of his later versions of the same tales.

Unfortunately, Eden does not pull these threads together in any coherent way. He seems to get distracted by an overly detailed review of Tolkien's family's interest in music, and by an overly long (and not particularly perceptive) summary of the Ainulindalë. This leaves him no room to cover the full range of music that is presented in the stories of Middle-earth, although at one point he attempts to do so using Boethius' hierarchical schema of music: natural, vocal, instrumental.

The subject is huge, and perhaps Eden could not have done it all justice in so little space: The music of the winds and waters and even rocks of Middle-earth, that are given songs to sing and that represent the voices of the Valar; the constant use of song by the characters, especially in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; the absurdity of the Dwarves going on the quest of Erebor with a full suite of orchestral instruments. There is the entire question of how Tolkien renders music in his prose, by assonances and rhythms, by poetic descriptions, and by verses that can be taken as lyrics. There is the question of what music he heard in his own writing, which can be glimpsed in his recordings and in the scores in The Road Goes Ever On by Donald Swann, of which Tolkien personally approved.

Given the immense importance of music to Middle-earth, the references provided by Eden are paltry; almost insulting is his article's lonely presence on the 'Further Reading' list.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

The Encyclopedia’s “Middle-earth” thematic subcategory (part of the broader heading, “Places in Tolkien’s Work”) encompasses several articles that in reference works for other authors might be treated more generally as “Themes” or “Motifs”, among them the entries on astronomy, magic, technology, and music.  While it’s true that the imaginary world that Tolkien created in Middle-earth (or Arda, or Eä) is so rich that these motifs as expressed within that creation can be studied by themselves, that’s a limited way of considering the use Tolkien makes of them.  In this article, Eden avoids the “Middle-earth Studies” trap, but as with the “Technology” entry, he ignores the appearance of his subject in Tolkien’s other works, notably Smith of Wootton Major:

‘It reminds me of Faery’, he heard himself say; ‘but in Faery the people sing too’.  Then he began to sing, high and clear, in strange words that he seemed to know by heart; and in that moment the star fell out of his mouth and he caught it in his open hand.

- - - - - - - - -

He sang when he was making things of this sort; and when Smith began to sing those nearby stopped their own work and came to the smithy to listen.


Tolkien’s long essay on Smith is more explicit: prosperity is making the villagers “vulgarly self-satisfied, and coarser … dancing, singing and tale-telling were little thought of.  There is no mention of musical instruments…”.  But that essay was published only in fall 2005, when many Encyclopedia articles had already been submitted to the publisher.  And the story fell outside Eden’s official duties; he was stuck with the music only of Middle-earth.  Even so, to mention The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings only in passing is ridiculous.  As are a couple of Eden’s remarks: how do both “time and space move away from Middle-earth’s creation”?  And how can Ilúvatar be said to “learn” music?


'Mythology for England' -- Jason Fisher

Comments by squire, June 16, 2007

This article seems oddly stretched, like butter over too much bread. Or perhaps, there is too much oleaginous butter, and too little substantial bread. Fisher starts well, with a recap of Stenström's analysis of how Carpenter's paraphrase of Tolkien's one-time aspiration became a much-misquoted aphorism.

Where he then goes astray, I believe, is in his refusal to present the actual mechanisms of Tolkien's mythologizing: the basic details of the Book of Lost Tales that, through the 'frame narratives' of the English sailor Eriol (and his later incarnation as Ælfwine), and the original identity of Tol Eressëa as England, etc., would tie the fanciful legends of the Elves to the prehistory of the British Isles. Without a basic understanding of Tolkien's narrative efforts in this area, a reader must take all references to the so-called 'mythology for England' without sense or context.

Instead Fisher devotes too much space to the history of the literary folklore revival of nineteenth-century Europe; and to the peripheral issues of Tolkien's choice of sources and connections to other real-world European mythologies. Finally, with a massive quote from Drout and Wynne, Fisher asks but does not answer a series of questions of just what Tolkien had really hoped to achieve with his lifetime's work on the so-called "legendarium". Buried in this section is a notice to the attentive reader: Tolkien "abandon[ed] his early attempts to center the mythology, literally, on the real island of England".

Well, who knew?! This is Fisher's second major misstep. Tolkien radically downplayed the role of the English interlocutor and English prehistory in his rewrite of the Lost Tales as the Quenta Silmarillion in the 1930s. The frame, such as it was, was reduced to a few words on a title page. To put it plainly, the Eldar had broken free of England and its hoped-for mythology, and had taken on a life of their own. Although the mariner Ælfwine and his Elvish tutor Pengoloð would float on the periphery of Tolkien's manuscripts right into the 1970s, it seems clear that Tolkien's statement to Waldman is factual: his "crest" had indeed long since fallen by 1950. The "mythology for England" is by no means the point or purpose of what we presently know as The Silmarillion, and those who judge the latter-day work by the mistaken phrase of a conscientious biographer are indulging themselves more romantically than Tolkien would ever allow himself to do.

The 'Further Reading' list is magnificent, and as Fisher refers the reader to it in his article, is obviously meant to make up for  shortcomings such as I've noted. See also is good, but ought to include "Deor", "Finn and Hengest", "Frame Narrative" and "Tol Eressëa" for the reasons stated above.

Comments by N.E. Brigand, January 2, 2008

To Fisher’s wonderful bibliography, I would suggest only the addition of Gergely Nagy’s much-praised 2003 essay, “The Great Chain of Reading”, which examines one method by which Tolkien’s work achieves a “mythological” aspect.

Shortly after the Encyclopedia’s publication, Wayne Hammond disputed some aspects of Stenström’s (and Fisher’s) explanation for how the phrase ‘mythology for England’ was popularized.


Mythology, Celtic - Lisa L. Spangenberg

Comments by squire, June 8, 2007

Although this article feels rather scattershot and is not written too gracefully, one soon realizes that Spangenberg simply hasn't the room to cover her subject in the requisite depth. Luckily she too recognizes this, and so throughout she refers the reader to additional sources for more detailed treatments of the themes she mentions. She also provides quite comprehensive-seeming 'Further Reading' and See also lists.

Her opening, which discusses the extent to which Tolkien "liked" Celtic mythology, seems unnecessarily modest; by the end of the article one feels that Tolkien's "liking" for the material is irrelevant. The fact is, actions speak louder than words: he constantly used Celtic myths and themes in all his fiction.


Mythology, German - Tom Shippey

Comments by squire, June 8, 2007

Shippey gives an excellent review of the effect of the discovery of the Icelandic sagas on early modern European scholars, and shows how this spurred investigation into the lost mythologies of the other Germanic language nations, such as Germany and Anglo-Saxon England. Tolkien's participation in this shows in his scholarship, of course, but also in his imaginative mythological fiction.

Shippey picks and chooses his points of interest. He tends to stick to the scholarly side of things, only giving the reader hints of where to look in the Middle-earth legendarium for examples of Tolkien's transformative creations. Interestingly, he refers far more to the Silmarillion cycle than to The Lord of the Rings.

This may not be the place to say this, but it is incomprehensible that the Encyclopedia, having listed "Mythology, Celtic" and "Mythology, German" at this point, did not add "Mythology, Classical" as well.


"Mythopoeia" - John R. Holmes

Comments by squire, February 11, 2007

From a strong beginning on this lesser-known didactic poem by Tolkien, Holmes peters out in mid-stream; he mysteriously fails to complete his analysis of the final part of the poem. Although he quotes liberally from the earlier verses, he never gets to what I would guess are the most well-known lines:

Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.


We make still by the law in which we're made.

What Holmes does write is very good. I especially liked his note on the legacy of heroic couplets in English poetry, and his point about the illustrative difference between the Latin/Greek adjectives and the Anglo-Saxon nouns in

God made the petreous rock, the arboreal trees,

tellurian earth, and stellar stars...

Which shows how Tolkien the poet could make his point about abstraction through the etymology of his word-choices alone. With insights like that, I really do wish Holmes had gone all the way to the end of the poem.

I also think Holmes should have identified where the reader can find the full text of "Mythopoeia".

Comments by squire, March 1, 2007

It has since been brought to my attention that Tolkien quoted fourteen lines of "Mythopoeia" in his essay "On Fairy-stories". Those lines have thus become by far the most well-known part of the poem. They include the two I remembered in my earlier comment, and are extensively studied and integrated into Flieger's Splintered Light, an important fact about "Mythopoeia" that Holmes never mentions. This reinforces my puzzlement that Holmes stops before getting to the "good part".